Postpartum belly wrapping has many potential risks
When I was newly postpartum with my oldest daughter, waist trainers, belly wraps, and abdominal binders were all the rage. In fact, I thought it would solve all my postpartum belly woes. I mean if the Kardashians approved it, it must be a good idea, right!?
Upon the birth of my daughter I purchased my belly wrap. I cinched down my waist so tightly and marveled at the results. My once pouchy belly that still resembled a deflated balloon now looked significantly leaner, and more importantly not pregnant when covered up with a shirt. I’m not going to lie, it definitely gave me a boost of confidence. I set out to diligently wear the wrap for the recommended 6 weeks (day and night with only a short break allowed). Let’s just say I’d make it a couple hours a day before peeling the velcro off so that I could finally breathe.
I never made it a night with it on, not one. It was horribly uncomfortable and when you already have engorged breasts, raw nipples and are still wearing a diaper from delivery, life is all about finding small comforts. I felt like I was failing by not wearing it as recommended. Each day I wore it less and less, and finally resorted to only wearing it when I went out, hoping to look slimmer and no longer pregnant.
Not once did I hear the flip side of wearing these waist trainers. I had no idea that there could even be a flip side. After-all, supposedly women had been binding their postpartum bellies for centuries.
Fast forward many years, and lots of knowledge learned, I now view them entirely differently. Waist trainers (or abdominal binders or belly wraps depending on what you prefer to call them) have many down sides when it comes to postpartum healing.
Here are some things to be aware of when deciding whether or not wrap your belly postpartum:
1. Postpartum belly wraps can weaken core muscles
Waist trainers can give postpartum support to our abdominal muscles. For some this can be helpful to support activity that our abdominal muscles might not be ready for, especially if suffering from back pain. However, they also prevent our core from functioning properly. Our body relies on the support from the waist trainer and our abdominal muscles don’t work as they should.
It is so important to strengthen our core muscles postpartum. They have spent 9 months stretching out and growing weaker, so it is crucial to regain strength. If we spend a lot of time with our muscles wrapped tightly to the point where they can’t function properly, they will not get any stronger. This can perpetuate the very symptoms we are trying to correct such as a pooching belly and back problems, just to name a few.
2. Postpartum belly wraps can raise risk of prolapse and increase pelvic floor pressure
Waist trainers can also come with a high risk of prolapse. If you opt to use a waist trainer make sure you are not wearing it too tight. Tightly binding your belly just disperses pressure. A good amount of this pressure goes down onto your pelvic floor. Your pelvic floor is already more vulnerable following birth, especially a vaginal birth. A tight wrap around your waist presses everything down. If your pelvic floor cannot handle this added pressure, you may cause pelvic organ prolapse, or make existing prolapse even worse.
3. Postpartum belly binders can cause digestive issues
Just as a belly binder can cause additional pressure down on your pelvic floor if worn too tightly, they can also cause too much pressure up on your esophagus. This can lead to acid reflux and indigestion.
Again, if you are finding benefit in wearing an abdominal wrap, pay attention to how tight it is and how your body is feeling. If you are noticing increased symptoms of heartburn, or digestive issues, it might be time to give your body a break from it.
4. Postpartum belly binders can prevent you from breathing properly
When you breathe deeply as you should be, your diaphragm goes down on inhale in coordination with your pelvic floor. On exhalation, both rise in coordination. When a postpartum wrap is worn too tight or incorrectly, it can disrupt this breathing pattern. The increased pressure from the wrap can force your body into a shallow breathing pattern.
Shallow breathing literally stresses your body out by increasing your cortisol levels. I don’t think any new mom needs a boost to her cortisol levels at a time when they are already sky high! Shallow breathing also inhibits the coordination of your diaphragm and pelvic floor. Without this your pelvic floor is not getting a built in workout all day long like it should be (pretty cool that you can work your pelvic floor just through breathing!).
Even beyond coordination of your diaphragm and pelvic floor, breathing helps to facilitate activation of our deep core muscles. These muscles wrap around your waist like a built in waist trainer. When we breathe deeply, we activate this system. If our breathing is compromised these muscles will not work as they should and it will be difficult to activate them and strengthen them post pregnancy.
5. Postpartum belly binders can decrease circulation
A tight wrap around your waist can lead to decreased blood flow to the area. There is a fine line between compression that leads to increased blood flow and compression that can actually restrict blood flow.
If your provider has recommended a wrap around your belly post c-section or abdominal surgery, make sure you understand how to wear it so that you are receiving the benefit of increased blood flow rather than decreased.
If you do have the wrap too tight, you may notice a “pins and needles” feeling in your abdomen and it may even extend to your legs. This is a sure sign that your blood flow is being restricted and you need to either remove the wrap and loosen it.
There is a time and place for postpartum wraps
While you want to be aware of the potential dangers of wrapping your abdominals postpartum, that doesn’t mean that there are not any benefits. Some women find that they need the extra support of a wrap, especially in the very early postpartum period. In addition, some studies have shown that wrapping after a c-section or abdominal surgery can actually help with pain and healing.
If you have found wrapping to be beneficial, simply view it as a temporary aid in healing and make sure you are using the right type of wrap and wearing it correctly. Also look into alternatives such as taping which have shown to be beneficial in healing. Any “shrinking” that wrapping postpartum leads to will only be temporary, and this should not be the reason to wear a wrap. Further, wraps will not help you lose weight and do not help your core get stronger.
You will find far more benefit in taking the time to heal and strengthen your core through exercise. Your core has a built in waist trainer in your transverse abdominals. Focusing on strengthening your abdominal muscles, instead of shrinking by squeezing them to death, will put you in a far better position in the long run.
I’m so glad I know better now, and wish someone had shared this information with me so many years ago.
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