Postpartum Belly Wraps: Are They Really Worth Wearing?
Belly wraps or bands—sometimes also called abdominal binders—promise to provide support, beat pain, correct wonky body positioning, and more. But read this guide before you buy.
If you're pregnant or postpartum, you're likely ready to Amazon Prime anything and everything that can help you feel more comfortable. And since both having a baby on the way and delivering said baby changes your body (your abs, your pelvic floor, your posture, the list goes on) in uncomfortable ways, it's no surprise that postpartum belly wraps get a lot of attention.
Here, experts offer insight on belly wrap claims, who they might be good for, and what they can help with so that you can find relief, stat—because that's what really matters.
Can Belly Wraps Help Postpartum?
Postpartum wraps have been around for generations, ever since people started wrapping sheets around their mid-sections after giving birth, explains board-certified OB-GYN Heather Bartos, M.D., founder of be. Women's Health and Wellness in Cross Roads, Texas. And while there isn't a ton of data about their use during pregnancy or postpartum, there are some studies to suggest at least some benefits.
For one, most experts agree that light support postpartum—when tissues and organs start moving back into place—can help you feel better, which was the case for Ashleigh M., a 30-year-old in New York who used use a belly wrap (this one!) after a vaginal delivery.
"I felt like my body was just complete jello after birth, and wearing the wrap helped me feel less like jello in those first few weeks postpartum," she says. "It also provided some welcome back and core support for breastfeeding."
How Belly Wraps Work Postpartum
Light compression from abdominal wraps can support your natural transverse abdominal muscle when you can't yet contract it yet, explains Michelle Guido, D.P.T., founder of Activo Physical Therapy in San Diego.
Wraps more or less "splint" the muscles which have separated during pregnancy (something that happens in all pregnancies, BTW, to make room for a growing uterus), adds Dr. Bartos. This could help you be more conscious of using your abs, which is step one in getting them back to full strength, notes Guido. They could also help with spinal alignment, encouraging, in turn, organs, your uterus, and muscles get back to business as usual, she explains.
Of course, your abdominal muscles do make their way back together on their own in time, and Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., a clinical professor in the department of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the Yale University School of Medicine notes that there's not much research to suggest that binders truly help the healing process. They also won't help accelerate the healing of an abdominal separation, says Guido.
But? If you feel better, that probably helps healing in and of itself, says Dr. Minkin.
Belly Wraps and C-Section Pain
Other potential benefits of a wrap include alleviating pain related to a C-section. One small recent study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology found that women who wore a binder after having a C-section experienced less pain, suggesting that a postpartum belly wrap might be a good (non-opioid) way to deal with postpartum pain. Other research backs that idea suggesting a binder could help with pain, with no significant difference in bleeding, allowing new mamas to focus more on feeding and bonding and less on being distracted by pain.
Dr. Bartos notes that wraps could also help with pain from gas from an exposed abdomen (which traps gas and can be super painful).
Of course, other studies find no effect on recovery or levels of distress for new moms who delivered via cesarean. Abby G., a mom of two who lives in Westwood, Massachusetts used a wrap after both of her deliveries (one that was a C-section and one that was a vaginal delivery), for example, and says that the band didn't help with the pain.
Additional potential perks? There's some research to suggest that binding can help improve body image, and—with exercise—trunk flexion (basically how well you can bend forward).
Can Belly Wraps Help During Pregnancy?
Many women don't just use abdominal binders postpartum but for support during pregnancy, too, says Guido. Generally speaking, abdominal binders are fine to use for comfort during pregnancy when your abdominal muscles stretch (read: uncomfortable), says Dr. Minkin.
They help provide support, explains Guido, which can alleviate back and joint pain for some women, offloading weight away from the abdomen.
Ashleigh used a band (this one!) during her third trimester when she was hit with immense pubic pressure. "There were some nights I was in so much pain, I couldn't even walk from our bedroom to the bathroom," she says. "My doctor suggested a belly band and I ordered one pretty much immediately."
The band helped relieve the pressure, she says, plus it had the added benefit of keeping maternity jeans and leggings in place.
What to Keep in Mind If You Use a Belly Wrap
Want to try a band or wrap during pregnancy or postpartum? Make sure it's not too tight. The reasoning is two-fold: Extra compression puts more pressure on your pelvic floor, which is especially weak postpartum and also holds a lot of weight during pregnancy. (So if you have signs of incontinence, leaking, or vaginal prolapse, be cautious about using the binders, says Guido.)
Also, during pregnancy, you don't want to constrict blood flow to the uterus, notes Dr. Minkin. A band would have to be amazingly tight to decrease blood flow to the uterus, she says, but the concern is worth noting.
If you had a C-section, make sure the edge of the band is not directly on your incision, where it could irritate the wound, notes Dr. Bartos.
The Bottom Line
While a belly wrap may help you feel better during pregnancy or post-baby, it's not going to be a cure-all and you don't want to rely on it for complete relief or recovery. "A wrap is never going to take over the function of your muscles," Guido says. Proper exercise (or rest when needed!), core work, and pelvic floor moves can help you rehab and heal in time, she notes.