Postpartum Waist Trainers: Are they a waste of time?
If you are pregnant or recently postpartum chances are you have seen some celebrity endorse using a belly band or waist trainer to get her body back after birth. Since we are certified in postpartum exercise and group fitness, we want to share our expertise with you on the topic of waist trainers.
If you are pregnant or recently postpartum chances are you have seen some celebrity endorse using a belly band or waist trainer to get her body back after birth. For some reason, in our culture we tend to value what celebrities say more than healthcare professionals. Don't get us wrong, as new mamas we get it. After birth you don't feel like your former self. You are searching for ways to find a rhythm and routine as you navigate motherhood. Quick fixes seem appealing. As a reminder, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Since we are certified in postpartum exercise and group fitness, we want to share our expertise with you on the topic of waist trainers.
What are waist trainers?
If you are reading this, chances are that you have some idea what belly binding is, but we want to make sure you understand the intention behind a waist trainer. After giving birth, most women experience the sensation of a weak core. It makes sense --you grew a human and your abs and ribcage had to expand to make room. It takes time for your core to rehab and regain the muscle tension you were used to. With multiple pregnancies, you may feel even more weakness or ligament laxity. Your body has been there, done that and knows how to make room for baby. Waist trainers aka belly bands promise that they will:
- Strengthen core muscle weakened during pregnancy
- Alleviate back pain
- Provide comfort
- Increase mobility
- Promote weight loss
A waist trainer is a piece of fabric that wraps around your midsection with velcro or clasps. You can adjust the tightness, similar to a corset. So yes, it can help offer support for weakness in your core postpartum and it does act as a security blanket to offer support in the short term. But the support is short-lived. A waist trainer or binder does not heal underlying issues such as diastasis recti (if you have it) and doesn't come without risks.
Mamas, you need to put in the work to rehabbing your core long term and we hate to break it to you --there is no data to support a belly band for weight loss.
When should you wear a waist trainer?
If you just gave birth and are feeling weakness in your core then it can be helpful to wear a binder around your abdomen for additional support. Dr. Sarah Duvall of Core Exercise Solutions states that a binder is best used from immediately up to 2 to 6 weeks. In addition, women with severe diastasis and back pain may benefit from wearing a binder longer. The goal of the binder is to offer support, similar to how a brace may help someone with an injury. The goal is NOT to cinch your waist tighter to facilitate weight loss. In addition, if you had a c-section delivery your doctor may recommend a hospital-grade abdominal binder to decrease post-surgical pain. This is a different scenario and c-section mamas should also be careful about how tightly they wear their binder.
What are the risks of a waist trainer?
Picture a tube of toothpaste, if you squeeze it tightly in the center the toothpaste in the tube will be forced to opposing ends. Now picture yourself in a belly binder that is cinched too tight. What do you think the consequences are? They increase intra-abdominal pressure.
- Difficulty breathing. If the binder squeezes too tightly, it will make it that much harder to get a full 360 degree breath. Most of us, particularly pregnant or newly postpartum already have a difficult time taking a full inspiration and expiration. The added pressure from the binder stops that full expansion and causes shallow breathing. This difficulty breathing causes added stress on your body.
Here is another visual -- you're wearing your cutest, tightest, high waisted jeans on Thanksgiving and you go HAM at the table -- you can't breathe, things get uncomfortable, you start to panic. Your stress level goes way the F up -- the solution is to unbutton your jeans. Imagine constantly putting that stress on your body and not undoing the button.
- Pelvic floor pressure or prolapse. If wearing a binder can cause too much pressure on your upper torso, you can bet it has risk to cause that same pressure on your lower torso, in particular your pelvic floor. This force can contribute to prolapse.
A waist trainer is a crutch. If your body cannot handle the load of the activity without wearing a belt or binder, should you be wearing it to help? Probably not. The increased intra-abdominal pressure can contribute to stress, hernias, and prolapse. Instead you should be working on 360 degree breathing as well as recruiting and strengthening your muscles so that you can perform the actions without a belt.
So if you are feeling very weak and unstable postpartum, it is okay to wear a waist trainer for those initial few weeks. But there are risks and you should be weary of any false promises. It takes 6 weeks for the uterus to return to the size it was prior to pregnancy. There is no evidence that supports speeding that process up by wearing a binder. We have said it already, but to reiterate there is no evidence to support weight loss from wearing a binder. Don't you think everyone would be walking around wearing waist trainers if they led to a 6-pack? Quick fixes either don't exist or don't work. Put in the work mama and remember, it took your body 9-10 months to grow that baby. Give yourself grace on the recovery.
Ives Hot, PharmD, BCACP, PCES, ACE-certified