Postpartum compression garments might seem helpful in theory, but there are some critical things to consider before putting on one after birth.
Pregnancy, birth, and becoming a parent are some of the most transformative times in a person’s life.
Not only is there a massive physical transformation as your body changes to accommodate the new life growing within, but also a mental and emotional transformation into becoming a parent and meeting an entirely new version of oneself.
In addition, birthing a human (or humans) is an incredible physical feat. One that takes time to heal from. Postpartum healing is not linear and can be quite different from person to person and even from pregnancy to pregnancy for the same person.
It takes time for the internal organs to settle back into their original position, for the uterus to shrink back down (generally about 6-8 weeks), and for the pelvic floor and core muscles to regain strength. Give yourself some time and grace to heal on your timeline.
With that said, rest in the early days postpartum is essential. You can begin doing gentle pelvic floor, core activations, and diaphragmatic breathing to help with the healing process and wake up the muscles of the inner core post-birth.
If you need additional support in the early healing stages, consider using a postpartum compression garment such as a belly binder or wrap.
When worn correctly, postpartum compression can help support the lower back, hips, pelvic floor, and core muscles after giving birth, helping to make the healing process a bit more comfortable, especially during daily activities and movements.
While there isn’t much research-based evidence to support that wearing postpartum compression garments offers any significant benefits postpartum, many people find that they help reduce low back pain and pubic symphysis pain and provide comfortable abdominal support.
And for those who have had a C-section, it has been reported as helpful in reducing pain and swelling and relieving pressure on the incision site.
While they can be a valuable tool in the early weeks postpartum, compression garments may do more harm than good if used too often or incorrectly. They should never be used as a replacement for postpartum rehabilitative exercises or seeing a pelvic floor physical therapist.
Common types of postpartum compression
Various postpartum compression garments are available now, from belly wraps and compression undergarments to the art of bengkung belly binding.
- Belly wraps
- Compression garments
- Support belts
- Traditional belly binding
Belly wraps and bands are designed to wrap around your entire torso and are usually secured by Velcro flaps.
This is done by placing the large, flat side of the wrap against your back and wrapping the two front flaps around your waist, securing them on opposite sides.
Since they are adjustable, you can control the amount of compression.
Compression undergarments are often worn as high-waisted underwear or shorts underneath your clothing, similar to shapewear.
However, there are also a variety of postpartum compression leggings designed to provide gentle compression and support to the pelvic floor, abdomen, and hips.
Support belts differ because they wrap around your hips and lower belly rather than your entire midsection and are more targeted at supporting the pelvis.
Traditional belly binding
Traditional belly binding is done using a cloth that you wrap and knot around your torso from the hips to the ribcage.
This more traditional belly binding is usually done soon after birth, usually between days two to five, and is worn for 30 days or longer, if needed, for around 12 hours daily.
It is important to note that belly binding is not waist training. Waist trainers should not be used postpartum, or any time for that matter.
Potential benefits of postpartum compression
Whatever type of postpartum compression you choose, the goal is to provide gentle abdominal support and help reduce discomfort in the early weeks of postpartum recovery.
- Gentle abdominal support
- Help reduce discomfort
- Improved postural alignment
- Diastasis recti support
- Assist in C-section recovery
- Pelvic floor support
- Relieve pubic symphysis pain
Improved postural alignment
These garments can help you maintain better postural alignment while standing, sitting, and nursing by providing additional support to weakened muscles while you heal and helping to prevent slouching and hunching forward.
Diastasis Recti support
Diastasis Recti is a naturally occurring and regular part of pregnancy where the rectus abdominis muscles (“six-pack” muscles) separate to create space for the expanding uterus.
After birth, it takes time for the uterus to shrink back down and for these muscles to come back together.
In some cases, the muscles may not fully come back together, resulting in injury-based diastasis recti postpartum due to mismanaged intra-abdominal pressure. Belly binding and compression can aid healing by supporting and temporarily drawing the muscles together.
It is important to note that postpartum compression is not a replacement for rehabilitative exercises. If you think you may have diastasis recti postpartum, it is recommended you seek out the assistance of a qualified physical therapist to help you regain strength and heal.
Assist in C-section recovery
Undergarments that provide gentle compression after a c-section can help reduce swelling, relieve pressure on the incision site, and provide additional support as your body heals.
Be sure to consult with your healthcare provider when it is okay for you to begin using compression garments post-c-section.
Pelvic floor support
Compression undergarments such as high-rise underwear, shorts, and even postpartum compression leggings provide gentle support to the pelvic floor, which, when worn correctly, can help reduce the feeling of pressure and heaviness in those early postpartum weeks.
Relieve pubic symphysis pain
During pregnancy, as the hormone relaxin increases, joints and ligaments loosen, allowing the baby to settle down into the pelvis for birth. This can lead to the pubic symphysis joint, which connects the right and left sides of your pubic bone to become loose, resulting in pain and instability of the pelvis.
Often it resolves after birth, but for some people, it can stick around. Compression garments and belts can help provide stability to the pelvis, decreasing pain and aiding in healing.
Potential risks of postpartum compression
Postpartum compression and belly binding are meant to gently hold your abdomen and support your core and pelvic floor as you heal. However, wearing them too tightly can do the opposite and do more harm than good.
- Muscle dependence
- Restricted breathing
- Pelvic floor pressure
Long-term use can inadvertently lead to weakened core muscles that have become accustomed to external support, leading to a lack of activation and engagement.
Wearing binders or compression garments too tightly can impede the natural movement of the diaphragm, leading to shallow chest breathing and increased intra-abdominal pressure.
Pelvic floor pressure
If you notice you have to take shallow chest breaths and can’t expand your ribcage, or you see lines on your abdomen from the compression garment, it’s too tight!
Postpartum compression and belly binding is meant to gently hold your abdomen and support your core and pelvic floor as you heal. It should feel like a gentle hug.
Wearing them too tightly can do the opposite and lead to excessive pressure on the pelvic floor, contributing to pelvic floor dysfunctions such as incontinence.
Balancing compression garment use and core strengthening
While postpartum compression garments can offer short-term benefits in providing comfort and support during the initial postpartum phase, offsetting using them and actively restoring strength and function to your core and pelvic floor is essential.
Gradual Use: You can initially use compression garments for short periods, especially when engaging in activities that may cause discomfort. As your postpartum recovery progresses and you begin incorporating rehabilitative movements, the usage can be reduced gradually.
Focus on Core Strengthening Exercises: Incorporating gentle postpartum exercises, such as diaphragmatic breathing, mild pelvic floor contractions and transverse abdominis activation, and pelvic tilts, can significantly contribute to core strength and stability without relying solely on external support.
Seek Professional Guidance: Consulting with a pelvic floor physical therapist who can thoroughly assess your pelvic floor and core postpartum, providing insight into how your muscles are functioning and what you can do to restore strength and balance is vital.
Also, consider reaching out to a postpartum fitness specialist who can provide personalized guidance on safe and effective ways to strengthen the core muscles during recovery, and re-enter exercise once you’re ready is vital.
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Sarah Bradford is a mother of two, Pre and Postnatal Fitness Expert, Pelvic Floor and Core Rehabilitation Specialist, Personal Trainer, and the Founder of LUNA Mother Collective; a curated fitness & wellness app for all phases of motherhood. Through her pregnancy and experience of healing diastasis recti postpartum, Sarah recognized the immense lack of support and resources for people wanting to return to fitness postpartum while navigating core & pelvic floor considerations. She set out to fill that gap by making evidence-based pre and postnatal fitness, physical therapy, pelvic floor & core rehabilitation, education, and parenting resources more widely available and accessible to people all over the globe with LUNA Mother Co's on-demand platform.