In some cultures, the practice of using postpartum abdominal binders or “belly wraps” has been around for centuries. Whether it is a scarf wrapped around the tummy or a more specific post-surgical binder, many women use one hoping that it will be of benefit – but do they really work?
What is an abdominal binder and why are they used postpartum?
An abdominal binder is a compression belt that encircles the abdomen. They are sometimes used after major abdominal surgery to help the recovery process. In the UK, routine C-section aftercare does not include the use of an abdominal binder. In other countries, they are more commonly used and may be prescribed by the hospital. Advice may vary as not all physicians feel that they are of benefit following a C-section. Confusing, right?
Women who delivery vaginally may also choose to wear one. In many cultures, belly-binding after childbirth has been common practice for centuries. It has become more common in the Western world in more recent times, particularly after gaining popularity with celebrities.
What are the benefits of using an abdominal binder?
The purported benefits include:
- Lose weight and help get back to your pre-pregnancy size
- Help the uterus shrink back
- Supports the abdominal muscles
- Feel less swollen and bloated
- Reduce pain following a C-section
- Minimize stretch marks
- Help close a diastasis recti (separated abdominal muscles)
The very idea of having anything around my C-section site made me feel a little uncomfortable, but I must admit, I was curious. At the time of my last pregnancy, I could only find research mostly limited to use after other major abdominal surgery.
Recently, there have been more studies looking at abdominal binder use post C-section. A recent meta-analysis (Abd-ElGawad et al. 2021) looked at 6 trials and concluded that they may be an effective way to reduce post C-section pain. However, another recent trial (Chankhunaphas & Charoenkwan, 2020), found that they were not associated with less pain or faster functional recovery. The evidence from previous trials was also conflicting. So, it’s still not so straightforward.
These binders work by compression, so it’s understandable why you may feel less bloated, less swollen, and more supported, but using one will not result in weight loss. Unfortunately, there isn’t any evidence that they can heal a diastasis recti.
Are there any risks of using a postpartum abdominal binder?
The incision is at risk of infection so it is important that the binder is kept clean and dry. Another concern is the risk of wrapping too tightly.
Pregnancy and childbirth put a strain on your pelvic floor muscles which are also softened by the pregnancy hormones. Pelvic floor muscles support the pelvic organs.
A tight abdominal binder increases the pressure in the abdomen, putting pressure on the already weakened pelvic floor muscles.
This increases the risk of pelvic organ prolapse when one or more pelvic organs move downwards and bulge into the vagina.
My experience using postpartum belly wraps
I didn’t use an abdominal binder following my first two C-sections. I decided to try the Belly Bandit Viscose from Bamboo binder and the Belly Bandit B.F.F. Belly Wrap. The Belly Bandit B.F.F. Wrap is designed for shorter torsos and the shape of the binder allows it to fit the natural curves more easily. I used the Belly Bandit Viscose from Bamboo binder for the first 6 weeks, then switched to using the Belly Bandit B.F.F. Wrap. I bought the Belly Bandit Belly Shield to go underneath.
What I found:
- The Belly Bandit Viscose from Bamboo binder was more comfortable to wear. The B.F.F Belly wrap, although has some stretch, was slightly stiffer and therefore not as comfortable.
- My abdomen definitely felt less bloated and more supported.
- I felt more confident going for walks.
- It helped my post C-section pain significantly. I could go for longer walks and at a faster pace with it. In fact, it felt so much better that I had to remind myself to take it easy.
- My abdomen reduced in size quicker than my last two pregnancies. However, my third pregnancy bump was also the smallest out of all my pregnancies so that may well have happened regardless. In the end, it looked the same as it did following my other pregnancies.
- I didn’t develop a diastasis recti, but I also didn’t develop one after my previous pregnancies.
- I was more aware of feeling the top of the binder when breastfeeding in certain positions
- Although I felt more supported, I also felt that I was becoming a bit lazy about using my abdominal muscles. You use your abdominal muscles for everyday activity like standing up, etc, and I felt that I engaged my abdominal muscles more without it on. The gentle exercises advised by your medical team are what will really help re-gain core strength so it’s important to keep it up.
Overall, postpartum belly wraps were a positive experience for me. I experienced less pain and I was able to get out and about more easily, which was so important especially when needing to do the nursery drop-off.
If I had to prepare for another C-section, I would use the Belly Shield with the Belly Bandit Viscose from Bamboo binder again. I wouldn’t wear it for longer than 6 weeks as I didn’t feel much benefit after then. I would want to focus more on engaging my abdominal muscles correctly and building up my core strength using appropriate gentle exercises.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic and if you found this post useful, please share!
1) Abd-ElGawad M, Said Ali A, Abdelmonem M, Elshamy NH, Abdeltawab AK, Abd El-Shafea M, Rund NMA, Fadlalmola HA, Ashour ASA, Almohamady M. The effectiveness of the abdominal binder in relieving pain after cesarean delivery: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Int J Gynaecol Obstet. 2021 Jan 20. doi: 10.1002/ijgo.13607. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 33471362. [PubMed] Accessed: 19/04/2021
2) Chankhunaphas W, Charoenkwan K. Effect of elastic abdominal binder on pain and functional recovery after caesarean delivery: a randomised controlled trial. J Obstet Gynaecol. 2020 May;40(4):473-478. doi: 10.1080/01443615.2019.1631768. Epub 2019 Sep 5. PMID: 32401106. [PubMed] Accessed: 19/04/2021
4) Tussey C, Kelly LA, Oja KJ, Bay RC, Makarova N. Reducing Discomfort After Cesarean Birth Using Abdominal Binders. MCN Am J Matern Child Nurs. 2019 Nov/Dec;44(6):310-316. doi: 10.1097/NMC.0000000000000571. PMID: 31490194. [PubMed] Accessed 19/04/2021
Amal is a paediatrician and mum/step-mum to four wonderful children. She started MedicMum101 to share tips and experiences on all things motherhood. She enjoys writing about parenting, health, and wellness, as well as other life musings from time to time. When she is not working, writing, or running after the kids, you can often find her working on a new piece of art.