Let’s face it ladies… there is a reason women in the olden days wore corsets. And it wasn’t just so that waists appeared tinier. They actually made waists tinier and helped immensely with posture, especially after baby. In fact, binding the tummy post-baby is a tradition in many cultures; the Japanese call their girdle wrap a ‘sarashi,’ hispanics call their binder a ‘faja,’ and the Malays call it a bengkung.
Last spring I attended a ‘Blooming Bellies’ preggo night at the Mandarin Oriental where I was lucky enough to win a 5-day tummy treatment package from Restoring Moms. I had no idea what that even was at the time, but I just completed my sessions and had a really great experience with it.
The Asian culture is very good to the new mom; whether you’re Chinese, Korean, or Indonesian, all these cultures have a tradition of a ‘confinement period’ of around a month. This means you really can’t leave the home for this time and a confinement nurse cares for the new mom around the clock, helping her recover from the birth and adjust to life with the new little one. Some people think this seems constraining, but just a few weeks into motherhood myself, I already think it would be a huge blessing. You really do need this time to hole up at home and the added pressure to be ‘out and about’ right away isn’t helpful!
In the Malaysian tradition, new moms also receive a full-body massage and have their tummies bound for 44 days post-natal. For Malays, the womb is the center to a woman’s wellness and they believe it’s essential to take care of it at all stages of life, but especially after birth.The tradition originated generations ago at the palaces, with princesses using it to help them ‘bounce back’ and quickly spread across the land. It’s still actively practiced in the countryside and is currently enjoying a resurgence with urban dwellers alike.
Karen Loke, the founder of Restoring Moms, is a Malaysian Chinese and mother of three who has studied this traditional art and now does it for new moms all over Hong Kong.
Karen’s signature, results-focused belly treatment, which I had, starts with a 30-minute tummy massage, which helps to expel wind, gently encourages the uterus to rise back up to it’s pre-baby state, dispels water, and also encourages your abdominals to come back to the middle, which is especially helpful if you’ve had an abdominal separation, which is quite common. The massage also helps soften up that nice layer of blubber to make it more amenable to binding. But before that, Karen applies a custom-for-you herb concoction to your stomach that provide additional benefits. Herbs include things like turmeric and ginger, which help to draw out gas, and lime, which can help lighten a linea negra, the dark line that many pregnant women get running up their abdomen. (In fact, Karen recommends lemon or lime juice to help lighten the line at any time.)
And then she wraps you up ever so tightly with a cotton strip. This binding helps your tummy heal inward and supports the uterus. Unlike many binders that actually divide your tummy and can have the negative consequence of actually preventing the uterus from migrating north to its original location, Karen’s binder starts very low on your hips and goes all the way up to your ribs. Although this all sounds very uncomfortable, I was surprised by how good it actually feels. Your abs are very weak after pregnancy… before seeing Karen even just sitting up straight at the dinner table for a quick meal seemed like a big chore… but with the binder’s support you have perfect posture all the time! Karen also recommended some simple exercises to help bring my abs back together–you basically squeeze your belly button back into your spine for counts of 30 and then squeeze it in half-way and then fully back 100 times.
So did it work? I am happy to say, yes it did! I not only feel stronger, but my tummy… while still a ways off from my pre-baby figure is objectively smaller by several inches… and last night I even squirmed my way into some pre-pregnancy jeans, albeit my very fat jeans, but still! Most importantly, I think the binder reminds you to always, always, always be working on your posture, no matter what you’re doing… whether it be typing away at the computer or leaning over a nursing baby.
Karen really recommends working on getting things back into place during the first two t0 three months after birth because during this time your body is naturally healing itself and so is more open to encouragement as the hormone relaxin is still keeping things flexible. But, it can help at any time! I was really encouraged that there actually is something you can do to help your body along. And I also really enjoyed a few minutes of taking care of myself when I’ve been so focused on taking care of the little one.
If you’re in Hong Kong, check out Karen’s site here. If you’re not in Hong Kong, I would recommend looking into similar services where you are. Or consider trying a binder you can easily use at home. I’ve heard really good things about Belle Fit (which don’t constrain your retreating uterus as they go past your bottom) and Belly Bandit.