Belly binding, or belly wrapping, has a long history around the world. Women have wrapped or bound their bellies during pregnancy and postpartum probably since the beginning of written history, and the techniques are as varied as the cultures in which they grew.
In some cultures, belly binding, or belly wrapping, is performed ritualistically or ceremonially by trained women. In others, women bind their bellies alone or with help as a matter of practicality. English-speaking mothers, cultural anthropologists, and historians have sought the names of these different styles of binding and wrapping, but often, the mothers within the cultures they are discussing do not always identify with those names. However, techniques such as “Faja” and “Bengkung” are increasingly discussed, taught, and practiced by Western mothers and birth practitioners. There is a lovely brief blog post about traditional binding with one mama’s experience with the traditional wrapping techniques, at the Hong Kong Housewife blog.
In truth, there is little research about belly binding, either to support it or to refute it as a valid means of strengthening the postpartum body. There ARE many strong opinions from physiotherapists, midwives, physical trainers, etc. about whether belly binding, or splinting, is appropriate in the healing of diastasis recti. Some believe it is nearly essential to correct healing, and others believe it can only be detrimental. Most seem to fall somewhere between, believing that belly binding can be one component of healing, helping to prevent a widening gap between the muscles while a woman does the muscle and other work to correctly strengthen her core muscles.
There is some research about binding and abdominal compression following major abdominal surgery. Given that in the US, 1 in 3 babies will be born surgically via cesaraen section, I would love to see research about postpartum binding specifically for these mothers, who are recovering from a significant operation while also caring for their baby and, sometimes, other children. In 2010, there was a study done to examine whether abdominal support via compression could reduce pain and increase mobility, and it appears that there is significant improvement in both with the use of the technique. It is important, of course, to consult a medical professional prior to introducing a post-surgical intervention, but it appears the evidence suggests it would be worthwhile to investigate the use of belly binding, wrapping, or at least the use of a commercially available elastic support band after surgery.
My own experience? It reminds me to engage my “corset” muscles while I’m sitting at my desk, and further, it improves my posture, forcing me to use my abdominal and back muscles to hold my torso more erect. Alone, though, abdominal binding would not have correct my diastasis recti, and in reading the concerns of some medical professionals that binding for too long and too often could lead to a woman’s reduced use of these muscles is sensible, just as binding a wrist into a single position for a long time can lead to atrophy of the muscles around the wrist.
Therefore, if you decide to try belly binding, it’s important to continue actively engaging your muscles. There are many interventions and exercised that can help. such as pilates or physical therapy.
Using a wrap to bind the belly
I first tried belly wrapping during my fourth pregnancy — I saw the great number of pregnancy support bands on the market and reasoned that the same effect could be accomplished with the wrap I already owned. I gave little thought to the origins of belly wrapping or binding until my fifth pregnancy. As many fifth labors are, mine was slow and prolonged. From the first time I called my midwives for support, it took about a week for my baby to come. One of the things they suggested during that time was belly wrapping in the traditional Rebozo style. Since what I had handy was a variety of wraps, I extended the technique to wrap my belly with a much longer cloth. Here is a video I took about 5 hours before baby number 5 was born.
My postpartum recover was significantly slower after the fifth baby, and one of my friends suggested a postpartum support belt. The one I purchased, though well reviewed, rolled up from the bottom whenever I sat, so I reintroduced the belly wrapping technique I had used during my labor. Shortly thereafter, I saw an incredibly beautiful photograph on Pinterest of a mama bound in a beautiful corset of knotted cloth. Following the link, I read about Benkung-style binding traditionally practiced in Malaysia. I imagine that, like most practices oversimplified by Western mothers, this style may have been practiced in a larger geographical area, but thus far, I have only seen it referred to as a Malaysian technique. The binding cloth of Benkung is usually only one step in a larger process that includes application of herbs and oils and the use of massage, but in the US, most women are practicing cloth wrapping alone, or paying for the services of oil massage followed by wrapping.
The photos and descriptions I found encouraged me to try a similar technique with my baby wrap, and I found it to be quite comfortable. I can only imagine that a longer cloth tied by experienced hands would be even more comfortable, but I have not experienced it so cannot say that with any authority.
Colleen, Wrapsody’s Director of Connections, is also a mother of five who has struggled with diastasis recti and has spent a great deal reading about techniques for repairing the muscles. Together, we teamed up in my backyard to demonstrate a few of the techniques you can use with 5-6 yard baby wraps for belly binding. These may not be as effective with thick, bulky wrap styles, but again, I cannot say so with any authority, as I have not tried it!
The “Mummy Tummy,” “Winding Binding,” or “Bandaging” technique
The “Wrap Cross Carry” technique, fairly easy to DIY
The “Benkung-Syle” technique, knot-and-twist
If you have seen a great video or other tutorial or description for a binding technique, whether traditional or modern, I’d love for you to comment with a link! In the meantime, here is a summary of the links included in this article: