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!
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?
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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