Do Postpartum Belts Really Work?
A growing number of new moms are attempting to banish their post-baby bellies with a 16th-century throwback, the corset, and its modern-day equivalent, the belly wrap. But are postpartum belts and waist trainers safe, and do they really work? Read on to find out.
What is Postpartum Waist Training?
Quite a few headline-grabbing mamas—like Kim Kardashian, Kim Zolciak, Jessica Alba, Ciara, Brooke Burke-Charvet, and JWoww and Snooki from The Jersey Shore—claim that waist cinching helped their bodies bounce back after Baby. But plenty of non-celebrity moms have tuned to postpartum waist trainers, too.
"Waist training is the act of tightly wrapping your midsection—from the bottom of your ribs to your lower waist—with a corset or supportive band to gradually reduce your natural waist," says Sherry Ross, M.D., an OB-GYN and women's health specialist at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California. "Most claim that tightening the waist trainer promotes thermal activity and perspiration that triggers fat loss. The process allegedly also causes reshaping and slimming."
Do Postpartum Weight Trainers Work?
Trying to decide if postpartum support belts are worth the effort? First, let's take a look at the post-birth biology: "With all the fluid and hormonal shifts that take place during pregnancy, the amount of water retention after birth can be intense, uncomfortable, and a bit shocking," says Dr. Ross. "For many, this post-birth water retention is worse during that first week after delivery than during the pregnancy." It takes about two weeks for the abrupt retention to dissipate, and about another two weeks for the remainder to fade.
Meanwhile, a new mom is still waiting for her uterus to shrink from the size of a watermelon to the size of pear, which can take up to six weeks, says Dr. Ross. So all of this fluid loss and belly-shrinkage naturally occurs whether you're wearing a postpartum belly belt or not. "Waist trainers and belly wraps often claim that they can help relieve water retention and shrink the uterus faster, but this is in no way medically proven," says Dr. Ross. In fact, there have been no studies showing that postpartum recovery belts help with weight loss.
- RELATED: Your Guide to Postpartum Weight Loss
Think of it this way: "Pretend your middle is a soft but full balloon and you tie a string around it. What happens?" asks Holly Perkins, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and author of Lift to Get Lean. "The air gets displaced and moves to the outer edges of the balloon. That's what happens when you use a waist cincher. You displace water, even organs and soft tissue. You do not change fat composition or deposit."
Should You Try a Postpartum Belly Belt?
If you're simply aiming for a temporary slimming effect, there's no harm trying out a postpartum belly belt. "Corsets are ideal for a night out on the town," says Dr. Ross. "It'll definitely support a saggy belly and give you mental and physical confidence to wear that picture-perfect dress."
But if a new mom wants to wear a totally optional postpartum undergarment, Dr. Ross would much rather she sport compression shorts. "Graduated compression shorts can play an important role in adding support to the pelvis, hips, and thighs immediately postpartum—and help with lymphatic flow," notes Marianne Ryan, a physical therapist in New York City, who often recommends compression shorts to her postpartum clients. Plus, notes Dr. Ross, "the physical and emotional effects of supporting this traumatized area of the body help in the healing process."
- RELATED: 5 Exercises for Your Post-Baby Belly
C-Section Postpartum Belts
What about postpartum belts catered to those who underwent a C-section? According to some product descriptions, a C-section postpartum belt may strengthen the abdominal muscles, help heal your C-section scar, and prevent infection. Talk to your doctor about whether you should use this garment after your C-section surgery. If so, he/she may also help find the best postpartum belt for you.