Updated August 2018
Chances are, if you’ve had a c-section or any type of abdominal surgery, you may have used an abdominal binder during your recovery (they’re also used by women who’ve had vaginal deliveries). These binders, also known as belly wraps, compression bands, postpartum girdles, etc., encircle and compress the abdomen.
The idea is that the material protects the surgical incision, while the binder’s compression helps decrease postoperative pain (among other benefits).
But do they really “work”?
An OB-GYN from Beverly Hills explains: “We’ve been prescribing abdominal binders for a long time… with obstetrics, these wraps help women recovering from a vaginal delivery or a c-section with their posture, abdominal support, and self-confidence.”
Some even claim that abdominal binders can help close separated abdominal muscles, a condition called diastasis recti. Though this claim has not been scientifically proven, many women (self included) wear them after pregnancy in hopes it will help.
In addition to helping close separated ab muscles (or “proximate” your abs, as PTs say), other purported benefits associated with wearing abdominal binders postpartum include helping the uterus shrink back down to size, alleviating pain, increasing comfort (allowing you to walk farther and get back to doing your normal activities sooner), and protecting the c-section incision.
One thing’s for sure: they don’t help you lose fat (or actual weight).
Doctors and Studies Say…
At the end of the day, some doctors like and recommend postpartum girdles, while others think they are a complete waste of time. To make matters even more confusing, most of the research on belly bands has been done on general surgical patients, and not specifically postpartum mamas.
We looked at 3 studies to see if there was any consensus ~
- One study showed that belly bands helped users walk farther than those who didn’t use them, but did not help in the pain department. [i]
- Another study, published in the International Journal of Gynaecology and Obstetrics in 2016, determined that belly bands made no difference: the authors reported that “postoperative pain and distress scores after cesarean delivery were not affected by abdominal binders.”[ii]
- Yet still another study, released in the same journal the following year (2017), reported that patients who used binders after c-sections did experience reduced pain and symptom distress, plus they had less blood loss.[iii]
See? Crystal clear (LOL).
A problem with all of this research on binders is the timing: so far, studies only look at results a few days post-surgery. All of the measurements from the previously discussed studies (pain scores, walking tests, etc.) were taken only 1-5 days after procedures. It makes you wonder what the longer-term positive effects of abdominal compression may be?
As an aside, I (Marissa) used an abdominal binder after both of my c-sections (note: they were given to me each time by the hospital). Personally, I really liked wearing it. It made me feel more secure when moving around (or you know, breathing), and felt like it was holding together my severed ab muscles. I also held out hope that it eventually would help heal my diastasis recti (yet here we are 18 months postpartum, and no such luck…). Bottom line: I had a good experience and wouldn’t hesitate to wear a binder again. See also: what to wear after a c-section.
As mentioned, most moms actually use the binders for everyday wear in the weeks and months beyond birth – not just in the immediate aftermath. And many women also like the support of them during pregnancy.
Women who haven’t had cesareans still like the belly support provided by products like the Nesting Days carrier. I (Meg) loved wearing the Nesting Days for this reason: it just felt good and made me sit a little taller.
The good news is that there appear to be virtually no harmful effects associated with using an abdominal binder, although the tighter binders prescribed for some of the diastasis rehab programs can cause dizziness and shortness of breath.
When I (Brittany) asked my brother, a surgical resident, and a friend, an OB resident, about the use of abdominal binders, they both indicated that compression bands are really a matter of preference. Some patients don’t like them and choose not to use them even when advised, while others enjoy them. In turn, some surgeons see them as more helpful while others think they are futile.
Whether you choose to use an abdominal binder is truly up to you — they may help, and they really can’t hurt, so if you want to try it out, go for it (and then report back to us with your findings!)
If you decide to use an abdominal binder after giving birth, here are some highly-rated options:
See also what to wear home after a c-section, which includes some incision-protection underwear.
Did you know that maternity support belts are eligible for reimbursement with your FSA/HSA/HRA account?
3 in 1 Postpartum Girdle ~ $19
This girdle is affordable and highly rated. With it, you get three belts: a belly belt, a waist belt and a pelvic belt. The belly belt helps to repair abdominal muscles and claims to bring your abs back together; the waist belt aids in back pain relief and c-section incision recovery; and the pelvis belt helps relieve pelvic pain and weakness postpartum.
Belly Bandit ~ $49+
Postpartum moms can wear the ever-popular Belly Bandit right away. It’s recommend that this band be worn every day, all day, for a minimum of 6-8 weeks after giving birth. Belly Bandit has a wide variety of different types and styles of bands, but they all claim to “reshape your waist, hips and belly.” Some users rave about the Belly Bandit, saying it really helped with healing and trimming the tummy, while others say it’s not worth the money.
Bellefit Postpartum Corset ~ $108
This band has a medical-grade abdominal panel that protects and helps heal the abdomen and c-section incision. The corset has adjustable front hook-and-eye closures, as well as a flap that un-hooks at the crotch to make bathroom breaks easier (and we all know how often those occur postpartum!). Users seem to love this corset, and many note that it helped them feel more confident and less “jiggly in the belly” after giving birth.
*The best way to find your size is to use the Bellefit sizing tool.
Marissa’s Bellefit Experience
I recently had abdominal surgery to repair an umbilical hernia and diastasis recti (separated abdominal muscles), both of which occurred during my twin pregnancy.
After my operation, the hospital gave me an abdominal binder and told me to wear it 24/7 for 6-8 weeks post surgery. But as my abdominal swelling started to decrease, the band became looser around my belly, and thus, much less effective. It also started chafing my super sensitive belly button. Enter the Bellefit.
When I first saw the Bellefit, I laughed. It looks like a mix between a torture device—that is one tight corset!—an S&M piece and, as my husband put it, a “you shall not enter!” chastity bodysuit. I also thought it was going to be super tough to put on and uncomfortable to wear (particularly because it snaps together in the, ahem, nether regions).
But that wasn’t the case. I just followed the instructions on the back, and it was simple. The hooks latch easily, and there are two latch positions so it doesn’t matter if your frame is narrow or wide — your Bellefit (assuming you order the correct size) should fit.
I feel very secure and completely held together in it. It gives me great confidence when I’m around my kids (I feel more protected–like if they do accidentally kick me or run into my belly, I won’t double over in pain), and during my day-to-day activities. It also relieves my lower back pain, which is something I’ve struggled with since my diastasis became so large. I honestly want to wear this thing even after I’m fully healed (Spanx, anyone??!).
Bottom Line: I’ve been wearing the Bellefit for about a week now, and I’ve done my best to keep it on most of the day and even through the night. The only truly annoying thing is that I have to undo the “crotch snaps” (sorry…crass, I know!) every time I have to go to the bathroom. This drives me especially crazy in the middle of the night. But other than that, I’m a big fan of the Bellefit. I wish I would have used it after my c-sections; maybe my diastasis wouldn’t have gotten so bad if I had? Who knows. Whatever the case, I’m just happy to be wearing it now.
If you try one of these, please report back your findings by leaving a comment below. Thanks!!
– Brit, Marissa and Meg
Back to Postpartum
[i] Oren Cheifetz et al., “The Effect of Abdominal Support on Functional Outcomes in Patients Following Major Abdominal Surgery: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” Physiotherapy Canada 62, no. 3 (2010): 242–53, doi:10.3138/physio.62.3.242; Emine Arici, Sevinc Tastan, and Mehmet Fatih Can, “The Effect of Using an Abdominal Binder on Postoperative Gastrointestinal Function, Mobilization, Pulmonary Function, and Pain in Patients Undergoing Major Abdominal Surgery: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” International Journal of Nursing Studies 62 (October 1, 2016): 108–17, doi:10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2016.07.017.
[ii] Christin M. Gillier et al., “A Randomized Controlled Trial of Abdominal Binders for the Management of Postoperative Pain and Distress after Cesarean Delivery,” International Journal of Gynaecology and Obstetrics: The Official Organ of the International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics 133, no. 2 (May 2016): 188–91, doi:10.1016/j.ijgo.2015.08.026.
[iii] Samieh Ghana et al., “Randomized Controlled Trial of Abdominal Binders for Postoperative Pain, Distress, and Blood Loss after Cesarean Delivery,” International Journal of Gynaecology and Obstetrics: The Official Organ of the International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics 137, no. 3 (June 2017): 271–76, doi:10.1002/ijgo.12134.