For generations, women have used abdominal binders or wraps after birth to support the abdominal region as it enters a period of restoration. Even to this day, belly wraps are often used in the immediate post-partum period to provide external compression and support to the abdominal muscles after they have been stretched during pregnancy.
What Does an Abdominal Wrap Do?
After giving birth, the abdominal muscles and tissues can feel weak, disconnected and vulnerable. Just like you would wear a splint after twisting your ankle, an abdominal wrap can help to provide some cushioning, support and protection to this region of the body so you can continue on with your day-to-day activities that will inevitably require it’s use.
What an Abdominal Wrap Doesn’t Do
While wearing some form of external support is helpful after delivery, it’s important to know that the wrap doesn’t strengthen or build back function in the muscles; hence, participating in a gradual core strengthening program that is customized for the unique needs of those who are post-partum is key!
Also, the wraps and binders are not designed to flatten your abdominal region or re-shape. The purpose of the postpartum wrap is to support the abdominal muscles and connective tissue through the healing process.
What to Look for in a Belly Wrap?
When you’re shopping for an abdominal support, look for one that is flexible, breathable, and not rigid. An abdominal wrap should provide only light compression. It should also give you full top-to-bottom so that it spans the length of your torso from your lower ribs to your pubic bone.
There is a difference between abdominal wraps and waist trainers, girdles and corsets which significantly compress your abdominal organs. Waist trainers and corset are designed with stiff material which has the potential to rearrange the position of your abdominal organs, to reduce blood flow and lymphatic drainage through the region, not to mention, they significantly impact your ability to breathe.
How to Use the Wrap?
Every abdominal support will come with its own set of instructions for how to put it on. Some are designed with multiple straps and some are made with one piece of fabric that is fastened in the center of the abdomen, usually with Velcro.
If the design allows, wrap from the bottom-up with less compression at the top than at the bottom. This might help to reduce unnecessary downwards pressure to your pelvic floor and pelvic organs that are still in recovery-mode after delivery.
If you’re experiencing quite a bit of abdominal distension post-partum, it can be quite helpful to secure the wrap when you are lying down on your back. Lying on your back allows your abdominal muscles and tissues to relax and it repositions the abdominal organs closer towards you due to gravity. This can enable the wrap to better hold the abdominal muscles, tissues, and organs in place after you stand up.
When Should I Wear the Wrap?
Generally speaking, the wrap can be worn 24/7, if it is tolerated. However, you may decide to take breaks from wearing it if it gets uncomfortable. Some don’t feel comfortable wearing it at night while some are not bothered by it. It’s more of personal preference rather than a strict rule.
What if I had a Cesarean Birth?
A Cesarean section is a major abdominal surgery. Some studies have shown that those who wear an abdominal support after a Cesarean birth experience less pain and discomfort as compared to those who had a Cesarean birth and didn’t use an abdominal support. This is why it is an important question to ask your doctor.
How Long to Wear it?
You can start wearing the wrap right after delivery, and for as many hours in the day as you feel comfortable. Since the body enters into a period of restoration and healing for the first three months after delivery, many people will wear the wrap during this time. However, if you begin to feel a sense of connection and control back in your core before three months have passed, you may not need to wear the wrap for the full three months.
On the other hand, if you’re continuing to experience a lot of weakness and abdominal distension after the three months, you might benefit from wearing the wrap for longer, especially when you’re running errands and doing heavier tasks.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that the wrap does not make your muscles stronger and should always be used in conjunction with a post-partum core restoration exercise program.
How to Wean Off?
When you no longer need the external support, you can wean off gradually by alternating periods where you are wearing it with periods where you are not wearing it. For instance, you can start with 60 minutes “on” and 60 minutes “off”, and can progress to 60 minutes “on” and 90 minutes “off.” Over the span of one to two weeks, you can continue adding 30-60 minutes of time to the “off” phase until you are no longer wearing the binder.
Unlike rigid corsets and waist trainers, abdominal wraps and binders can be very helpful after delivery. Not only do they provide external support to the healing tissues but they also provide you with a sense of comfort and protection over that area.