I'm asked a lot about the use of abdominal binders and braces after having a baby.
Maybe you're considering using a belly binder after having your baby or you heard belly binding is good for a diastasis recti.
Before you rush out to purchase a binder, here are a few things to consider first.
Belly binding has been used for hundreds of years after having a baby. Typically a binder is used within a few days of birth for 2-6 weeks. There are special cases that a binder is used longer for more severe abdominal separation, but should always be addressed with a postpartum physical therapist first.
Here are some benefits for belly binding*:
Provides postural support for the torso and organs as they return to pre-pregnancy position
Supports and assists abdominal wall healing and diastasis recti recovery
Supports the body's natural spine and posture realignment post birth
Constant pressure on the torso and abdomen hastens healing by reducing water, fat and air in the tissue and cells
Stabilizes loose ligaments
Helps to prevent and relieve lower back aches and strains
Prevents slouching while feeding or holding your child
Your goal after having baby should be returning to optimal movement and function in your body. So when does belly binding no longer promote healing and return to function but cause problems instead?
1. A belly binder is only meant for short periods of time.
If worn for longer than 6 weeks (unless directed by a specialist practitioner) it starts to replace the function of our core muscles. Which means the muscles no longer need to build strength to do the job they are meant to do...support your posture and organs, and stabilize your spine for movement. Your body will rely on the binder, which not a long term solution.
2. Cinching can cause too much compression.
When pulled too tight the compression around your waist alters the natural pressure system without your trunk. Instead of even pressure, it is now pushed upward into your chest and downward into your pelvis. This can lead to hernias and pelvis organ prolapse, which nobody wants.
3. It alters your breathing pattern
When you breath your trunk expands in all directions, up, down, front, back, and to the sides. The abdomen is meant to rise and fall as your trunk and pelvis expand with every inhale. If your abdomen is compressed, as your respiratory diaphragm contracts and pulls down while you inhale there is no place for the lungs to go except just into the chest. This causes shallow breathing, leading to an increase in cortisol levels and perpetual fight or flight mode.
4. Your core may establish bad habits
There are two ways this may happen. One, the core may stay contracted. The constant compression triggers a perpetual contraction of the abdominal muscles. This is like always holding your shoulders up to your ears. Eventually those muscles become tight and unresponsive to proper movement. The core needs to relax to function properly. Part of the core's job is to let go to allow you to go to the bathroom or to have sex. If the muscles are in a state of contraction this cannot happen! A tight muscle can no longer provide stability for movement, which may lead to [more] pain and dysfunction.
Two, the core may push out when it contracts. Having a binder wrapped around our waist gives the body something to push into. When someone pushes your shoulder, what do you want to naturally do? Push back.
For some (like myself) this is what can happen when wearing a belly binder. When you brace against the binder it creates internal pressure, again leading to hernias and prolapse, and bad form for an abdominal separation. You may not even realize you're doing it.
In the end, do I think belly binders are bad?
I think they are beneficial for immediately after having a baby when you are mindful of how your body is responding to wearing one.
You need to be aware of how you body feels when you take it off. Are you paying attention to your movement patterns or just relying on the binder? Do you have a game plan for weaning off the binder?
These are all relevant and important things to consider before you use a binder.