Oh, motherhood… an amazing journey of carrying, birthing and raising a baby, a time you learn about and feel muscles you had never heard of before like the pelvic floor muscles, transverse muscles, abdominal muscles, and something called diastasis recti or DRA.
These valiant souls take a beating during the nine months of carrying a baby and delivering it. And what’s called postpartum healing is mostly about these muscle groups snapping back to their pre-pregnancy shape and size.
Admittedly, one of the best ways of healing the diastasis recti or a separation in the abdominal muscle running down your core, is belly binding.
To explain DRA, I’ll have to take you back to the days when you were pregnant and when your baby was developing and your belly was growing.
Not only was your uterus expanding to accommodate the growing foetus but so were the abdominal muscles or the core- the two large parallel bands of muscles that meet in the middle of the abdomen- to support and hold the ballooning uterus.
Technically speaking, the continued expansion of the uterus during pregnancy is possible because of the linea alba which is a line of connective tissue that runs from under the ribs to the pubic bone and connects the two sides of the abdominal muscles.
This stretching in combination with relaxin and other hormones which create an increased laxity in the linea alba, can cause a separation between the abdominal muscles which is called diastasis recti. Diastasis typically is a gap of more than 2.7 centimetres between the ‘ab’ muscles.
This causes an unsightly ‘pooch’ in new moms as well as pronounced ridging in the middle of the abdomen. It also causes pain in the lower and upper back and pelvic floor, and affects the alignment of the hip which in turn affects your ability to do simple day-to-day activities like lifting your baby up.
DRA does sort itself out naturally, especially if the separation is not too wide, however, I’ve seen women who’ve had a baby and still have a DRA for years after a birthing.
Statistically, more than 98% of women have a diastasis after delivery and it’s more common the more pregnancies you’ve had or if you’ve had twins or already have weak abdominal or core muscles.
Core weakness in fact, contributes towards many complications in pregnancy, labour, delivery (deeper vaginal and perineal tears, prolapse) and postpartum recovery.
In traditional societies like ours, it’s common for new mothers to bind their bellies to get help in ridding themselves of their jelly bellies as well as help the abdominal muscles to stitch back properly and get their flat bellies back.
There is plenty of opinion on belly binding- some say it works and few others say it’s actually useless and can in fact be harmful.
According to many experts, belly binding plays an essential role in healing and restoring your core muscles. This is how it can benefit in postpartum healing:
-It can speed up the healing of diastasis recti
-It provides sensory feedback to help you understand what your core muscles should feel like
-It increases blood flow to the damaged tissue in the core
-It brings the two sides of the separated abdominal muscles together, placing the linea alba in a lax position to speed up healing
- It provides gentle compression to help with swelling
The other benefits of belly binding are:
-Pelvic support - In addition to supporting the abdominal area, belly binding also provides support for your pelvic area which becomes looser and flexible during and after a delivery.
-Lower back support – Abdominal muscles support the back muscles and belly binding helps strengthen the entire muscular network in order to improve posture and strengthen the core muscles to keep the body upright.
When these core muscles are in poor condition, additional stress is put on the spine making you more vulnerable to back injuries and back pain
You can use a cotton, muslin, or silk fabric and wrap your abdomen snugly from the end of the rib cage to the pelvic.
The wrapping can be done over your clothes or under using an under wrap.
You can get wrapped within the first week after a vaginal delivery and 4-6 weeks after a cesarean- section delivery. Always ensure that there is no infection around the stitches before binding.
You should continue to wrap each day, for about 10 hours, up to 40 days. And always remove the wrap at night.
Ask your doctor before any kind of belly binding at any cost.
While fastening the belly wrap, exhale and inhale to make sure that you can breathe properly. Also, make sure that the wrap is snug like a hug around your tummy. If binding ever makes you feel worse, take a break from it.
Belly binding alone will not rehabilitate your core. In some cases, the incorrect or long-term use of a wrap can make matters worse. Remember, belly binding is supposed to be strictly temporary.
Do work with a trained physical therapist who can train the transverse muscle group (the muscles responsible for maintaining an upright posture) with a tailored exercise regime, along with rehabilitating your core.
I want to be honest here- Please take note that without structured exercises, belly wrapping is of no use and will not result in a strong, rehabilitated core or DRA healing.
You also need to eat a healthy diet to get back to your pre-pregnancy weight and reduce the flab on your belly for looking and feeling fit again.