Want to start a debate in the postpartum fitness world? Walk into a room and ask “So, should women use abdominal binders after pregnancy?”
Things are likely to get intense quickly. First off, let’s define our terms. When I say abdominal wrapping, I am absolutely NOT talking about the kind of waist cinching or waist training that you may have seen on various celebrities as a means to get flat abs and a smaller waist.
I’m talking about the use of a therapeutic binder or wrap to help you support your core while you regain strength and function in the weeks after baby is born. For many moms, this can be a challenging task when you’ve got more than just yourself and baby to look after. As much as I want you to take as much time as necessary to recover, I understand that this isn’t always an option. You need to be able to get through the day and be there for your family while also providing some much needed support to your core and pelvic floor. This is when an abdominal wrap can be very helpful.
Also, a little bit of compression throughout the day can be and feel wonderful if you are experiencing any sort of back pain, pelvic pain, pubic symphysis diastasis, or diastasis recti (abdominal separation) that you are trying to heal. It can also be helpful if you’ve had a c-section and need support while your incision heals.
Now back to should you or shouldn’t you. There are two basic camps to this discussion:
Against Abdominal Wrapping
Those who are against abdominal wrapping tend to feel that the practice encourages those recovering after birth to rely on a gadget to restore their pelvic health instead of healing and recovering. They’re concerned that people may move too quickly and do more than they should since their body feels supported, even though it hasn’t yet healed. They may also feel that this practice encourages the school of thought that people should be “bikini ready” six weeks—or less!—after birth. They also focus on the risk of binding causing too much pressure on the pelvic floor, potentially worsening injuries that occurred during birth.
Some reasons why abdominal wrapping can cause harm include:
- Wrapping the core too tightly can actually put undue pressure on your core and pelvic floor, thus negating any benefits from wrapping.
- Simply wrapping your abs for weeks on end without doing any sort of rehabilitative work to the core and pelvic floor and alignment work is only a “band-aid” solution.
- Wrapping your abs from the top down instead of from the bottom up can only place more stress and downward pressure on the pelvic organs. This approach takes away any sort of support and relief we are looking to provide to the core, pelvic floor, and pelvic organs while everything heals.
Pro Abdominal Binding
Those practitioners who support the practice of abdominal binding tend to argue that any time we’re managing strained or stretched tendons and ligaments, we support that body part while healing occurs, and the abdomen is no different. They believe that women, with the advice of medical providers, should be able to determine whether or not they would benefit from the extra support of an abdominal binder while their body recovers from the stress and strain of pregnancy.
When done correctly, any sort of abdominal wrapping should help provide GENTLE support for your body, your core, and your pelvic floor. You DO NOT want to feel restricted in your breathing or that you are unable to take FULL breaths of air. Lastly, you should be able to move around as normal (sit, stand, squat, reach, hinge from the hips, etc) while wearing your abdominal support.
What’s My Opinion?
I take a middle road. (I know. You’re shocked.) I do believe that binders have risk associated with them, especially if people use them improperly. However, I do think that they can be a very useful tool when use correctly. I used abdominal wraps after all three of my pregnancies, and I can tell you that they were a tremendous help to me during my recovery process.
So to recap, I recommend abdominal support to my clients and many new moms who:
- Have pelvic separations or diastasis recti during and after pregnancy;
- Had any sort of tearing and need additional support while tears heal;
- Already have a child at home, and won’t be able to take six weeks of rest while their bodies heal; or
- Had a c-section and are hoping for extra support during healing.
But even if my moms use a wrap, I make sure to remind them that they need to continue to do the exercises that will re-strengthen their bodies and support their pelvic floors. Wraps are temporary band aids, not a replacement for doing the healing work that repairs the tissues weakened by pregnancy.
Recap of Abdominal Wrapping To-Do’s
If you decide to use an abdominal binder, there are several important things to keep in mind:
- Get the advice of a medical professional. This can be your OB-GYN, midwife, physical therapist (with a specialization in pelvic health), or even a fitness professional that specializes in prenatal and postnatal fitness. The pro needs to know that you’re planning on using an abdominal binder, and agree that it’s likely to improve your health.
- Use a therapeutic abdominal binder specifically created for postpartum women. You absolutely cannot try to use a decorative corset, a waist trainer, or an elastic bandage. Any one of these will do more harm than good, and can even cause health problems. Just don’t do it, okay?!?!
- Our usual instincts when fastening anything on our body is to go from top to bottom. YOU CANNOT DO THIS WITH AN ABDOMINAL WRAP. You absolutely must start at the bottom and tighten towards the top. You need to lift pressure off the pelvic floor and into the torso, not press it down.
- You should feel supported, but not restricted. You should be able to move fully, but your posture may be different than what you’re accustomed to. Again, if you’re not absolutely sure that it’s right, ask a professional to check if you’re wearing the wrap properly, and if it’s the right size.
- Don’t use your wrap all day or sleep in it. Use it when you are going to more active throughout the day, but also allow yourself to have periods where you aren’t wearing it as well.
3 Most Common Types of Abdominal Supports
1. Abdominal Wraps
This is probably the most popular type of postpartum wrap. These are usually elastic-type stretchy pieces of fabric that wrap around the mid-section from the lower rib cage all the way down to just above the pelvic bone.
These wraps may have one long piece of material in the front that you fasten with either Velcro or little hooks. Other versions will have several “tabs” that you can secure one at a time to hold the wrap in place. I used this type of support after each of my c-sections once my incision healed enough and didn’t feel aggravated by having the wrap rub up against it all the time.
2. Compression Garments
These may look like those pairs of Spanx or shape wear that some of us have lingering in our dresser drawers, but I assure you that these are meant for more than hiding any “lumps” and “bumps”. These compression garments are made with medical grade-type compression fabric to help increase circulation and provide support to the core, pelvic floor, and the legs, depending on the length. These can be very helpful for moms who need a little extra and soft support around their c-section incision or stitches (as a result of any tearing). Pelvic supports that have attachable bands can sometimes be too irritating on any stitches, so these compression garments can provide just the right amount of support while the stitches heal. I used these for the early weeks after my c-sections and then switched to abdominal wraps once my incisions were healed.
3. Pelvic Supports
This type of support is more like a belt as it primarily wraps around the pelvis. Some styles have attached or groin support bands on them as well. These types can actually be very beneficial to wear during pregnancy (I used one of these for all three of my pregnancies) when the SI joints are feeling cranky and there is a tendency to develop vulvar varicose veins from compromised circulation. Just like the abdominal wraps, this material will stretch slightly, but remain taut enough to provide support and compression to your hips and pelvis. These wraps can also be very beneficial for moms who are feeling instability and/or pain in the hips or in the front or back of the pelvis.
In our toolbox for recreating health and strength in the pelvic floor and core, the abdominal wrap is one tool. It’s important to remember that it’s useful, but not a cure all. An even more important part of your postpartum recovery is healing and restoring function to your core and pelvic floor with a restorative type program.
Have you ever used an abdominal binder for postpartum healing?