Thinking about wearing an abdominal belt after pregnancy to regain some of your prebaby body? There are several things to consider when it comes to binding and wrapping your belly after delivery. Some of it is hype (it's not a miracle cure, after all), but there are also some real potential benefits.
History of Abdominal Wrapping
Wrapping with cloth soon after giving birth has been going on for thousands of years in many cultures, as it's believed to help reduce swelling, tighten overstretched muscles and give the back more support to help decrease aches and pains.
Once your baby is born, all of a sudden your balance shifts because your belly is nearly what it was around the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy. Some hospitals in the U.S. follow the practice of wrapping soon after birth before the new mom leaves the hospital.
Different Types of Post-Pregnancy Belts
It's important to note that there are different types of wraps, corsets, belts and splints. If you choose to wear one, make sure you find one that fits your body well and allows for adjustments so you can be sure to avoid wearing one that's too tight.
- Wraps: Usually made of cloth used soon after postpartum
- Corsets: Not recommended, as they can be extremely tight and put too much pressure on the pelvic floor and organs in the abdominal cavity
- Belts or splints: Typically have Velcro, which allows you to adjust for more or less pressure on your abdominals
Beyond the First Few Weeks
While wrapping soon after birth could be extremely beneficial for some, a 2013 study from the International Journal of Medical, Health, Biomedical, Bioengineering and Pharmaceutical Engineering showed that wearing a postpartum support belt might decrease ab strength.
Those who wore one for six weeks starting the second day after delivery had less intra-abdominal strength when compared to women during that same period who did safe abdominal-strengthening exercises. They also found a decrease in diastasis recti at six weeks postpartum in those who did safe abdominal exercises postpartum.
How to Use a Wrap
Some professionals recommend that clients with a large diastasis recti (three finger-widths or more) who feel as if they could put their hands inside their abdominal cavities could benefit from wearing a postpartum support belt.
If you plan on wearing one, here are some tips for proper wear:
- Use a wrap or support belt to help activate the abdominal muscles. It's not about holding everything in but rather helping to improve your core strength.
- Focus on re-creating deep core strength (see instructions below).
- Stand tall — good posture can improve abdominal strength and core activation.
- Activate your deep core, and then apply the wrap or belt
- Avoid placing the wrap too tightly. You must be able to take in a full breath while wearing it.
- If you feel pressure pushing down on your pelvic floor muscles, the wrap is too tight.
- Avoid overwearing the wrap. You usually only need to wear one for an hour or two at a time.
How to Engage Your Core
Engaging your deep core muscles is a must while wrapping or splinting, as these interventions alone can actually decrease strength in your abdominals. Here's how to do it:
- Inhale to relax your pelvic floor muscles while breathing out into the sides and back of your rib cage. Relaxation is key to proper activation on the exhale.
- Exhale to initiate zipping up the pelvic floor and lower belly (transverse abdominals) and lengthen through the top of your head.
When held properly, you will feel a light core connection and be able to breath deeply out to your side and back. Holding this light deep core connection can help to strengthen your core daily; plus it gives added stability to your spine.
- International Journal of Medical and Health Sciences: Effect of Abdominal Exercises Versus Abdominal Supporting Belt on Post-Partum Abdominal Efficiency and Rectus Separation
- Julie Wiebe, P.T.: The Diaphragm and Our Internal Pressure System
- Oxford University Hospitals: Your Recovery After Childbirth: Physiotherapy, Exercises and Advice