December 31, 2019
By Kimberly Langdon, M.D., OB/GYN
Belly binding has been around for a long time and has recently seen a lot of new products crop up. In addition to belly binders (or abdominal binders), you may have seen ads for belly wraps, postpartum girdles, and corsets. Generally all of these products wrap your abdomen in some way, but they have different levels of compression, claim different benefits, and have varying degrees of safety.
A belly binder generally refers to the medical product that contains an elastic piece of fabric that wraps around the abdomen and is used postoperatively, postpartum, and for back pain. They are often recommended for cesarean births, but there may be some benefits for vaginal births as well.
Pregnancy results in both anatomic (physical/structural) and physiologic (functional) changes that alter the body's center of gravity, thus affecting balance. During pregnancy, strain is put on the joints with weight gain, and the hormones make the joints looser. The spine is affected with an increased lower back curvature known as swayback (lumbar lordosis) because of the protruding abdomen which commonly results in low back pain. Postpartum, the same symptoms can continue until the body returns to its normal weight, but this can take many months. Binders may help with these symptoms postpartum.
Many belly binding products claim to speed up your recovery process or weight loss, but there is little evidence to support this. However, they may help with back pain and support while you exercise. They will give a sense of support to your abdominal region and help you fit into some clothes faster. Many find them uncomfortable and itchy. It is probably best to wear something underneath to prevent chafing.
One study found that binders after cesarean section might be a potential ‘non-drug’ way to reduce postoperative pain and postpartum bleeding. The results did show a reduction in pain but not in bleeding. Other studies did not find any difference in the amount of pain experienced when wearing a binder. It’s a personal choice. Some women find extra support helpful while others do not like the restrictions they place on movement.
One theory regarding pain control is that the compression reduces stress on the wound especially when walking or getting in and out of bed. Another theory is similar to the ‘sea bands’ or wrist bands that are used to reduce motion sickness. By being in constant contact with the skin, the binder sends nerve messages to the brain that interfere with the pain signals. The pressure over the uterus would potentially diminish the amount of bleeding but this was not shown in this study.
In the case of diastasis recti, when your abdominal muscles split apart in the midline during pregnancy, abdominal binders will help relieve the pulling and discomfort but will not reverse the problem. Many binders claim that they help heal diastasis, but there is no evidence supporting this claim.
Related: Why do I still look pregnant?
Using a medical belly binder is generally accepted as safe for postpartum use. If you think you might feel better wearing one, it won’t hurt to try it. However, some of the other related products, like waist trainers and corsets, have much more compression than belly binders and may have some negative side effects like breathing, digestion, and skin problems. It’s always a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider about what you’re trying to accomplish. Depending on what it is, there might be a better way.
Cheifetz O, Lucy SD, Overend TJ, Crowe J. The effect of abdominal support on functional outcomes in patients following major abdominal surgery: A randomized controlled trial. Physiother Can. 2010;62(3):242–253.
Gustafson, J. L., Dong, F., Duong, J., & Kuhlmann, Z. C. (2018). Elastic Abdominal Binders Reduce Cesarean Pain Postoperatively: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Trial. Kansas journal of medicine, 11(2), 1–19.
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