There are a lot of products you can wear postpartum that are marketed as a way to return to your pre–pregnancy body faster with claims that they promote healing and weight loss. This ranges from Bengkung belly binding to mass produced garments for sale on Amazon. These garments go by a lot of different names like pregnancy shape wear, wraps, binders, girdles, or support belts. Brands vary and there are different styles, but overall the idea behind all of these is the same. The big question is, do they really work? This episode digs into the marketing claims and evidence, or lack of evidence, to back up these claims. Plus, tips for finding the right one and an evaluation of the top selling products.
Article and Resources
Belly binding and postpartum girdles claim to support healing and help you return to your pre-pregnancy body faster. This article examines the marketing claims and benefits and examines whether they are evidence based. This article does not explore waist trainers, designed to give you an hour glass shape or support belts worn during pregnancy to help with back or pelvic pain.
There is also a product called a belly band or tummy sleeve. This is a spandex band designed to be able to wear your pre-pregnancy pants or shorts unbuttoned so they are more comfortable and help hold them up. My personal experience with these is that they worked fine early on. The bigger my belly got the more they tended to move around and I ended up constantly adjusting it throughout the day and it kept riding up. These also tend to sit low at the bottom so you probably want to pair it with a longer short to hide it.
This article is focused on items marketed to use post pregnancy. When I was researching for this episode I saw a lot of claims that belly binding is an ancient custom in many Eastern cultures but I had trouble really finding any details on it. It may very well be true, but I couldn’t find a solid source on it that went into any detail.
Bengkung Belly Binding
There are a lot of blogs from postpartum doulas promoting Bengkung belly binding which is referred to as being rooted in Malaysian culture. The word bengkung means cloth belt in Malay. Bengkung belly binding is promoted as giving you support and helping the postpartum recovery process, and even go so far as to claim that it helps balance your hormones.
With Bengkung belly binding your abdomen is wrapped snuggly with a long cloth made from cotton, muslin, or silk fabric. The cloth is typically least 15 yards long and about 8 to 9 inches wide when finished. This can be one over or under your clothes and goes around your hips all the way up to your breasts. Bengkung wraps are really beautiful. The cloths are often colorful and as they are wrapped around your torso they are tied in the front, which created a pretty pattern. I only found one on Amazon and if you are looking to buy a colorful one, Etsy is a better bet.
Some postpartum doulas offer Bengkung binding as a service and combine it with massage, belly creams, a lesson on how to wrap yourself, and include the actual cloth wrap. If you want to see how your would wrap yourself with this technique here is a short tutorial on YouTube.
It is recommended that for a vaginal delivery, you be wrapped within the first week postpartum and if you have had a cesarean that you wait 4-6 weeks postpartum with a doctor’s approval. You will continue to wrap for each day, for around 10-12 hours, up to around the 40 day mark.
Postpartum Wraps and Girdles
Bengkung belly binding comes from a holistic approach to healing after birth. There are many other supports sold as pregnancy shape wear, belly wraps, belly binders, postpartum girdles, and support belts. Brands vary and there are a lot of different styles, but overall the idea behind all of these is the same.
General recommendations are to begin wearing it within a few days of birth, and continue for 6-8 weeks.
Evidence on Marketing Claims
A Google search for “postpartum girdle” or “belly wrap” results in many marketing claims and a lot of blog posts on why you need a girdle postpartum. You know me, I want to cut through the noise and find out if there is any evidence that these actually do live up to the claims they make.
One thing I want to make clear, it took 9 months for your body to get to where it is after birth, and your body has been through a lot. There is so much pressure to get back in shape. Give yourself time and have some compassion for all of the amazing things your body has done. Especially in the first few weeks after birth you are healing and your focus should be you and your baby, not getting back into shape.
Provides abdominal and Back Support
This is true, any brace around your midsection will do this. If you have any back issues this could be nice to have extra support there. Abdominal support may or may not be comforting for you. I will say that immediately following your birth your stomach and midsection may feel a bit strange. You go from a big tight belly to a soft belly after your baby, placenta, and a lot of fluids are out.
After my last birth my midwife offered to wrap my belly, and I did it just to try it, and it was comforting. It did support my midsection and I wore it for a couple of days. I don’t whether it actually made any difference in my recovery, but it did feel nice.
Promotes Good Posture
Many of these kind of force you sit up straight because of they are uncomfortable to slouch in, or it may have boning in it, which kind of forces you to stay upright. Good posture is a good thing and it would make sense that these do that.
Boosts Your Self Esteem
It may be a surprise to hear that after you have your baby, you still look pregnant, and you will likely still be sporting your maternity clothes after birth. Pregnancy shape wear worn under clothes may give the appearance that you are slimmer, and if that boosts your confidence, awesome.
Aids in Recovery for a Cesarean
I found a mix of evidence on the claim that belly wraps or supports aid in the recovery for a cesarean. A study of 178 women who underwent a cesarean compared abdominal binding to no additional intervention and found that the women who had abdominal binding tended to use less pain medication overall but found no differences in wound healing. This doesn’t support the claim that it aids in recovery, but it seemed to reduce pain, seeing that women who had abdominal support used less medication, after 24 hours.
A pilot study randomized 56 patients who had a cesarean birth into two groups, one who had their bellies bound and the other who did not. They measured the effects by surveys of pain levels after birth. They found that the group who underwent belly binding had lower pain levels. Participants who wore the binder had it on for the first 24 hours postoperatively, which is the time frame they were measuring pain for. A big limitation to this study was that it didn’t go beyond the first 24 hours. That time frame is critical for bonding and I do not want to downplay the importance of it, but it would have been nice to see results if this trial had gone on longer.
Pain was measured on a scale of 10, with 10 being the worst pain and participants used an elastic abdominal binder. The average pain score for the binder group was 3.45, compared to 4.48 in the placebo group. Also keep in mind these mothers were given pain medications, which was accounted for in the study.
If you are planning on a cesarean, or end up having an unplanned cesarean, ask your doctor about using postpartum shape wear or other types of compression post-surgery. You do want to be cautious about anything that would put pressure on or irritate an incision.
Made with Medical Grade Materials or FDA Approved
Some companies market their belts or undergarments as medical devices, and it may even be approved by the FDA. Although the FDA does not require registration or approval of these types of products. The FDA sees them as low-risk. Meaning using it incorrectly would likely not cause harm so they aren’t concerned about monitoring it. Insurance may cover the cost of an FDA approved product. Contact your insurance company to learn about coverage and required documentation.
Helps You Lose Your Post Baby Belly Faster
Perhaps the biggest claim of postpartum shape wear is that you can loose your post baby belly faster. Sounds awesome right? I tried to figure out the mechanics behind this claim and didn’t find any evidence to back this up.
Your uterus needs to return back to a normal size in the weeks after birth. Contractions are what help your uterus shrink. These afterpains are caused by oxytocin which is released during breastfeeding and skin to skin contact. There is not evidence that a belly band will help with shrinking your uterus.
Helps with Diastasis Recti
Diastasis recti is a condition in which you have a gap wider than 2.7 cm between your left and right abdominal muscles. Specific exercises can be done to improve this, some exercises can make this worse. I am not going to go into detail on this in this episode, but if this is something you think you may have after birth it is worth bringing up with your doctor or midwife. I did not find evidence that any type of under garment helped or corrected this.
There is a small study, of only 30 women, that compared abdominal exercise to an abdominal supporting belt, from the second day after a vaginal birth through 6 weeks postpartum. They found that the group who did abdominal exercises had a greater increase in abdominal strength, greater decrease in inter-recti distance.
The Downside to Belly Binding or Postpartum Supports
At this point you should have a good idea of what postpartum shape wear is and the claims and evidence or lack of evidence to back up those claims. What about the downside? If you are comfortable wearing a support belt, or a girdle, there isn’t really much of a downside. I am not seeing overwhelming evidence to justify wearing this if you are uncomfortable. There is a lot of pressure to get back in shape after you have your baby. You have a lot more important things to think about after birth and please give yourself some space before you start trying to get back in shape or to a pre-pregnancy weight or shape.
Considerations for Buying Belly Wraps and Supports
There are a lot of different types of postpartum girdles out there. If you decide this is something you want to try after you have your baby I want to give some tips to find the right one for you.
Prices range from around $15-$140 and insurance coverage of these products may be challenging.
Can You Wear it Under Clothes?
Nude color best for this, because it will not show up under lighter colored or thinner tops. Another thing to think about is, how bulky is it? Can you wear it with a fitted top and not be able to tell you have something on underneath?
How easy will it be to put on and take off?
These all fasten in the front which means you can put it on and take it off yourself. There are some that use velcro, others have hooks, and some have zippers. If you have a preference here this could be something to pay attention to. The ones with hooks usually have two rows of hooks so there is some room for adjustment. Velcro will have the most room for adjustment and zippers offer the least amount of adjustment.
If it includes a part that goes under your crotch, how do you go to the bathroom? Is It convenient or do you have to take the whole thing off. Also remember that you essentially have a period after you have your baby for up to 6 weeks. Pads will add another layer to a garment that covers your crotch.
Can you throw it in the washing machine or do you have to hand wash it? You will have a lot going on with a new baby and the less maintenance it will be the better.
Top Selling Wraps and Girdles
Now that you know some of the things you should think about lets run through some of the best selling ones. I wish that I had personal experience with one of these. It isn’t something I used after my son was born. It is tough to have a solid recommendation without personal experience. When I do recommend a product to you it is because I have a personal experience with it.
What I really like about this product is that the focus is on healing after birth and it has pelvic support, there are three strips of fabric that go under your crotch. You can also add ice or a heat pack that you can put in the crotch. I have done an episode on padsicles, or frozen pads for after birth and they are amazing. Your vagina goes through a lot during birth and icing it can be really helpful. The belly part is an adjustable Velcro so you get that back and belly support that you can easily adjust. The downsides is that you have to pull it completely down to go to the bathroom or change a pad. This only comes in black, and may not be ideal under light colored clothes. This is one of the more expensive options at $115-$130.
The Bellefit uses hooks to fasten it and it covers your crotch. You do not have to take the whole garment off to go to the bathroom or change a pad. This corset has boning in the sides, which could be good or bad, depending on your preferences. The belly part has two rows of hooks up the middle so you can adjust the size. The downside is the hooks may show through clothes, and you may need to wear layers to hide it.
This waist trimmer belt comes in beige, black, and grey. This wraps around your belly only, so there is not crotch part of this. Depending on your personal preferences the lack of crotch support could be good or bad. This is easily adjustable and fastens with velcro. There is some boning in it, theoretically this should help keep it from rolling up or down. A plus of this product is that it is inexpensive and only costs about $16. The downside is that the velcro can be a bit noisy when you move. Some of the reviews noted that it didn’t stay in place well. But, again, it is only $16.
This support wrap has 3 belts in it, which allows you to use it in multiple places. You also have the option of wearing only one or all three of them depending on what you are going for and what is comfortable.
A plus is that this product is only $20. The downside is that it may take a few times of putting it on and wearing it to get the hang of it. This is one of the bulkier wraps, but, again, it is only $20.
Tips When Wearing a Wrap or Support
If you do decide to buy a postpartum girdle or wrap there are a few things to keep in mind. The first is don’t wear it if it is painful, if you try it a couple days after birth and it is uncomfortable wait a few days or a week and try it again. Especially if you have an incision from a cesarean or your vagina is sore. This is especially important in the beginning, you are healing, and you should be as comfortable as possible.
Another thing to think about is that there is no magic postpartum girdle. We went through all of the claims and the pros and cons. There is not one thing on the market that is the magic bullet to getting skinny or making postpartum recovery a breeze.
Lastly, it is a good idea to run this by your doctor or midwife. Get their thoughts and give them an opportunity to give you their input, especially in light of your individual circumstances and how your recovery is progressing.
Thank you to the amazing companies that have supported this episode.
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