A belly good wrap

  • Health
  • Sunday, 04 Jul 2010

Can a postpartum girdle really help get you back into shape after giving birth?

I HAVE to start out by saying that I have never used a postpartum girdle, but I am beginning to wish that I had. In my time, I used the bengkung (traditional Malaysian postpartum belly wraps) consising of a piece of cloth about 12 feet long that was wound tightly round my body from below my bust to the hips. After five children ... don’t ask me how I survived.

As I recall, I could hardly breathe, let along walk. I really felt like a wrapped-up Egyptian mummy, very awkward and clumsy. It was really tricky when I had to go to the toilet. Not that I am going to need one now – that particular phase of my life is well and truly over!

Still, I thought the subject may be of interest to many women as the journey back to a normal body after pregnancy is rarely as easy one.

A major concern for new moms is how to regain their pre-pregnancy body and flatten their tummy after delivery. This leads many women to seek out a modern version of the ancient practice of belly binding.

The shapeware market has been flooded with companies selling belly wraps, abdominal binders, bodyshapers, and girdles that are conveniently labeled as “postpartum products”. It’s overwhelming to hear of all the gimmicks out there that target new mothers.

Many of these companies make unfounded claims that their postpartum compression girdle or wrap will shrink your uterus, tighten your abdominal muscles, fade stretch marks, and return you to your pre-pregnancy figure in no time. We are all fans of shapewear and it’s an excellent way to smooth and slim your body for a specific outfit, especially an event; however, shapewear is not appropriate support for a post-baby body.

During pregnancy, musculoskeletal changes are stimulated by hormone secretions and the continuous expansion of the uterus. Some of these changes include:

Abdominal wall expansion and abdominal wall separation (Diastasis recti)

The growing foetus and the increasing weight of the baby putting pressure on the muscles can stretch the abdomen as much as 50%. The abdominal muscles (rectus abdominis) on either side are joined by a narrow fibrous strip (linea alba), which thins as it stretches. Also the hormonal changes which happen during pregnancy cause connective tissue to soften.

When the muscles separate, their strength is reduced and this can lead to back pain. The condition is more likely to occur where the abdominal muscles were weak prior to pregnancy.

It is vital that the abdominal wall returns to its pre-pregnancy location to protect internal organs and properly support the torso. Using a postpartum girdle may help with this problem.

Spine and posture realignment

Posture is greatly affected as a baby grows larger in the womb. The pelvis tips forward to counterbalance the baby’s weight, which causes the pubic bones and tailbone to move backward, increasing the arch in the lower spine and creating a lordotic posture.

The upper spine simultaneously responds to this structural change by increasing its curvature, which rounds the shoulders forward, collapses the chest inward, and slides the head forward, creating a kyphotic posture. The combination of the kyphotic/lordotic posture results in the classic “S” shaped spine of a pregnant woman and is a direct result of a shifting centre of gravity.

This shifting of a woman’s center of gravity and spine can affect the nervous system and cause aching, weakness, and numbness in the body.

Pelvic floor relaxation

The pelvic floor provides balance, body stabilization, and vital organ support. The pelvic floor is the base of the core muscle system, attaching to the abdominal muscles and the sacroiliac joints. During pregnancy, hormones cause ligaments to stretch, which loosens the pelvic floor structure. This natural realignment allows the pelvic bones to open for the baby’s birth and makes you feel a bit wobbly on your feet.

After the birth of your baby, the pelvic floor can remain loose and unstable for up to five months. Because the pelvic floor acts as the support system for the lower intestine, colon, and bladder, these vital organs may be less supported for a few months immediately postpartum. This lack of organ support is the primary reason why women suffer incontinence when coughing, sneezing, or laughing after giving birth.

One of the major benefits of a postpartum girdle is that it can help to speed up recovery after a Caesarean section. The girdle supports the muscles around the incision site and therefore helps to reduce pain. As this makes the wearer more mobile and active this helps to promote recovery. Again a number of women who used a girdle after a C section have reported significant benefits from doing so.

You have to start to wear the girdle as soon as you can after giving birth, as early as in the first 24 hours ,and then continue to wear it each day for a number of weeks. The girdle helps to support your back and so relieves some of the back pain associated with the immediate post-natal period. This also helps to reduce the strain involved in lifting and carrying of your baby.

Wearing a postpartum girdle can significantly help with the process of getting back into shape after giving birth. A number of women say that they have worn a postpartum girdle after having their babies and that they have found that they regained their flat stomach in a very short space of time.

Clearly, a postpartum girdle has a big job to do. Properly designed and manufactured postpartum body garments will provide 360 degree support to assist in abdominal wall muscle retraction, improve posture, stabilise loosened ligaments, and provide support to the torso while vital organs returned to their pre-pregnancy position.

Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar is a consultant obstetrician & gynaecologist (FRCOG, UK). For further information, visit www.primanora.com. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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