So, remember when I wrote my first post “Why Little Sproutings was Planted,” and I mentioned that I wanted to bring to light things that I wish I’d known sooner, products I wish I’d had from the get-go, or things I did wrong from the start? Well here’s one of them…
I recall watching an interview of Jessica Alba on a late night show, probably something like Jay Leno. She’d mentioned that she wore two corsets postpartum to get back her pre-pregnancy body, that it’s not for the faint of heart, and that it was sweaty but worth it. I think I thought to myself, “geez, well that’s why it sucks to be in Hollywood…” (couldn’t find the video, here’s a published interview where she mentions it at the end)
I shrugged off this business of postpartum corset-wearing like I cleaned off another heaping plate of pad thai and went about my happy and pregnant day. I mean, I didn’t want to have the pressure to drop the weight super fast. I’m a real person and it’s not my job to look good, haha.
Jump ahead 9-12 months later, and I am (still) tipping the scales 10 pounds off from my pre-pregnancy weight. Truth be told, I lost the first 30 pounds of pregnancy weight in the first 2 weeks. I thought “Wow, breastfeeding seriously is the best and easiest diet EVER!” No, I didn’t think this rate of weight loss would continue, but I at least thought I would be achieving pre-pregnancy weight by the end of Jia’s second (third? fourth?) month birthday.
Boy, do I regret not looking into this earlier. Like almost a year earlier.
(Yes, I still believe breastfeeding is the fantastic, and I attribute most of my initial weight loss to hormones – oxytocin – released by BFing causing the pooch to go back into place)
Now now, let me be honest – I haven’t been trying to lose weight. Like, at all. Remember what Kimmy Gibbler said on Full House’s “Shape Up” episode? “I watch what I eat. This looks good (eats cookie).” My body now serves a different purpose, and that is to nourish my little angel. And I mean, c’mon. It’s not exactly my job to look “Hollywood,” anyway.
OK I digress..
So pregnancy puts our bodies through the wringer. For THE MAJORITY of us (nearly 86%, as reported from a new-mom survey at BabyCenter), after our wonderful baby arrives to this world we are left a “different” body, often with a flabby, untoned, “banged up” belly (even despite losing the weight). Of those surveyed, 60% were carrying more than a few extra pounds even 1-2 years later. And, some moms say that their bodies are left almost unrecognizable from their pre-pregnancy days. (On the other hand, 20% of moms surveyed returned to their pre-pregnancy weight 3 months later or less. If that’s you, then consider yourself lucky!)
Enter this week’s topic: Postpartum Abdominal Binding.
The Practice of Abdominal Binding
No, it’s not a gimmick. And no, it’s not an old wives’ tale.
A practice that is common throughout Asia, Europe, and Latin America, postpartum binding (aka, abdominal reconditioning) involves wrapping a mother’s abdomen immediately after giving birth and continuously throughout the proceeding few months.
The concept behind wrapping is to provide support to internal organs in the abdomen that having shifted throughout pregnancy, a space which is now suddenly and largely unoccupied by a baby. This includes the uterus. The wrapping provides physical compression to help support and guide the uterus back to its smaller size (which takes 4-6 weeks naturally), shift displaced organs back to their proper places, as well as tightening overstretched muscles. Plus, getting squeezed in can help with a new mom’s body image, which is a huge bonus.
For those of us who’ve had C-sections, the wrapping also provides the comfort of abdominal support since the muscles, ligaments, tissues, and the incision itself, are tender and numb post-delivery. And even months down the line, the scar (from my experience anyhow) makes for an awfully resistant, odd shaped, un-toned pooch.
Additionally, splinting/compression is a common practice in all areas of post-abdominal surgery. In the hospital, surgeons order abdominal binders for their patients, because they 1) help the incision heal by keeping the edges of the incision from separating (dehiscing) and remain closer together (approximated); and 2) offers pain relief by maintaining counter pressure on the wound. This is similar to hugging a pillow when you have a stomach cramping.
Diastasis Recti (separation of the rectus abdomens) is a condition in which the left and right sides of the abdomen separate during pregnancy, to accommodate a growing uterus (instead of stretching).
The abdominal muscles can take up to 1 year to heal to return back to normal, but it can also take longer than that. It can also remain separated. Untreated DR (and the postpartum process in general) can result in lower back pain, worsened posture, and further strain of the ligaments and muscles.
Abdominal binding benefits postpartum moms by providing cinching those muscles back into alignment and to help with that loose flabby tone of the midsection. (image source) #truthamiright? Haha…
Abdominal binding is most effective when the binder is very snug and worn during the first 6 months postpartum. This is due to the level of hormones (estrogen, prolactin, and relaxin) circulating in moms body that influence recovery.
Estrogen – Estrogen levels plummet following delivery of a baby, to levels that are hypothesized to be influential in the incidence of postpartum depression. Low levels of estrogen are important; however, for early milk production.
Progesterone – Like estrogen, this hormone drops immediately after birth to allow the production of milk. Most of this hormone is housed in the placenta, which is delivered after baby.
Relaxin – This is the hormone that is produced to allow a woman’s ligaments, muscles, and joints to relax for the process of delivery. Relaxin continues to circulate postpartum. Throughout recovery, the presence of relaxin is influential in the body’s processes to “bounce back.” I was having a difficult time finding a definitive answer as to when these levels drop off postpartum. Some sources said 6 months, some said it continued 12 months after weaning (from breastfeeding, I assume).
Somehow, all 3 of these hormones play a role in the effectiveness of abdominal binding. I looked up to see how estrogen and progesterone help bounce-back but was a bit unsuccessful. All I’ve read is that they have an impact.
Types of Binders/Girdles/Wraps
There are many brands and they vary from the spanx type, to a velcro wraparound belt you see weight-lifters wear, to a corset with boning, velcro, hook and eye closures, and zippers. From what I’ve read, there are 2 very trusted brands that have had the best luck in the majority of postpartum moms:
#1 – BelleFit – Prices range from $87.50 to $145. They are the mom favorite. (Black Friday $25 off until Sunday, December 7th and FREE shipping) They tout a medical grade level of compression, have a 30 day money-back guarantee, great customer service (I got a live person in probably less than 1 minute), and have an interactive tool to help you find your size and style, depending on delivery method and body shape. Great FAQ area, YouTube testimonials, and info on Diastasis Recti. This is a legit abdominal girdle. No frills.
#2 – BellyBandit – Prices range from $49.95 to $79.95. They seem to be a distant second to the BelleFit. Kourtney Kardashian endorses it, if that makes a difference to you. They have a lot of other products, too. Like yoga pants and stuff. Apparently a lace one is available if you’re interested in that sorta thing.
As with most things, the more expensive ones are more intricate, are usually better made, and have what seems to be higher quality materials. I read many reviews on other brands of postpartum supports from the more reasonably priced brands (like from Babies R Us ($26.99), Medela brand ($21), Big 5 Sporting Goods stores, etc) and their reviewers are unimpressed/ disappointed, citing rough (or too forgiving) material, boning that jabs into ribs, rolling edges of elastic, riding up, or just overall weaker compression.
In my opinion, if squeezing back into your pre-pregnancy clothes is somewhat of a mind-consuming concern, I would rather go with the one that has the best reviews, or at least go with the second best. Or search for the nice one on eBay. Why waste money and precious weeks/months? You can find some of the traditional wraps on Etsy, like the one pictured above (~$40-70). Amazon search results for postpartum corsets here.
I really liked this summary on Maternity.about.com of girdles/corsets, highlighting their pros and cons and various price ranges.
What REALLY would’ve been useful is for this to be common practice in the mother/baby unit, so the nurses would’ve strapped me into a (free) hospital-issued one! Ha.
Now, I truly want this whole concept of binding to be true. From a physiological/anatomical standpoint, it seems like it should make a lot of sense. Additionally, there are a ton of testimonials on YouTube on the fast and amazing results people have had after using BelleFit Postpartum Girdles (and others), praising the girdles for a quick return to pre-pregnancy jeans after 2-3 weeks.
But, the main reason I doubt the girdle’s effectiveness is because there is SO much weight loss and sizing down that occurs naturally and immediately postpartum, so how can they really know that it was due to the girdle and not by nature?
Most of the women who have raved about the results obtained after wearing the girdles started wearing it on postpartum day 1 up to week 3, and continued for the recommended 120 days. Like I mentioned above, 30 pounds of what I gained in pregnancy was wiped away in 2 weeks.
Plus, there’s the good old “just work out and eat healthy,” to get everything back in its place. Obviously this (binding) is not a substitution for either of those things, but it’s still an interesting concept, especially given its history amongst multiple cultures.
What piques my curiosity and leaves me hopeful are these two things:
1) The customer service rep at Bellefit told me that even 9-10 months postpartum, since I am still breastfeeding, the hormones that influence the body’s ability to bounce back are still present and that many moms have had great results even when started at 8-10 months postpartum.
2) MANY MANY moms have regretted not using Bellefit (or other binders) earlier, having only used it with a consecutive pregnancy. They discussed how difficult it was to get back into their pre-pregnancy clothes with baby #1, but with the binder they are finding it much easier, and quicker this time around. They even testify that the tone of their midsections are much tighter than after baby #1.
It’s also encouraging that many midwives, doulas, physical therapists, and even obstetricians support and encourage moms in postpartum abdominal binding (if at anything, for the assistance in quicker recovery). And I can’t ignore the added historical relevancy.
So, is there legitimacy to this? We’ll see. I’ll just suck it up (and suck it in) and let you know! I ordered the Small Side-Zip Bellefit and it should be here soon. If it doesn’t give me (non-statistically) significant results, then I will still keep it around for baby #2 and give it my best shot!
To Be Continued…
12/4/15 Update: It was brought to my attention that I really need to provide a follow-up to this post since it’s been almost a year since I published it! Well, I had an unfortunate allergic reaction to the material in the boning of the dual closure corset from Bellefit. Their customer service was absolutely amazing and accommodating to rush order a replacement plain corset-style (the type that has hook-and-eye closures down the front only), but by the time that was all sorted out and I let my skin heal before trying it again, I felt pretty far behind and that I missed my window of opportunity.
However, do not let that deflate your hopes for postpartum belly binding! The handful of moms post c-section (and vaginal) deliveries that I have heard from who did wear some sort of belly binding method (either a postpartum band or a corset) have had very good and long-lasting results. The mamas who have younger babies than Jia have gotten back into their pre-pregnancy form/shape much quicker than even I had at the same moment in time! I am 100% positive that this will help when #2 comes along (we are planning for probably late in 2016 to get pregnant but baby in 2017), so I am holding onto my Bellefit corset until then! Thanks for reading and I apologize for not publishing a heavens-parting glorious success story blog post on this one! Maybe in 2017!
BabyCenter New Mom Survey <http://www.babycenter.com/0_the-new-mom-body-survey-7-000-women-tell-it-like-it-is_3653252.bc>
Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia: Diastasis Recti <http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001602.htm>
Steube A., Grewen K., Pederson C., Propper C., Meltzer-Brody S. Failed Lactation and Perinatal Depression : Common Problems with Shared Neuroendocrine Mechanisms. Journal of Women’s Health. March 2012; 21(3): 264-272. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3298672/pdf/jwh.2011.3083.pdf>
Postpartum Progression: Postpartum Depression and Breastfeeding Challenges – The Connection. <http://www.postpartumprogress.com/postpartum-depression-and-breastfeeding-challenges-the-connection>
ParentMap: Getting your body back after birth. <https://www.parentmap.com/article/getting-your-body-back-after-birth>
US National Library of Medicine: The role of the hormone relaxin in human reproduction and pelvic girdle relaxation. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2011710>
WebMD: Belly Wraps – Post Pregnancy Hit or Hype? (sorry, I definitely try not to cite WebMD on Little Sproutings but I liked this one) http://www.webmd.com/baby/features/belly-wraps-post-pregnancy-hit-or-hype
BelleFit Postpartum Girdles and Corsets: Videos http://www.bellefit.com/videos/
Fun blogger reviews/perspectives:
AlphaMom – Postpartum Belly Binders: Help or Hype? http://alphamom.com/your-life/postpartum/postpartum-belly-binders-help-or-hype/
Walking with Dancers: Postpartum Belly Binding http://walkingwithdancers.blogspot.com/2012/10/postpartum-belly-binding.html
Giving Birth with Confidence: Postpartum Care: Belly Binding http://www.givingbirthwithconfidence.org/p/bl/et/blogid=16&blogaid=985