In a society obsessed with ‘bouncing back’, postpartum mothers are looking to ‘belly binding after birth’ as a means to speed up nature’s healing. But is this ancient art of wrapping really beneficial or are spurious promises luring us into doing more harm than good?
This article takes a look at this growing Instagram trend – what is postpartum wrapping, where did it come from and is it really a good idea? I also ask Women’s Physiotherapist Camilla Lawrence for a professional perspective on the pros and cons of wearing a postpartum belly wrap.
What is the Purpose of a post-pregnancy wrap?
There are many different types of Belly Binding ranging from ab wraps, binders, abdominal belts and Bengkung Binders. Essentially Belly Binding refers to wrapping a material (traditionally a long strip of cloth) around the new mother’s abdomen post birth. This is to encourage the hips, separated abs and connective tissue to squeeze back together. The idea is that the postpartum body, soft from residual relaxin hormones, can be corseted back into its pre-pregnancy size.
Belly binding is typically performed 2-4 days after a vaginal birth and 10 days- 2 weeks postpartum after a cesarean birth.
Where does Belly Binding come from?
Belly Binding is considered to be an ancient technique deriving mainly from the East and Latin America but with some turn of the century popularity in Europe. The ‘Bengkung’ style of binding favoured by Malaysian women, the ‘Sarashi’ taken up by Japanese women and the ‘Faja’ worn by Hispanic Women are examples of longstanding cultural legacies of belly wrapping. Despite this, there is actually very little documentation of exactly when and how this traditional practice came about.
Like many of the maternal traditions of the past (placental consumption, use of herbs/ essential oils and lotus births), Belly binding, after a decline in popularity, is now seeing a resurgence in the West.
With claims of aiding weight loss and flattening stomachs, it is no wonder that this practice is gaining momentum in a culture set on hastening the postpartum recovery process. Pressure on mothers to ‘snap back’ has become normalised, despite being acknowledged as unhelpful and damaging to their wellbeing.
Furthermore, celebrity mothers Kim Kardashian and Jessica Alba have sported enviable toned torsos, reportedly as a result of belly binding. A trend that may have seemed once radical is now becoming both glamorous and ubiquitous.
But does the fact that binding is deep rooted in maternal history deem it to be safe?
I ask Womens’ Physiotherapist Camilla Lawrence for her professional advice on the pros and cons of this trend.
The Expert Opinion….
What do you consider to be the benefits of belly binding after birth?
(Camilla Lawrence) There are many types of postnatal belly binders with numerous claims on-line of what they will do. These include:
- Resolve diastasis recti (separation of the tummy muscles)
- Reduces post-natal bloating and water retention
- Helps the uterus and surrounding organs shrink back to their pre-pregnancy state quicker
- Reduces post-partum bleeding time
- Encourages good posture
- Helps stabilize your pelvis and trunk while your core muscles are weak
- Supports the lower back and reduces back pain
- Supports and improves healing for C-section scars
You refer to these as Claims. Is there any truth behind them?
(Camilla Lawrence) Currently we have no really thorough and reliable research to back up most of these claims, so do be careful not to be swept along with lots of clever marketing statements – some of them are physiologically impossible.
I think it’s fair to say that for postnatal women with very over-stretched, weak or pendulous bellies, a gentle postnatal abdominal band /binder/belt may well give them a feeling of comfort and much-needed support while their body starts to recover and heal. It may also make them more aware of their posture when standing.
A systematic review in 2021 also found that abdominal binders can reduce C-section pain and improve mobility after delivery.
Will a belly binder help with toning of the abdominal muscles and curing Diastsis Recti?
(Camilla Lawrence) An external band (no matter how strong or tight) is not going to miraculously return your posture, joints, bones or muscles to their pre-pregnancy position or strength – no matter how intensively or long you wear it.
A randomised controlled trial in 2022, found that there was no difference in Diastasis reduction between wearing a stretchy Tubigrip abdominal support or rigid abdominal belt postnatally. In fact the authors questioned “whether either of these supports improves upon that associated with natural healing alone”.
What are the risks of Postpartum Belly Binding?
(Camilla) Some women complain of pain or discomfort or skin rashes from where the binders or belts have rubbed from constant wearing.
Many women find that the stiffer belts/binders might be comfortable when standing, but really dig-in around their pelvis/hips/ribs when they sit down. This makes it hard to rest or feed their babies, not ideal for postnatal women.
A lot of women just find they can’t stick to the recommended regime. Many state you have to wear the binder every minute of every day/night for up to two months in order to get the best results. That is a considerable amount of time and commitment.
Binders or bands that hold you tightly can mean that you use your stomach muscles even less throughout the day. This causes them to weaken further and have even less tone and strength to hold everything in when you then take the binder off.
Some find if their binder is too tight that it can have a negative effect on their breathing or cause nausea and heartburn.
Most worryingly, for some women, binding can increase their risk of developing or worsening pelvic floor dysfunction, pelvic organ prolapse, and/or urinary incontinence – none of which a new mother needs.
That is worrying. Is this risk greater for certain women?
(Camilla Lawrence) Women who wear their binders/belts too tight, expecting them to work like a waist trainer is where things often go wrong.
If your binder or band is too tight and compressing your abdomen, it can have the effect of squeezing the middle of tube of toothpaste – creating an increase in intra-abdominal pressure and squeezing your pelvic organs downward towards your pelvic floor. This has the potential of leading to pelvic floor strain, prolapse and possibly hernias.
This effect will be even more pronounced if you have a particularly weak pelvic floor after your pregnancy or delivery or are already at higher risk of developing pelvic floor dysfunction or prolapse postnatally.
Is there a ‘Safe way’ to try belly binding after birth?
(Camilla Lawrence) Your best option is to get a thorough postnatal body assessment with a specialist women’s health/ pelvic physiotherapist FIRST – before you consider binding /wrapping. They should be able to check your abdominal muscles, diastasis, pelvic floor status, spine and pelvic joints. They will then give you individual advice as to your risk level with binding and whether it may be appropriate for you or not.
Don’t wear any belly binders or wraps too tightly (and avoid any tight corsets / waist trainers in the postnatal period). The binder/band should feel supportive not restrictive. It should be easy to breathe and not limit your movement through your trunk or increase the intra-abdominal pressure downwards on your pelvic floor region. Get your physio to check the type/ fit so that you’re not doing more harm than good.
Try different types or sizes to get the best fit for your frame. Try to ensure that the binder/belly band is sitting low enough to wrap round your pelvis as well as your abdomen – so that it’s not just squeezing you in the middle.
If you are using the Bengkung Belly Binding Method, make sure you have it applied from your pelvis upwards, by someone experienced and qualified to do it properly.
Give yourself breaks throughout the day to do some breath-work and gentle abdominal and pelvic floor exercises. This way you are strengthening alongside wearing the support.
Lastly, Is there any alternative to belly binding for mothers eager to reduce their ‘mummy tummies’?
(Camilla Lawrence) Belly binding is sadly not a quick fix to a speedier postnatal recovery and a perfect flat stomach. Your tummy may appear flatter with a belly band, binder or belt on. However, if you don’t bother to exercise and strengthen up the weakened core muscles and watch your nutrition, when you take the support band off you won’t be any stronger, fitter or thinner.
I’d strongly recommend all postnatal women go and get a Postnatal Body Check or “Mummy MOT” with a specialist women’s health/pelvic health physiotherapist if they can. This is a full hour assessment of your physical status and postnatal recovery. It will pick up any issues with your tummy muscles (like diastasis recti) or pelvic floor muscles, and your joints, posture, alignment and breathing, and give you a plan of how to address these first.
Alongside this, there are now a plethora of excellent in-person and online postnatal core retraining programs with brilliant postnatal personal trainers and fitness specialists. These will generally be a much better and longer-term fix for reducing the size of your tummy and strengthening up those all-important core and global muscles. This will ensure you are ready for all the physical demands that motherhood brings.
Camilla Lawrence is an experienced, specialist Women’s Health Physiotherapist in the UK. She runs a domiciliary Women’s Health Physiotherapy service across the Test Valley (from Salisbury to Winchester) Camilla assesses and treats women in the comfort of their own homes and also offers online appointments for women living anywhere else in the UK. She is a highly regarded Antenatal Class Teacher and is a Tutor on regular study days for Physiotherapists with a specialist interest in Women’s Health. @camillalawrencephysio