Is belly binding ok postpartum?
In our bounce back culture, many women turn to binding their bellies postpartum. And logically it makes sense, right?
Your abdominals have separated and you want to hold your belly in, so you wrap it up nice and snug. There are all sorts of claims out there about how great belly binding is in it's various forms. Many supporters of belly binding claim that it helps diastasis heal faster, reduces postpartum healing time, reduces swelling, and all around only has positive effects.
All of these claims could very well be true, but they aren't the whole story. Let's take a look at the various types of belly binding and give you a fair review of each method.
Velcro postpartum belly binder
There is no other way to describe these things as anything but "contraptions." I don't even really know what to call it since it goes by so many names and there really isn't a standard name for it. So the "velcro postpartum belly binder" will from here on out be referred to as the velcro binder for the sake of brevity.
Basically, this is a waist trainer or shaper that can come in one or multiple pieces (I've seen up to three pieces) that are then placed around the waist, lower ribs, and pelvis with the aim of providing compression to reshape the postpartum body. If you're not sure what I'm talking about, here is a link for your viewing pleasure.
Pros of the velcro binder
With a binder like this, one could derive benefit from the pelvic portion specifically. If applied properly, it could be incredibly helpful to women who are suffering from pelvic pain as a result of loosened ligaments. In those struggling with SI joint dysfunction or symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD), the compression of the belt on the pelvis could provide enough external stability for relief from their symptoms.
This binder also would force someone to have fairly decent lower back posture if applied snuggly. This could be incredibly helpful for women struggling with back pain postpartum to prevent poor posture from breastfeeding and pregnancy in general, as well as from lack of strong abdominal muscles.
Mamas post c-section may love this binder because of the support it gives the abdomen and the spine. C-section recovery is a whole different animal compared to recovery after a vaginal birth, and providing gentle compression around the abdomen and pelvis can be the difference between being mobile and able to hold your baby versus being completely incapacitated and bedridden (ask me how I know).
Cons of the velcro binder
Velcro binders tend to be very inflexible. They are very rigid and can make it very difficult to sit comfortably. And forget nursing in one, it's darn near impossible to get comfortable enough. Also, with so much rigidity, it encourages the abdominal muscles to check out and take a vacation. Our bodies are nothing if not efficient, so if something doesn't have to put in effort, it's not going to. Not so great if we are hoping to bring our diastasis back together. We need our muscles working!
These binders are also very easy to put on tight. Like, waaaaay too tight. It might make your waist look nice, but it's not going anything good for your pelvic floor. Let me tell you why.
Our entire abdominal canister functions like a can of soda or soup. It has similar structure with a top (our diaphragm), a bottom (our pelvic floor), and the walls (our abdominal and spinal muscles). It does have a couple of key differences though. First, our abdominal can has one hole through the top, our esophagus which passes through our diaphragm, where food is swallowed down into our stomach. Second, it has three holes at the bottom: our urethra, vagina, and anus. This is where urine, babies, and feces exit our bodies, respectively. These holes automatically become weak points in any system. If you poked a hole in a soda can, what would happen? The soda would start leaking out.
Under normal circumstances, our muscles do an excellent job at controlling the opening and closing all of these openings in our abdominal canister so that we can function optimally. This allows us to properly maintain pressure and a) prevents food from coming back up into our throat at the top through the diaphragm and b) prevents urine and feces from leaking out through the pelvic floor. Even with activity, these areas should have no problem doing their job and staying closed at the appropriate times.
Now imagine you have a hole in the bottom of your soda can because lets say, for example, your soda can had a baby (just go with me here). Now, wrap your hand around the can and squeeze. What is going to happen to the can and all of that soda?
That's right, a deluge. Soda everywhere. The hole you poked might even get a little bigger because of all the pressure. Yikes, what a mess!
That's exactly what's happening to your pelvic floor when you wrap your belly up tight with a binder. Pressure has to go somewhere, and it's a law of physics that pressure will always take the path of least resistance. It will go down through your pelvic floor and put unnecessary stress on the muscles and ligaments that are already operating at a disadvantage from your pregnancy and delivery. It could lead to issues with incontinence, painful return to intercourse, and even pelvic organ prolapse.
We can't say this is true 100% of the time, of course. But it's true often enough that I don't recommend velcro belly binders willy-nilly to moms postpartum. I need to have a good long conversation with someone and do a physical exam before recommending one of these.
This isn't a binder per se, but is more so considered to be shapewear.
However, there are some companies out there marketing them to postpartum women telling them it will change their body shape and correct their diastasis. A body suit typically is a one piece garment that loosely resembles a swim suit. Some include thigh coverage or chest coverage as well. There's lot of variety in design here. If you don't know what they look like, you can click here to see an example.
Pros of the body suit
You may notice an improvement in posture with a bodysuit depending on how tight it is. This may be beneficial for back pain postpartum, just like the velcro binder, if that's a struggle for you. Depending on the amount of compression, this postural adjustment may actually be beneficial for your pelvic floor and diastasis recti, as it may improve alignment and reduce abnormal forces on these areas as a result. You also may appreciate the smoothing effect it can have on the tummy area, and we all know that sometimes confidence is the goal regardless of actual healing potential.
Cons of the body suit
A body suit is not going to provide you with any of the benefit to your pelvic bones like the velcro binder will. It does not have enough targeted compression to the pelvis to offer much of any symptom relief for pelvic pain.
However, the compression may be enough to stress our your pelvic floor, just like the velcro binder. There is a wide variety of body suits, and they vary from simple smoothing with very light compression to complete reshaping where it flattens your tummy and gives you a defined waist. The more compression you get out of your body suit, the more pressure it is going to put down onto your pelvic floor which we generally want to avoid for the reasons listed above with our soda can example.
If you're going to go with a body suit, I would consider getting one with very light compression, more smoothing vs shaping. It will be friendlier to your pelvic floor and reduce the chances you'll be calling me months down the line because you can feel your organs starting to fall out.
Bengkung belly binding
I'm going to give this one an honorable mention because it's a technique used commonly in other parts of the world. That being said, I am by no means an expert in Bengkung belly binding, nor have I ever had it done to myself. Maybe I'll play around with it sometime in the future. But for now, my brief analysis of this belly binding technique is based solely on YouTube videos like this one here.
Pros of Bengkung belly binding
In my estimation, I could see this being great for the pelvic bones if it is being applied correctly. The gentle compression of the fabric around the tops of the hips in a circumferential manner would help support the widened pelvis and probably feel pretty good, especially right after giving birth. And the gentle compression through the abdomen looks like it would help with maintaining good posture, which is crucial for pelvic floor health, as well as reducing back pain. The actual method of wrapping with overlapping the fabric passes should allow for decent expansion and mobility through the abdomen while also providing structure. It reminds me a little of a fish's scales- they overlap and provide some external structure while also allowing the body to be very mobile. And because it looks like it allows for trunk mobility and isn't so rigid that your abdominals check out like with a velcro binder, it should still encourage abdominal activation, which is part of the puzzle with diastasis healing.
Cons of Bengkung belly binding
Just like the other two belly support methods discussed above, there is still the potential for pelvic floor stress with Bengkung binding as well. Applying is correctly should reduce that risk, but it is still there, especially if it is put on too tight. It also is somewhat time consuming to put on, especially if you are doing it yourself and don't know what you're doing.
That's about as deep as I can go with my Bengkung analysis, not having any experience with it myself or with my clients. But I will say, there's a reason that Bengkung belly binding has been a tradition carried forward from traditional cultures. I think it has some promise as a potential binding technique for the modern woman that allows for the best of both worlds- support and healing while also being mindful of the pelvic floor.
Are there any common belly binding methods I missed? What have you tried an liked? Leave a comment and let me know!
Made a mistake and caused some pelvic floor issues because of how you used a binder? Don't worry, we can fix that. Hit the contact button below and let's get that turned around for you.