Many traditional cultures around the world honor the time after birth for both baby and mother. They see the work of labor as physical as well as emotional, energetic and spiritual, and make time to acknowledge and create space for the transition. From these traditions we are reminded of the importance of mothering the mother.
Traditionally referred to as Benkung belly binding or Malaysian belly corset, this is most like the style that Sacred Rhythms offers. If you grew up in the South, likely your mother wore something similar: a girdle. Traditional bidning practices involved postpartum belly massage to expel wind, encourage the uterus to rise and firm, and dispel water from the tissues. An herbal paste was applied to the abdomen prior to wrapping. Some benefits are to warm the body (physically and energetically), balance the body’s systems, mark the closure of birth and to seal the gateways opened during birth (again physically and energetically). The binders can be worn within hours after birth, changed daily and worn for 30-40 days postpartum.
Beyond the physical aspect of closing the body, there is a spiritual aspect to the ritual, which provides a safe space for the mother to feel nurtured and to release emotions associated with the birth and motherhood.
The potential benefits of belly binding are have not been researched scientifically, but the practices comes from traditions with surprisingly deep understandings of the energetic body. Binding, wrapping, splinting or abdominal reconditioning all have similar benefits. Binding can help slim the ribcage, belly and hips by offering 360 degrees of support from the pelvis up to the middle rib cage. It helps organs and muscles return to pre-pregnancy placement by providing physical compression to help support and guide them back into place. By supporting the body with proper posture, especially during nursing, wrapping can prevent back, shoulder and neck pain including pain from the “nursing slouch.” It also helps encourage the awareness of your abdominal muscles that support your low back. It flattens the saggy, loose tummy and helps with the jelly belly feeling many women experience. The binding also feels secure, like a warm hug, helping to stabilize and balance your mood.
Other Traditional Postpartum Practices
Binding the belly is only one of many rituals and rules concerning the immediate postpartum time including:
- Staying in bed, in the bedroom and in the home for 3 weeks without visitors
- No showering or bathing for an extended time
- Dressing in warm clothes, socks and head covering to protect from excess wind or cold
- Drinking only warming beverages, and eating only warming, high energy, high protein foods (NOTE: the placenta is considered an herb in TCM and is considered the most warming and balancing herb in TCM.)*
- Abdominal massage with almond, sesame or avocado oil and wrapping the belly/core body daily for 30-40 days
- Holding a ceremony to mark and honor the transition*
*Services also offered by Sacred Rhythms
(please forgive the sometimes blurry video!)
How-to Reference for Partner Wrapping Mother
- Before you begin wrapping, abdominal massage can compliment the wrapping by stimulating blood and lymph. The mother can massage herself or a partner can massage using almond, sesame or avocado oil. Begin below the breastbone, using both hands stroke down the center of the body, all the way to the public bone, then stroke out to the side of the front body and back up to where you began. Continue making circles in this way for 3-5 minutes, breathing softly. After massaging, allow mother to rest for a few minutes before sitting and standing up to receive the wrap.
- Wrap fabric around mother’s hip bones.
- Measure short end of fabric up to the breastbone. This will be the side you use to twist.
- Wrap the long side around the body and twist in center, making sure to pull firmly but not so tight that mother cannot move or breath well. Try not to pull the fabric up as you work.
- With mother holding the short end of the fabric, wrap the long end around the body and twist again.
- Continue the process, straightening any folds or rolls in the fabric.
- Remember to make the wrap snug enough to feel like a hug, but not so tight that it’s uncomfortable to move or breathe.
- Continue around, twisting as you go in the center, up to the breastbone.
- Tie ends at last twist, cut excess (with some leeway) and tuck in the ends.
- Adjust fabric as you go
- Fabric will overlap almost completely in the back
- Work to keep twists in center of abdomen
- Choose which way you will twist and wrap, and keep it uniform
- Don’t pull up on the fabric as you twist or the bottom will slip up
- While it is possible for a postpartum woman to bind her own belly, this defeats the purpose of allowing the wrap to do the muscular work (the act of wrapping requires abdominal exertion). It is also important that a mother has support emotionally and energetically, and “doing it yourself” is a symbolic act of rejecting that. As a mother it is imperative that you are able to ask for and receive assistance, support and love!