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Postpartum Belly Binding?

Oct20

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Belly_Bandit.png
Photo of a Belly Bandit

Okay, so this question was originally intended for the Advice Smackdown, but the topic seems much more suited for over here. But because I probably never would have come up with this topic on my own, I’m keeping the Q&A format to give credit where credit is due to the original question-asker, and no, I don’t know why I felt the need to explain this in such excruciating detail, or why I am still talking at all. Moving on!

Dear Amalah:

I am 7+ months pregnant, and now that I see my days of unfettered gluttony and laziness starting to wane, I’ve begun to do some research regarding how to shape back up after baby comes. I know all about diet, exercise, taking advantage of breastfeeding metabolism, blah, blah, blah. What I’m looking for is some advice about shortcuts. Or one in particular. Belly binding.

Truthfully, the practice sounds horrific. I can’t really imagine squishing my traumatized belly into a glorified ace bandage with Velcro for 40 days and nights. What about sitting? Or laying down? Or itchiness? If it’s anything like the agony and gastrointestinal distress caused by a too-tight pair of Spanx, I can’t help but think the entire practice would be excruciatingly uncomfortable.

On the other hand, I’ve read glowing reports about how new moms can be back in their pre-pregnancy jeans in 2 weeks! Have a flat as an pancake belly in 4 weeks! All because of belly binding! Yay! So, of course, I’m intrigued. I mean, I suppose I could put up with it for a while if the results are that good.

What do you think? Did you belly bind? If not, do you know anyone who did? Would you recommend it? If so, what belly binder brand(s) would you recommend?

Thanks,
Fearful of Flab

No, I did not belly bind, nor do I personally know anyone who did — or at least anyone who copped to it publicly. All my knowledge about the practice and its many promises comes from super-scientific Internet research.

Most of that research, unfortunately, is still limited to anecdotes on various message boards and the products’ own web sites — there aren’t too many big official medical research papers or independent clinical trials out there on belly binding. Or any, in fact. Most doctors will shrug if you ask them about it, or tell you to go for it if you’re into it, rarely actually falling into real pro/con positions about it. Others might recommend it on the basis that it’s really popular and traditional in other cultures, but then again…there are plenty of traditional things related to pregnancy and childbirth from other cultures that I have NO interest in trying. Others will sniff dismissively and tell you that exercise is really the only way back to your pre-pregnancy shape.

For those of you who are scratching your heads here: belly binding is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Starting almost immediately postpartum, you wrap your belly up as tightly as possible — women have used everything from Ace Bandages to girdles to corsets, but of course now there are all sorts of specialty products you can buy. The Belly Bandit is the most popular, but one of the most expensive (especially since you need to bind EVERY DAY, you’ll need more than one). Medela makes one, and some of them are no-frills, downright orthopedic-looking things.

The main promise is simple: A flatter tummy faster. Some of the products hedge this promise (“mom’s tummy FEELS flatter and smoother”) or focus on the fuzzy idea of “support”, and some of them amp up the promises to almost laughable levels (“be back in your pre-pregnancy jeans by two weeks!”) There is no doubt in my mind after reading the anecdotal evidence on blogs and message boards that for some women, the binding really did help that squashy postpartum belly go down faster. And that’s no small thing: It took a good four weeks before I felt like I no longer looked pregnant, and even that felt like an ETERNITY, complete with days where I all but cried in the mirror because I couldn’t fit into anything but sweatpants.

But…here’s the thing with binding: we’re not talking weight loss here. If your butt went up a pants size or two during pregnancy, binding isn’t going to make your jeans look any better. We’re talking uterine contractions only, and I admit I’m pretty fuzzy (and a tad skeptical) on the science of how a tight girdle can really have that much of an impact on uterine contractions, which are for the most part, hormonal. Breastfeeding causes your uterus to contract back to size, for example. As does skin-to-skin contact with your newborn. But again: the anecdotes that I’ve read are almost universally positive that the binding has a real, measurable impact on the postpartum pooch. Does the binding actually make the pooch go down MORE than it would on its own, or is it just getting to the same point a little FASTER? I have no idea, and you could probably listen to a hundred more women talk about their binded and bindless recovery periods and still not know for sure.

There are two other factors that get mentioned a lot when the binding topic comes up: separated ab muscles and c-sections. Separated ab muscles (Diastasis Recti) are really common, and can really impact the shape of your stomach and your bounce-back time. Specific kinds of exercises are generally recommended (and a lot are contraindicated), and many women think it’s a permanent thing, only correctable via surgery, it’s not. It just requires a good exercise regimen. If you think this is happened to you or aren’t sure, this site is a good place to start. (It’s happened to me, both times. I’m still working on it, but I fully blame my own half-assedness when it comes to exercising.)

I’ve read a lot of stuff about belly-binding helping to “knit” abdominal muscles back together — as if the simple act of squishing them close to each other will speed healing. Other sites admit that no, that’s just going to take the time it takes, but binding can act as a splint and support and make your exercises more effective. Most postpartum exercise specialists strongly disagree, and even float out the theory that external splinting can slow the healing, because the girdle is doing the work for your deep abdominals.

As for c-sections, here’s where I actually think I could get seriously on-board with the postpartum support: when you have a c-section, anything that requires the use of your ab muscles is TERRIFYING. Sneezing, coughing, laughing, getting up and out of bed. IT HURTS. SO BAD. My hospital recommended using a pillow as a splint — something to provide just enough gentle pressure on my stomach to keep it from working too hard while I performed the extremely advanced abdominal move known as the “allergy sneezing fit.” I can really see how binding the belly would cut down on all that discomfort. Though…from looking at a lot of the product options, I’d have some problems choosing one, since some of them look like they would dig into an incision if you sat at a bad angle. But just mulling over the concept makes me wonder if a decent pair of high-waisted granny girdle panties wouldn’t have made my post-c-section life a little easier.

So…yay or nay on the belly-binding? From an immediate postpartum perspective, I’d say it most likely falls in the “can’t hurt, might help” category. Women swear that the bands really aren’t that uncomfortable (though once upon a time I would have said the same thing about my 4-inch stilettos), and I can see the appeal of feeling a bit more tucked in and held together as opposed a lumpy blob of bread dough. If you try it and can’t stand it, stop. (I’m sure a maternity consignment store would be happy to buy your expensive designer elastic doohickey.) If you try it and love it and have a nice flat tummy within a month, awesome. But I would also advise not getting too dependent on it — at some point, you will need to step away from the girdle and start exercising and using your core muscles sans external support. Let your abs actually do the job they’re intended to do, sooner rather than later.

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If there is a question you would like answered by Amalah on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amazon Mom

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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15 Responses to “Postpartum Belly Binding?”

  1. Cobblestone Oct 20 at 11:57 am Reply Reply

    Another thing that is worth mentioning is that there is a good chance that even when your belly is as flat and lovely as it was before you were pregnent it will be a different SHAPE. My son is 14 months and I’ve been back at my pre-preg weight for awhile and my old stomach is just … gone. This one is ok too, but the old shape just isn’t there anymore.
    Good luck!

  2. kellyannecat Oct 20 at 12:07 pm Reply Reply

    I used the Belly Bandit. I didn’t use it until maybe 2 or 3 weeks after my delivery, because the size I ordered (per their sizing instructions) was too small. When it finally did fit, it was uncomfortable, rode high, and got kind of pokey and uncomfortable around my ribs and chest. I wore it for a few hours a day for maybe two or three weeks, that helped me locate my core strength again. After pregnancy, my abdominal and back muscles were so stretched and wonky, that it took a while for me to relearn the habit of engaging those muscles for good posture – the Belly Bandit helped with that, and that felt good. But as for slimming down my pooch . . . well, 8 months post-partum and my old jeans still don’t fit quite right.

  3. Joyce Oct 20 at 12:50 pm Reply Reply

    I hate exercise and any short-cut is preferable, but I completely threw my back out a few months after giving birth (probably due to very weak core muscles). The pain was excruciating and it was nearly impossible taking care of a baby on top of it. The Ana Caban beginner pilates DVD that is 20 mins long was a lifesaver (and won’t make you pee your pants like The Shred). It really helped get my abdominal muscles to… well, exist. Cheaper than the belly bandit, but by all means, if it works… I’m interested to hear.

  4. Angela Oct 20 at 1:29 pm Reply Reply

    I used a Belly Bandit (purchased with Flex Benefits – pregnancy supports are a covered item with my plan). It was…OK. I liked the support, and that it really encouraged me to tighten my abs and sit up straight. Based on my measurements and their sizing recommendations I ordered a medium, which was too big by about 2 weeks postpartum. I ended up sewing more “Fuzzy” Velcro onto it so I could make it tighter. Also, I have a short torso and it tended to ride up. Would I use it again? Probably – but not if I had to pay for it out of pocket.

  5. Anna Oct 20 at 2:22 pm Reply Reply

    I wore a girdle for a few weeks after birth, and I have to say that I really do think that it helped me get my shape back a bit quicker. The women in my family all harped on me to wear one. I was able to squeeze into my pre-preg jeans around 2 weeks pp, with a bit of muffin-top, mind you. I think that perhaps it works on the same principle as binding after some types of surgery — it helps reduce fluid retention and swelling, maybe?

  6. Sarah Oct 20 at 4:41 pm Reply Reply

    I wore a wrap after my c-section…got mine from the hospital. Yey for insurance covering it!

  7. Jaida Oct 20 at 7:08 pm Reply Reply

    I had two c-sections and my hospital actually puts these on you in the recovery room and throughout your stay. I brought mine home both times and wore them for 2-3 weeks. Nothing to do with belly flatness, but I found them hugely comforting and comfortable in terms of the whole “insides falling out” feeling. It cracked me up to see them touted on the news as the newest celebrity secret for regaining your flat tummy.

  8. Suzanne Oct 20 at 8:33 pm Reply Reply

    Oh I TOTALLY fell for that “get back in your old jeans in 2 weeks!” line and bought the Belly Bandit. Like Angela said, it was…OK. I actually brought it to the hospital to try and get it on within minutes of giving birth (because that’s part of their very very important directions – WEAR IT ALL DAY EVERY DAY) but it was too small. When I tried again two days later I could get it closed and within a couple weeks it was too big. And also smelled funny, despite washing it regularly.
    I enjoyed wearing it with jeans because I DID fit into regular, non-maternity jeans while I had it on. Unfortunately the Belly Bandit does nothing for your ass or thighs so I had to buy jeans two sizes larger than I wore pre-pregnancy. (I ended up ordering a pair of Spanx and felt those worked better to make me look less postpartumish. Not a word, I know.)
    Strangely enough, I wore the Bandit mostly at night, because it was good support when I breastfed propped up in bed and it was comfortable enough to sleep in. During the day it bunched up under my ribcage and would poke out over my pants every time I tried to sit down. I did wear it when I exercised because it helped control the jiggling but it got itchy when I would sweat.
    So in conclusion to my epic…Meh. If it helps your feel better and the cost seems reasonable to you, go for it. But as far as actually shrinking and of your poor stretched out internal lady parts, don’t count on it too much.

  9. Ashley Oct 21 at 11:36 pm Reply Reply

    Interesting. I used a belly binding (a HOT, white velcro number), but had never heard of it as a slimming device. Actually, I’d never heard of it at all until a nurse brought it to me post-cesarian and said it would help. And it did, for all of the reasons Amy mentioned. For the first two or three weeks, it was the only way I could sit or stand without feeling like things were spilling out (and I’m talking organs here, not belly bulge). After those threeish weeks, it was too big and I was past the need for it.
    I don’t know if it helped me get back into my jeans, though. I think the daily walks and, later, Jillian Michaels get the credit for that.

  10. Courtney Oct 22 at 2:02 pm Reply Reply

    I’m going to post a full review on my blog, but I had the Belly Bandit too. As previous posters mentioned, it definitely helped with posture and support in the early days. I think it did help me get back to a closer approximation of my pre-pregnancy shape – in the very few first days post-partum, it helped me at least look it because it held everything in – and 8 weeks later I’m in regular jeans with just a slight muffin top when I sit down. But, as posters mentioned, it’s a little long and for women with short torsos it can dig in to your ribs and hips. For me, this led to some painfully clogged ducts. I tried to use it again a few days after the ducts had cleared up but could feel the pain flaring up right away. I only ended up using it for three weeks instead of the six-eight they recommend.

  11. Luisa Oct 26 at 12:24 am Reply Reply

    Living in Japan, belly binding is par for the course. It`s not glamorised (not that I could see anyway) but was a straightforward thing that is done at the hospital to help your pelvis return to it`s original state. (Apparently it expands to accomodate giving birth).
    I used an elastic one for about a month after having my girl..it did seem to offer a lot of support, so by the time I thought I should stop wearing it I felt a little naked and `loose`. But it did the trick in the support area.

  12. Jane May 23 at 11:10 pm Reply Reply

    After my first child which was a c-section I used acebandages to belly bind and after the stitches were out I used a really good belly binder that looked more like a girttle all the wat to under my bust with snaps and a zipper on the side and snaps on the botom to be able to go to the restroom. I wore it for the whole 40 days day , night and inbetween and my tummy went back in days and after the 40 days my tummy was the same as beforw the baby. skin takes a bit longer to get its original tightness back but after 2 months my abs we looking better then even before the baby. my midwife said the reason why its so good to use a belly binding is beccause after the baby is out there sliw all this room for your guts etc to move out of possition because the baby is not there any more but all the loose skin, but if you bind it they stay in place as the skin goes back. I dont even look like I had a child better abs than my friends with no babys. I would Highly recommend belly binding to every woman.

  13. Ib Jun 25 at 6:18 am Reply Reply

    In Nigeria, its common practice to bind or tie the tummy with lots of herbs and bathing very hot water on the belly. I must tell you that it works well. The BINDING AND HOTWATER bathing is done for 3 months and in addition to this you must avoid heavy food and do more work out.

  14. SA mum May 04 at 1:49 am Reply Reply

    I actually got this advice from my maid here in Southern Africa and after having loads of extra skin and a highly unattractive belly – I was back to flat in a month and back to wearing a bikini in 6 weeks.  Pregnant for the second time and just trying to remember when you are supposed to start?

  15. Lacey Oct 06 at 11:51 pm Reply Reply

    So, this post is old, but I thought I’d add my two cents. I’m a postpartum doula and I’ve been trained in a kind of belly binding practiced in Malaysia for generations called Bengkung Java.

    While I’d love to see some studies done, anecdotally all of my moms love the results.

    I don’t guarantee anything to my clients because every body is different and I can’t speak as a medical professional because I’m not.

    However, the tradition in Malaysia, where it’s been practiced for generations, is that it supports the pelvic floor and abdominal muscles and especially the internal organs (which move for pregnancy and then no longer have the support of the uterus, amniotic sac and baby to hold them where they are), encourages good posture, burns fat and reduces water retention.

    Like I said, no promises, but that’s what the tradition says and I’ve had many clients just love it.