Belly Binding: Cultures and Benefits

Cultural and Historical Significance of Belly Binding

and how to take advantage of the benefits.

Bengkung Belly Binding is a Malaysian method of postpartum care and recovery. Using a thin LONG piece of non-stretch fabric such as muslin, the abdomen in wrapped from the lower hips to just under the breasts. The Bengkung method of wrapping is most well-known and associated with many Asian cultures. What isn’t as well known is that Bengkung is a part of a larger tradition of postpartum recovery…the confinement period.

If you’ve heard anything about postpartum confinement periods, it is most likely that you’ve heard about the Chinese method of “zuo yue zi” or “sitting the month”. This tradition includes restricting the diet to only “warming” foods, avoiding showers and other running water, avoiding breezes or other moving air, and essentially staying as warm as possible while mother and baby bond, rest and eat.

Photo by Liberty White, Earthside Bengkung
Photo by Liberty White, Earthside Bengkung

What is quite interesting, is that many cultures across the globe have very similar postpartum confinement periods. The Mexican culture has “cuarentena” which is derived from the word “cuarenta” or 40. In addition to avoiding moving air, cooling foods, and washing the hair, Mexican cultures also have their own form of postpartum binding; the faja. This is a long thin piece of cloth wrapped around the abdomen near the uterus. There are African cultures that include confinement, hot ritual baths, and “warming” foods. Indian and Pakistani cultures incorporate infant and postpartum massage with oils infused with ‘warming” spices, avoiding “cooling” foods, and abdominal binding as well.

All of these cultures encourage their postpartum recovery periods to be from 1 month to 6 weeks. They all believe that birth is a cooling period and encourage warming foods and avoidance of cooling foods and activities. Many incorporate spices, as a paste, into their binding routines which promote warming, oxygenation of the blood and increased blood flow, detoxification, anti-inflammatory properties and more.

Why do all of these cultures have such similar traditions? What is the benefit of binding the abdomen and utilizing a confinement period postpartum?

5 Benefits of abdominal belly binding

  1. Core support: Many women have an issue called diastasis recti during pregnancy or postpartum. This is the separation of the abdominal muscles from the growing uterus and baby within. This can lead to the “mommy pouch” that never seems to go away. Binding helps to bring those muscles together during the healing period after birth so that they more easily strengthen. It is important to note that belly binding does NOT strengthen your core, it supports your core until you are able to implement a core strengthening routine. You should always consult your provider or a physical therapist before beginning a core strengthening routine if you have diastasis recti so you don’t make your problem worse.
  2. Pelvic support: When a woman is pregnant her body releases a hormone called relaxin; this hormone is responsible for the ligaments in her body to relax and loosen so that her baby may move more easily through the pelvis during birth. Relaxin remains in the body for several months after birth. Binding postpartum takes advantage of the relaxin in her body puts gentle pressure on the hips/pelvis helping bring those hips back to their pre-pregnancy state.
  3. Lower back support: Abdominal muscles are directly related to the back muscles. When one is strengthened the other must also be strengthened. When one is weakened, it affects the other as well. When these core muscles are not supported it can cause back problems and even injury.
  4. Pelvic floor support: Just as the core muscles are interconnected, the pelvic floor muscles are connected to both the core and the glutes. When your core is supported, you are better able to do the proper exercises to support the pelvic floor; i.e. SQUATS.
  5. Breastfeeding: One of the first you hear when you learn how to position yourself to breastfeed is “bring the baby to the breast, not the breast to the baby”. This means, don’t lean forward and strain your neck to feed. Sit back, relax, and bring baby to the breast. Binding can assist with this by simply encouraging your body to have good posture while you feed.

Unfortunately, in American culture, mothers are expected to recover and get back to work as soon as possible. Even while they are on maternity leave (if they even get one) they are usually left home alone with the baby while their partner returns to work. No longer is it commonplace for extended family to come and tend to the new mother and baby for a recovery period. What do other cultures understand that we don’t?

These other cultures understand the benefits a postpartum recovery period.

3 benefits of a postpartum confinement period.

  1. Bonding: Moms and babies are able to really take advantage of all of the oxytocin flowing between them. Oxytocin is called the “love hormone”. It is the same hormone that is emitted when you fall in love, have sex and orgasm, go into labor, and begin lactation! Having that time to encourage skin to skin, breastfeeding, relaxing, and getting to know each other is one of the best benefits of a confinement period.
  2. Replenish: Birthing women use a lot of energy and blood during birth. Encouraging her to rest and relax while eating healthy foods will allow her body to replenish what her body needs.
  3. Avoiding depression and anxiety: While some women cannot avoid being affected my mood and anxiety disorders in the postpartum period, encouraging her to focus on her and her new baby, eating healthy foods, and increase the flow of oxytocin may help.

If you don’t have a support system that is able to be there for your during a confinement period, you may consider hiring a postpartum doula. A postpartum doula will support you and your family after you have baby. If your postpartum doula is also a belly binding specialist then you will have someone who able to bind you while also caring for you in your recovery, helping with older children, fixing snacks, and even tidying the house.

What can be done to receive the benefits without subscribing to the full confinement tradition?

Obviously not everyone will have the option to take advantage of a postpartum confinement period. Some women are single moms, some women’s families rely on their income, or they have older children and they simply cannot spend extended periods of time away from their everyday responsibilities. Here are a few ways to receive some of the benefits of a confinement period without actually subscribing to the full tradition.

  1. Belly binding with belly paste: One of the great things about belly binding is you can wear it under or over your clothing and still receive the physical benefits even if you have to work or chase around toddlers! Use of the belly paste will give you the warming benefits of the spices as well as benefits from absorbing into your skin.
  2. Taking time for yourself: A nice part of the binding process includes taking time out of the day to spend focused on yourself and your recovery. Being intentional about caring for your body can make all the difference in your physical and your mental health!
  3. Eating healthy: Ensuring that you are eating foods that are good for your digestion, incorporating spices that are known as antioxidants, detoxifying, and anti-inflammatory can all make you feel great during your postpartum recovery.

Hire the Expert

At First Sight Doula services is the expert in Belly Binding in Northeastern Oklahoma. Devon not only offers belly binding services to her clients but she travels all over the country training other professionals in the cultural and historical significance, physical benefits and the technique of Bengkung.

Devon is also a postpartum doula who believes in supporting women and their families while they transition to their new lives with a new baby. You can take advantage of all of the benefits of both Bengkung belly binding and a postpartum recovery period when you hire At First Sight to meet every need you have after your baby is born.

If you have additional questions about Bengkung belly binding or postpartum services fill out our contact form and we’ll get back to you right away.

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