If you have been reading about birth positions or birth tools, you may have read about using a peanut ball during labor. As a birth ball fan girl, I am here to tell you they are 100% worth the hype that has been created around them. I love utilizing peanut balls during labor when supporting families as a birth doula or midwifery assistant because they help shorten labor, decrease the chances of cesarean, and are incredibly helpful for those who choose to use an epidural!
From my experience as an Oklahoma birth doula, I can tell you that most Central Oklahoma hospitals have birth balls for their birthing patients. Although, I am always sure to bring my own tools along with me to hospital births I am supporting. This is because there have been times when the labor and delivery floor was extremely busy, and they ran out of birth balls and didn’t have enough for every laboring parent.
Also, sometimes the hospital does not supply the correct size ball for parents. If you are a doula or birth worker who supports parents at births, I recommend at least having the different-sized and shaped birth balls on hand in case your client needs them. It is always a fantastic idea to have a backup plan.
When someone is given an epidural, they can no longer walk or bear weight on their legs without support. This can make using favorable positions & gravity to help the baby descend more difficult. (Contrary to rumors you may have heard, ‘Unicorn epidurals’, where people can ‘still walk’ with an epidural, do not exist. This is because a hospital will list someone with an epidural as a fall hazard and not allow them to leave their bed).
Using a peanut ball to help a birthing person using an epidural can help achieve a widened pelvic outlet compared to just laying in the hospital bed. Widening the pelvis helps give the baby more room to make its journey through the pelvis. A study by Gifford et al. (2000) reported that lack of labor progress was the reason for 68% of unplanned cesarean surgeries. Peanut balls help prevent unnecessary surgical births by aiding in labor progress. This prevention of labor dystocia or stalled labor can lessen the chances of parents having surgical births.
A 2015 study found that women who used the peanut ball versus those who did not demonstrate shorter first-stage labor by 29 min and second-stage labor by 11 min. “Position changes during first and second stages of labor may provide many benefits for the patient including pain relief, maximizing blood flow, decreasing the length of labor, and enhancing satisfaction with their birth experience” (Priddis, Dahle, & Schmied, 2012). You can compare this to not being able to freely move and change positions or having to lay in a supine position causing increased labor times (Culter, 2012). Being able to move freely and change positions during your labor experience may decrease pain, encourage stronger uterine contractions, and enable the baby to properly descend into the birth canal. All of these decrease the chances of cesarean section (Zwelling, 2010).
Cesarean surgery is often perceived as benign, but the surgery can place the parent at an increased risk of infection, hemorrhage, damage to abdominal and urinary tract organs, longer recovery, and complications from anesthesia (Tussey, C. M). The most common cause of cesarean is labor stalling or not progressing. Yet, utilizing a birth ball and peanut balls during labor can encourage labor progression (Gau, Chang, Tian, & Lin, 2011; Johnston, 1997; Zwelling, 2010). This is because peanut balls and birth calls assist in “spinal flexion, increasing the uterospinal angle, and increasing the pelvic diameters to facilitate occiput posterior rotation (Zwelling, 2010), which results in a widened pelvic outlet. In general, exercise/birthing balls widen the pelvic inlet and outlet dimensions”.
You may be familiar with birthing balls which I have also heard called yoga balls! Birthing Balls are just large, spherical balls that the parent can use in numerous ways. A peanut ball is shaped like a peanut, hence the name. They are more cylindrical than spherical and have a smaller middle than the ends. Peanut balls come in various sizes and these different sizes can be used for different uses or different body sizes of the birthing parent.
This is a birthing ball! Parents can use these in numerous ways! They can be sat on as long as the parent’s hips are at a 90-degree angle to their hips. You do not want someone’s hips to be below their knees as this can potentially cause malposition for the baby. Parents can also rest their upper half on the ball and rock their hips side to side or roll backward and forward on the ball. Movement is key!
You can see that a peanut ball if much different from a regular birth ball. The ball has a slight dip, giving it a peanut shape. This ball can be a powerful tool during labor but it can be used during pregnancy as well! Parents can use a peanut ball before labor when resting in bed! The parent can lay in a side-lying position and rest their top leg on the ball to prevent pelvic discomfort. This position can also be used in labor when the parent wants to keep the pelvis open but rest.
The photos above are direct links to Amazon’s page for birth balls or peanut balls. You can either use this link which is my amazon affiliate link, or purchase your birth balls from Premier Birth Tools.
There is no way we can talk about peanut balls and not discuss Mandy Irby! Mandy Irby is a Labor and Delivery Nurse who is passionately working to teach other nurses and birth support persons how to properly utilize birth tools during labor. I added one of her videos discussing peanut balls for you to continue learning about how fantastic this tool is for various birth journeys! For additional videos, please click here.
Jenni Jenkins – Sekine is an Oklahoma City Bereavement, Birth, & Postpartum doula and Child Birth Educator who serves her Central Oklahoma community. She is also a midwifery assistant with Holistic Birthing Services and began her journey as a student midwife with the Midwives College of Utah in 2022.
To learn more about Jenni, please click here.