The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Belly Belts, Maternity Belts and Pregnancy Belts

As with all health-related products, the key to making the right decision for yourself, especially during the period of pregnancy, is knowledge and understanding and then potentially consulting a Women’s Health Care Professional like a Women’s Health Physiotherapist. So, what are Belly Belts, Maternity Belts and Pregnancy Belts?

Belly Belts and Maternity Belts

Belly Belts are also sometimes incorrectly referred to as Belly Bands, however there is a difference between the two.

Belly Belts are designed to carry your belly weight. Not as lightweight as belly bands because they hold up the pregnant belly and take the pressure off your back.

Belly bands on the other hand, according to Pregnant and Perfect provide you with proper ‘coverage’. When your pants stop fitting, the fabric you place around yourself is called a belly band. Huggies define the belly band as “an item of clothing and looks like a tube top or boob tube.” It is a wide circular strip of fabric, which is seamless and knitted; much like a pair of pantyhose is woven. Made from fibres like Cotton + Elastane/Spandex or Lycra, they stretch in order to stay up and on and also to “grow” with your abdomen as your pregnant belly expands.

Because the term “belly belt” does not specify whether it is for pregnancy or post-natal use in the same way “maternity belts” don’t, these terms are ambiguous, and you need to work out what stage of your maternity journey they are for; during pregnancy or for recovery after birth.  So maternity belts and belly belts can be either a Pregnancy Support Belt or a Post Pregnancy Tummy Wrap.

SRC Health - Maternity Belts

Pregnancy Belts

Pregnancy Belts clearly state that they are for wear during pregnancy hence making it easier to learn about the pros and cons for your specific circumstances before consulting your health care professional.

The Good – Why You should Wear a Belly Belt, Maternity Belt or Pregnancy Belt:

Approximately 70% of all pregnant women suffer low back pain and up to 45% exhibit symptoms of Pelvic Girdle Pain (PGP)1,2. Women with one or both conditions can find it difficult to cope with and participate in everyday activities.

Here are a number of good reasons to wear pregnancy belts during your pregnancy:

  • Relieving pain in joints, muscles and lower back
  • Assisting with pain of the sacroiliac joint and hip joint
  • Decrease the discomfort and provide support to the pelvic area during various activities by stabilising the pelvis and relieving pressure from the lower back.
  • Help improve your posture

According to Dr. Christopher Smith, obstetrician and gynaecologist, maternity belts offer additional comfort during daily activities, they reduce soreness associated with abdominal wall expansion in the late trimesters.

Because Belly Belts and Maternity Belts could also refer to post-partum belly belts, or post-partum girdles for after delivery, we’ll have a look at the benefits they can deliver after you give birth to your baby:

  • Postpartum belly belt can help to speed up the recovery process by providing support to the abdominal muscles that have separated during pregnancy and encourage them to return to their pre-pregnancy state.
  • The post-partum maternity belt may also assist with better healing of your C-section scar.
  • Finally, it will provide stability and support to assist with your general mobility post delivery

The Bad – Why wearing a Belly Belt, Maternity Belt or Pregnancy Belt may not be your optimal solution

The issue with most belly belts, even those that have stretchable inserts, is that they do not move with your body, they can feel restrictive and need constant readjustment which can be frustrating to some and perfectly ok for others. It’s always a good idea to try one on and/or make sure you can get a refund if the product simply irritates you when you have to constantly readjust when sitting down or getting up. Pregnancy belts are not the most comfortable or flattering things to wear, especially if you are wearing them under anything that is fitted as they will show through.

Many pregnancy belts, belly belts and maternity belts have hooks, loops or Velcro to adjust the belt and keep it in the right position and at the right tension, however this also means there is a chance of these catching and ripping your clothes.

The Ugly – Why you need to take care when it comes to wearing pre-natal or post-natal Belly Belts or Maternity Belts

Belly Belts and Maternity Belts fall into the same category as Shapewear which by definition are designed to change shape with high levels of compression being applied to your body. Here are some medical opinions:

According to Sherry A. Ross, MD, author of “she-ology, The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period”, the benefits and risks for pregnant women depend on the maternity shapewear product, and how much you wear it. She goes on to say that:

Maternity shapewear that is too tight and puts too much pressure on the body is never a good idea. If you have trouble breathing, or you're in pain while wearing your shapewear, that's a sign that it's probably too tight for you. Discomfort, pain, reduced blood circulation and heartburn are some of potential issues from maternity shapewear that is too tight or worn for prolonged periods of time.  Ross is most concerned about the Kardashian favourite “waist trainers” that can, if done up too tightly, compress and squeeze internal organs and ribs.

Aforementioned Dr. Christopher Smith, points out that there is some concern that wearing a maternity support belt during pregnancy may impair blood circulation, and negatively impact pelvic floor and bowel function. He recommends women wear belly bands for short periods at a time to prevent dependency and encourages them to use maternity support belts in conjunction with core muscle strengthening programs.

Shapewear that’s too tight may lead to health problems, says neurologist Orly Avitzur, MD, medical advisor for Consumer Reports. "Any time we put on really tight garments we take the risk of compressing organs or nerves." Avitzur says that in her practice, she has had patients complain of tingling and numbness in the front to outer thigh region, from hip to knee. Avitzur has linked the cause back to restrictive clothing like shapewear or skinny jeans.

You can also become overly dependent on the pregnancy belt which is the exact opposite of what you should be trying to achieve. “Activate don’t de-activate” is often heard advice of many women’s health physiotherapists as well as the founder of SRC Health, Sinead O’Donovan who developed 2 ranges of gentle grade medical compression garments; one for during pregnancy and another for recovery after pregnancy.

The commonly accepted advice about belly belts means that you shouldn’t be wearing it all day long every day. Wearing it just for two to three hours every day is best. If you were to wear it too long, you may end up weakening your lower body muscles causing muscle wastage: a garment that supports your stomach and bottom all day, every day, will take the load away from muscles and ligaments.

London-based physiotherapist Sammy Margo, a spokeswoman for the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, explains: 'What I say to my patients is “use it or lose it”. 'What we find is that women who wear maternity shapewear when they have no physical need can weaken muscles in their bottoms, stomachs and lower backs. 'After the birth of their baby, they are more likely to be injured as they lift and care for their newborns' she warns.

So please ask your doctor how to wear your belly belt to avoid putting pressure on your uterus, and only wear a belly belt for a couple of hours a day, never wear a pregnancy belt continually.

SRC Pregnancy and SRC Recovery Compression Garments

Celebrating their 10th year anniversary, SRC compression garments are a little more expensive but also present more versatile and functional investment.  Their purpose made, gentle medical grade compression garment of 4mmHg to 15mmHG can be worn as both outerwear as well as an undergarment and can be worn 24 hours per day without deactivating your muscles. Designed by women for women in consultation with an obstetrician, the SRC Pregnancy and Recovery garments address the majority of the most common conditions during and after pregnancy.

SRC Pregnancy Shorts and Leggings are ideal for providing pain relief during pregnancy and treating Low Back Pain, Pelvic Girdle Pain, Mild Varicose Veins, Sciatica and Vulval Varicosities. Designed to be worn under regular clothes, adjustable and most importantly comfortable, SRC Pregnancy Shorts and Leggings will assist you in getting through the demands of work and exercise and aid in reduction of leg swelling, they can be worn from 12 weeks, until term.

Some women combine a pregnancy belt and their SRC Pregnancy Compression Shorts /Leggings. The benefit for women with severe pain is that they can wear their Shorts/Leggings 24 hours per day without causing atrophy due to prolonged muscle deactivation and during periods where they need to be on their feet a lot, they can combine both products by adding the pregnancy belt for additional support.

SRC Recovery Shorts and Leggings can assist women with fast tracking recovery after pregnancy by treating Abdominal Muscle Separation, Perineal Tears and stitches, C-Section wounds, Sciatica and Low Back Pain.  They provide the support to move more freely after delivery and make lifting, feeding, bathing and caring for your baby easier. With no adjustable buttons, velcro or zips, the garment is like a second skin with no need to constantly adjust while wearing. Recommended by health care professionals for improving mobility and pelvic muscle function post-partum these garments are ideal for exercise and for aesthetic reasons under fitted clothing. They can be worn the day after delivery and for as long as they provide benefit.

The major differences between SRC compression garments and Pregnancy Belts, Maternity Belts and Belly Belts of all types, can be summarised as follows:

Pregnancy Belts, Maternity Belts and Belly Belts:

  • Are not able to be worn safely day and night whilst providing pain relief as they do not have gentle medical grade compression. To get the right level of compression you are relying on your ‘feel’ potentially risking muscle deactivation and the problems associated with the belt providing a potentially dangerous level of compression
  • Can’t treat multiple conditions like the SRC compression garments that utilise Anatomical Support Panels:
    • Pregnancy Garments: Lower Back Pain, Vulval Variscosities, Pelvic Instability and Pelvic Girdle Pain.
    • Recovery Garments: Perineal wounds, C-Section, DRAM (abdominal muscle separation)
  • Do not have True Cross Compression - multi-layered support panels that provide consistent and anatomically targeted compression during movement.
  • Do not have moisture wicking fabric that eliminates odour.
  • Do not have flat lock seams that increase comfort and don’t aggravate wounds.
  • Rely on adjustable Velcro zips and clips making them less comfortable and convenient
  • Are not a multi-purpose garment that is ideal for exercise, work and everyday wear as well as for aesthetic reasons under fitted clothing.

A holistic approach to management of these pre and post pregnancy conditions will produce the best outcome. Visiting a Women’s Health Physiotherapist can greatly assist as they will provide you with a tailored program which may include clinical Pilates as well as fit you for the right garment for supporting you through the pregnancy journey.

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