After navigating the new world of pregnancy comes the next phase, postpartum recovery. It's a period where you're split in time, needing to care for your newborn while holding space to care for your body. Among the various practices aimed at this transformative period, postpartum belly binding stands out as a tradition with roots traced back through cultures and generations — but is it right for you?
From the traditional bengkung belly binding done in Malaysia to the modern postpartum belly wraps available today, this practice holds attention for its potential benefits. But as with any wellness trend, questions come up, including whether this practice works, if it's safe, how to get the most benefits, and when it is too late to wear a postpartum belly wrap. We asked the experts, and here's what they say about postpartum belly binding.
What Is Postpartum Belly Binding?
"Postpartum belly binding has been used for hundreds of years, all around the world, as a normal part of the recovery process after pregnancy and birth," Megan Vickers, a postpartum physiotherapist at Postpartum Plan, tells POPSUGAR. "It's believed postpartum belly binding promotes healing and closes the abdominal opening, provides warmth to restore energy in the abdominal organs, and encourages the return of tummy shape."
Recently, influencer Hannah Bronfman gave birth to her second baby and shared a video on TikTok of her own postpartum belly binding experience. In the video, she has a long piece of fabric intricately placed over her abdomen, with knots going along the front of her postpartum stomach.
There are actually several different ways to wrap the postpartum belly, and what we see Bronfman showing is called Bengkung belly binding, which originated in Malaysia. "It involves taking a long strip of soft fabric and binding the belly from under the breast to the hips," Jill Purdie, MD, a board-certified ob-gyn and medical director at Pediatrix Medical Group in Atlanta, GA, tells POPSUGAR.
"Generally, someone familiar with this method has to wrap the patient to ensure it is done correctly," she notes. "There are some newer products that are easier to use since they often close with Velcro or hooks, and a person is more likely to be able to wrap themselves."
What Are the Benefits of Postpartum Belly Binding?
Postpartum belly binding is thought to be a beneficial recover method that "promotes healing and closes the abdominal opening, provides warmth to restore energy in the abdominal organs, and encourages the return of tummy shape," Vickers shares.
Compression, via the wrapping method used in belly binding, can potentially reduce inflammation, promote blood flow, support placement of the organs, improve postural awareness, and restore the resting position of the abdominal muscles, she adds. Vickers compared postpartum belly binding to wearing a cast for a broken arm, with the binding supporting your abdominal muscles in the same way that a cast would for broken arm bones.
"When you hold muscles, you create a stable environment in which they can heal. If you're forever moving them, it will take longer for them to stabilise," Vickers explains. Dr. Purdie expands on this, adding that postpartum belly binding helps make the early days of parenthood more comfortable for the person who was pregnant by providing support to one's core. "Postpartum belly binding offers support to the abdominal muscles that have been stretched out during the pregnancy," she explains. "It often makes moving around more comfortable in the early days after delivery, and an abdominal wrap or binder may offer the support they are initially lacking."
Different Types of Belly Binding
Traditional belly binding uses cloth tightly wrapped across your abdomen, as is the case for bengkung belly binding, but other alternatives are also available.
For example, some may opt to use an abdominal binder, a stiff elastic wrap with a Velcro closure that's often given to people to wear after a c-section or any abdominal surgery. Abdominal binders are generally safer to use immediately after a c-section, they're easier to put on by yourself, and you can adjust the tightness as needed, per the experts.
Another option for binding is a "pre-constructed" postpartum girdle, which often uses hook-and-eye closures, zippers, and Velcro to adjust for tightness. The benefits of using a postpartum girdle are similar to binders, where you can often adjust the tightness, they're easier to put on yourself, and affordable options are available for any budget.
When Can You Start Postpartum Belly Binding?
Your birth type will be important in determining when it's safe to start postpartum belly binding.
"Women can begin using abdominal binders about 24 hours after delivery with either a vaginal or cesarean birth," Dr. Purdie shares. However, you need to wait a little longer if you want to practice tighter binding options like bengkung belly binding.
"Tighter binding may be started as early as two to three days postpartum from a vaginal delivery," Dr. Purdie notes. "For a C-section patient, they should wait to do binding until their incision is healed and dry, usually by two weeks." But it's best to consult with your healthcare provider before starting belly binding, as every body and recovery period is different.
If you cannot try belly binding in the immediate postpartum period, Vickers says there may be some benefits to trying it later.
"Whilst the body changes quicker and would benefit most in the early days and weeks postpartum, if you're seeking improvements in abdominal muscle closure, posture, or c-section scar reduction and have never tried binding, it could be very beneficial," she explains.
How Long Should You Practice Postpartum Belly Binding?
It's important that you're not wearing your binder or wrap too tightly, Dr. Purdie warns. "You want it tight enough to be supportive, but not so tight that it hinders movement or breathing," she explains. If your belly binder is causing you pain, that's a sign you should take it off.
How long you wear your binder matters, too. If you're wearing an abdominal binder or a girdle, Vickers suggests wearing them for as many hours as it feels comfortable. "They should also be removed to sleep to allow for natural recovery. And worn every day for 6-12 weeks, the standard soft tissue healing timeframe," she notes.
For new parents practicing bengkung belly binding, these should be worn for a minimum of 12 hours a day, from day one after birth up to 30 days or more after birth. "In general, belly binding is discontinued around six to eight weeks postpartum," Dr. Purdie shares. "If it is used too long, it can cause a person to not regain some of the natural strength of their muscles. In other words, the binding is doing the work that the muscles should be learning to do again."
In addition to belly binding, Dr. Purdie also suggests people who gave birth look into postpartum physiotherapy "to help regain the strength of their pelvic floor and core. For specific exercises, I would refer to a pelvic floor physical therapist."