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What postpartum belly binding can do for your post-baby body

May 17, 2019
What postpartum belly binding can do for your post-baby body

If you’ve been pregnant and have given birth any time during the last five years or so, odds are pretty high that your social media feeds have been inundated with photos of celebrities or popular mom bloggers wearing and raving about postpartum belly wraps and bands. Celeb moms like Cardi B and Jessica Alba swear that wearing one after giving birth was the key to getting back to their pre-baby bods. But just how well do these postpartum wraps work, what can and can’t they do and how the heck are you supposed to wear them anyway? We asked experts and real moms for their thoughts and advice around postpartum belly binding.

What is postpartum belly binding?

Although the hype around belly wraps and bands has exploded over the last decade because of the celebrity moms who swear by them, the practice of postpartum binding has been around for centuries. Belly wrapping is an old practice in Malaysian culture where it is known as “bengkung,” and it has also been in practice in places like Japan and Mexico for hundreds of years. Women would wrap a piece of muslin or similar cloth around the abdomen of a new mom immediately after she had given birth to help give her extra physical support as her body healed.

These days, there are plenty of belly wrap products available in stores or online for moms to choose from if they decide to go this route after giving birth. In fact, some hospitals even supply new moms with a postpartum wrap to bring home.

What does postpartum belly binding do?

A postpartum wrap or band can be used to help support your abdominal muscles directly in the first few weeks after you give birth, when those muscles are at their weakest. They can also provide light compression to help your uterus shrink back, although that will happen naturally anyway. Many moms use postpartum wraps after vaginal births, but they can be especially helpful to women who gave birth via C-section.

“After you have a C-section, your abs are weakened and you have very little control over them,” says Dr. Sarah Ellis Duvall, founder of Core Exercise Solutions, physical therapist, and mom of two. “The wrap can help give you that extra bit of support.”

Is postpartum belly wrapping safe?

Postpartum belly wraps in and of themselves are completely safe. That said, women who use them improperly can end up doing more damage than good. There are two really important rules to keep in mind when you’re wearing your postpartum wrap:

1. Be careful not to cinch the wrap too tightly.

Duvall says cinching the wrap too tightly is one of the worst things you can do to your body after birth and the No. 1 mistake many women make when wearing a postpartum wrap. Since many women are focused not just on recovery but on trying to get their bodies to “bounce back,” they tend to err on the side of taking the compression way too far. This is something to absolutely avoid doing at all costs as it can lead to serious problems.

“Cinching the wrap too tightly can be a real concern,” says Duvall. “We have a pressure management system in our core, which has already been impacted by pregnancy and birth. If you cinch the wrap too tightly, the pressure has to go somewhere else, and the path of least resistance is your pelvic floor. This could result in prolapse (a bulge in your pelvic floor), which can take longer to rehab and recover from, so prevention is the best medicine. It is best to tighten it just enough to offer gentle support, but no tighter.”  

2. Don’t wear the wrap for longer than you really need to

A postpartum wrap can provide some much-needed support right after you give birth, but there is no reason to keep wearing one for an extended period of time.

“I do like to wean women off of them fairly quickly because of the risk to the pelvic floor,” Duvall says. “The concern is delaying our bodies and muscles from recovering on their own. Begin using your own muscles without support whenever you feel comfortable. The sooner you start to use your muscles again, the more quickly they will recover.”

The only way for your body to fully recover is to allow your muscles to begin to do the work. This doesn’t mean hitting the gym to do a serious ab workout. Your muscles will begin to recover by doing everyday tasks, like getting out of bed, getting off the couch, standing up, picking up your baby and other ordinary movements. It’s important to use your muscles, but not to overwork them.

How do postpartum belly wraps work?

The way that belly wraps work is pretty simple. They all go around your abdominal area, typically from the top of your hips to right underneath your breasts. They are designed to compress around that area in order to give you core support. Most also include the ability to wrap the band as loosely or as tightly as you need, but remember … not too tight!

Do postpartum belly wraps help with weight loss or body shaping?

Experts are quick to point out two things that a postpartum wrap will not do — contrary to the promises from ads you may see online.

“They do not help you lose weight after delivery, nor do they have any effect on body shape,” says Dr. Joseph Chappelle, an assistant professor of OB-GYN at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York, and creator of the OB/GYN Podcast.

“The most important contributors to postpartum weight loss are diet, exercise and breastfeeding,” says Chappelle. “I do have an issue with the marketing of these products at postpartum women for the sake of weight loss or body slimming.”

Duvall agrees and says that, while the wraps offer valuable support to weakened muscles, they should not be looked at as a quick way to get back in shape. There is simply no magic solution that will get you the body of your dreams after you give birth.

“A wrap is not a substitute for building muscle,” Duvall says. “It is not meant to create a smaller waist. It is meant to support muscles that are feeling unstable.”

When to start using a postpartum belly wrap

“I had my husband bring my Belly Bandit to the hospital,” says Heather Manford, a mom of twins from Pittsburgh. “I wanted to put it on as soon as I could, because a friend told me that it would be helpful after my C-section. For me, it was a great source of support and I’m glad I had it right away.”

Experts agree that it is completely fine to begin wearing a postpartum belly wrap right after birth. In fact, that is when it’s likely to provide the most needed support.

“Wearing it immediately is OK if you feel like it’s helping to provide support,” says Duvall.

What’s the limit per day for wearing one?

According to Dr. Chappelle, there is no real time limit on how long you can keep the belly wrap on during the day. “They can be worn for as long as they are comfortable,” she says.

When to avoid a belly wrap altogether

Make sure you get the OK from your doctor before you start using any wrap. Some women who have had serious complications during birth, such as preeclampsia, may be told to stay away from wrapping their bellies. If you have C-section complications, your doctor may not want you to wear one either.

“Women with a separation or infection of their cesarean incision should speak with their providers before wearing a wrap or binder,” says Chappelle. “In my practice, I advise women not to wear them in these situations, as they can make those conditions worse.”

Can a postpartum wrap help with diastasis recti?

During pregnancy, your uterus grows, which in turn causes your stomach muscles to separate to create more room. Diastasis recti is a condition in which those stomach muscles remain separated even after pregnancy. Although you may have heard it suggested that postpartum wraps can help with diastasis recti, experts don’t agree.

“There is minimal research on wraps and diastasis recti, although studies have shown that physical therapy is better than wraps at improving diastasis,” Chappelle says. “The wraps can still be used for comfort but should not be used as a treatment for diastasis.”

“Diastasis recti is a very specific condition that can’t be fixed by a belly wrap,” says Duvall. “You're dealing with a vulnerable area in your body that needs time to heal. Wrapping might help you prevent doing damage, but your body needs to heal on its own time. Go to a physical therapist if you need help with diastasis recti. Look for someone who has experience working with diastasis recti or pelvic floor issues to assist you in person.”

Donna Radall, a mom of three from Rensselaer, New York, says that she suffered from diastasis recti and wishes she hadn’t waited so long to seek help.

“I was doing a lot of things that I thought were going to help, including a few different wraps, but I was flying blind,” Radall says. “[My pilates instructor] suggested a physical therapist that she knew, and I made way more progress that way. Honestly, I’m just grateful I didn’t hurt myself worse during that time.”

Read next: What’s normal when it comes to postpartum bleeding

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