The lost art of postnatal wrapping

Years ago, before I started working as a doula, I taught antenatal classes.

When I was asked about using a girdle after the postpartum I told women I thought this wasn’t a good idea.

You see my grandmother wore a corset most of her life. Due to this she had her stomach or back muscles weren’t strong enough for her to be able to function without it.

It made me believe that this kind of support would only cause weakness.

Fast forward several years later whilst working as a doula, teaching closing the bones and generally asking everybody I meet about their culture’s postpartum practises, I came to realise that postpartum binding is a worldwide practice.

It challenged my belief massively because surely if the whole world does something similar, there is bound to be some wisdom being it, right?

Whilst developing my rebozo course I asked my super knowledgeable osteopath friend, Teddy Brookes, what his opinion of it was. He said it was definitely a worthwhile treatment as long as it was only done mindfully (i.e. not 24/7) and only during the first few weeks postpartum.

To me, now, it makes complete sense.

I have given the closing the bones massage to hundreds of new and not so new mothers.

Therefore I have laid my hands on the abdomen and hips of all these women, and wrapped their bodies with rebozos.

How changing and open their body is post birth is truly mind-blowing.

The whole body changes to accommodate the growing baby: the pelvis tilts and widens, the spine curvature increases, the abdomen stretches to accommodate the growing uterus, which in turn also pushes all the internal abdominal organs up.

Then after the birth all of this has to happen in reverse.

In particular, as the uterus shrinks back to its pre-pregnancy size, then the abdominal organs descend back into place.

New mothers, whilst going through the transition that giving birth to a baby and being born as a mother requires, are very open, both physically, emotionally and spiritually, and therefore the wrapping is part of the nurturing support to bring them back to their centre.

To cite an extreme example, when mother of triplets Rowena Hazell had just given birth (vaginally at that!) she couldn’t breathe properly:

As I tried to get back out of the pool, I had a weird sensation of not being able to breathe, as if all my body was suddenly too heavy. That was odd. On the postnatal ward I couldn’t sit up or stand for more than five minutes without finding breathing difficult. I was having to be wheeled across to NICU in a wheelchair because I couldn’t walk far. The midwives didn’t know why, didn’t take it seriously, and looked at me quite oddly when I said I needed to use a wheelchair. One of the other mums I met had brought a corset in, because she said that she had had severe diastasis recti before. This is when the stomach muscles have separated so much that for a while after birth they simply don’t hold your organs properly in the right place. The mum described it to me as your diaphragm not holding everything in, so it falls out of the bottom of your tummy. This was exactly what it felt like was happening to me! The midwives on the ward didn’t seem to have heard of this, but they did send a physio to see me. The physio made a corset out of a double layer of their largest Tubigrip, and immediately I could breathe, sit up, and walk again with ease”. (you can read her whole birth story here)

I think this illustrates very well how important postpartum wrapping can be!

I’m not saying that every mum should wrap herself by the way, because I’m a staunch supporter of informed choice.

I’m also certainly not advocating that new mums wrap themselves to look slimmer either, because this is the wrong focus.

If you follow this blog you’ll know that I have written several times about how I’d like to see the focus of postpartum gifts and support to be focused on the new mother and her well-being and support, rather than on the baby.

So I see postpartum wrapping as a source of comfort, support and warmth.

Done right, in accordance with the mother’s preferences, it can feel very good indeed.

So what can we use, and how can we do it?

There are quite a few blogs around, one kind that seems to be especially popular is an indonesian type of binding called bengkung belly binding. It seems, and I’ve been guilty of this too, that many see this as the gold standard.

However, I’m also a babywearing consultant. If I have learnt one thing in my 8 years in this capacity it is that slings are like jeans: you cannot be prescriptive about what fits one person, and you have to try before you buy.

These days I see my job as providing a buffet of choices, but not as being the one who chooses the dish for you.

I may like the versatility of wraps but if you think this feels like impossibly origami to you, it’s not going to the right kind of carrier for you.

So when it comes to postpartum wrapping the same is true.

I used to believe that soft fabric was best, until I realised it was the same as slings: some people prefer wraps, some prefer buckle carriers.

So as well as my rebozos, wraps and belly binds fabrics, I added velcro type belts and girdles to my ever expanding collection.

Earlier this year, I was supporting a new mother who had given birth to twins. She was already an experienced user of woven wraps, having carried her first child. She asked me to show her how to wrap her belly post birth using a rebozo or a woven wrap.

The problem was, she couldn’t do it tight enough on herself. We tried and couldn’t make it work. She did love my velcro postpartum girdle, however, so she ordered one for herself.

There is a plethora of tools to use-from simple pieces of cloth, scarves, rebozos, pashmina, babywearing wraps (both stretchy and woven ones) and more. There are also many different velcro belts and girdles.

This year I learnt to use a very long woven wrap to support a pregnant woman’s body (I took a course from this German babywearing school), and I’m pretty sure the techniques can be adapted to support the postpartum too.

Some cultures wrap the hips, some wrap the abdomen, and some wrap both the hips, abdomen, and lower ribs.

Some velcro belts are just for the waist or hips, some are designed to bind the whole abdomen and hips.

Here is a collection of types of binding that I have tried:

You can simply wrap your abdomen or hips by wrapping the fabric around you and either twisting and tucking the fabric, or twisting and knotting it, depending on how much tension you prefer. You can see a video of me wrapping my hips this way here

 

With a long enough cloth, you can wrap your belly, twist at the back, then wrap your hips and tie a knot at the front, wrapping your hips as well as your belly.

You can use babywearing wraps to wrap your belly and hips after the birth too as shown here 

With a very long, narrow cloth (about 15cm wide and 7 m long) , you can do the bengkung style binding, which goes from the hips to the ribs. Here is a tutorial for it

In Holland you can find a range of postpartum girdles, known as sluitlakens, some of which look uncanningly like the Indonesian binding (which is perhaps not surprising given the Dutch colonisation history).

Finally there is a plethora of velcro belts and girdle both online and in stores. From what I have experienced, you really get what you pay for: cheap ones are made of scratchy and/or uncomfortable material.

The more expensive ones also often have a double velcro system that allows you to tighten the belt/girdle a second time towards the back which makes tightening effortless (and important point when one has weak core muscles).

To give you an idea a good hip belt such as the Serola costs about £35/£40 and a good hip to waist girdle such as the Belly bandit will be about £50/£70 depending on the model.

Another simple garment to use is compression pants/shorts. Again different types are available only, including in leading maternity brands like Mothercare or Jojomamanbebe (so it might be worth a visit to an actual brick and mortar shop, though choice maybe be more limited than online)

How to choose?

Like jeans, it’s best to try before you buy. Difficult with online stuff I know but you can return items if needed.

Only you can tell whether it is comfortable and right for you, so it’s worth trying a couple of options. You cannot go wrong with simply going with your gut or what you like the look of for you first, then trying and see how it feels.

Recently we had a discussion thread on the Facebook group for closing the bones practitioners about it.

A new mum said this about bengkung: “I tried it few times and every time it felt like my organs were falling down. It just felt wrong and seemed to add too much pressure on my already weakened pelvic floor.”

My friend Rosie Dhoopun who teaches alignment for pregnancy, said that “bengkung is so tight, proper binding, there is more chance of damage from intra abdominal pressure and pelvic floor damage. I personally wouldn’t recommend it”

I’m not saying bengkung is wrong for everybody, just giving this as an example that some types of binding (heck sometimes even any binding at all) may not be right for some mothers.

So trust your comfort, your instincts and your feelings and maybe try a couple of different wrapping methods and see what makes you feel good 🙂

PS: I have been working with wraps, rebozos, shawls and scarves for several years now and I see them as something that has a lot of use beyond the childbearing years. When it comes to wrapping for example, I now see my period as a mini postpartum time with similar needs, and I find that wrapping my hips or my abdomen or both during this time is extremely comforting. Try it and tell me what you think.

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1 Comment

  1. Tessa on November 27, 2018 at 2:37 pm

    After having children I get a ache in my ground during my periods, especially if I have been standing too much. I will try the wrapping as it’s made me realise perhaps my body just needs a bit of extra support.

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