The last trimester of pregnancy is a time of preparation, anticipation and, all too often, bodily aches and pains. The good news is, some common pregnancy complaints, like hip, back and pelvic pain, can be helped by wearing a support belt. We reached out to the experts to find out all you need to know about maternity support belts during pregnancy and beyond.
Do you need a maternity belt?
What the h*ll is lightning crotch? Maternity belts or pregnancy support belts are primarily used during pregnancy to improve comfort. “The normal hormones of pregnancy release your ligaments and relax your pelvic joints,” explains Tracy Hydeman, a midwife in Regina, Sask. While this is helpful for actually birthing your baby, the extra weight on the relaxed joints can cause pain in the hips, pubic bone and back. “The point of the support belt is to stabilize the pelvis,” says Hydeman.
A support belt can also help if you have unhealed diastasis recti (the separation of abdominal muscles) from a previous pregnancy, which leads to hip and back pain when your belly expands, because the belt helps to pull the baby up and into the pelvis, says Hydeman.
“I often tell women, ‘Go grab a big heavy scarf and wrap it around yourself,” says Julia Di Paolo, a pelvic health physiotherapist in Toronto who specializes in women’s health issues, including pregnancy, childbirth and pelvic dysfunctions. Wear the scarf snug around you, but not too tightly, while you do a few chores around the house—if your back and hips feel better, then you may wish to invest in a belt.
How do you choose a support belt?
The type of belt you get will depend on what type of discomfort you’re feeling. If you have pain in the pelvis or pubic bone, you’ll want a belt you can wear low on your hips (some also have attachments that go right around the legs to support the perineum, like a girdle), and if you’re looking for relief from back pain, or just to help pull up the baby and add some support, you’ll want a belt that sits up a little higher on your belly.
Look for something that’s adjustable and made of a breathable fabric, says Di Paolo. And don’t buy it too early in pregnancy—it may not fit you by the time you need it.
Maternity belts don’t need to be expensive. “The cheapest thing might be to go to a sports store and buy a 12-inch-wide neoprene abdominal toner band,” says Hydeman. You can also purchase maternity belts at the pharmacy, online, at some maternity wear stores, and at medical supply stores.
If you’re going to invest in something, make sure you’ll feel comfortable wearing it and that you’re happy with the way it looks under or over your clothes. Don’t forget the idea of the belt is to reduce pain so you can keep up your regular activities: Di Paolo stresses that moving around, walking and exercising (at whatever intensity you and your health provider have deemed appropriate) are important for a healthy pregnancy and to improve post-partum recovery.
Can you wear it post-delivery?
While support belts during pregnancy are mostly a matter of personal comfort and preference, both Hydeman and Di Paolo recommend all women wear some type of belt or wrap postpartum, to promote healing of the abdominal wall. “The abdominal wall is designed to stretch, and all women will get some separation in their ab muscles,” says Di Paolo. She likens wearing a belt or wrap postpartum to wrapping an injured ankle. “It gives it some external support while the muscles regenerate.”
The concept of belly wrapping has been around for centuries and has roots in Asian and European cultures. Unlike a corset, which makes your abdominal muscles weaker, a belt will help them gain strength.
Wrapping your postpartum belly for the first eight weeks after delivery will go a long way towards helping the diastasis muscles recover, though pelvic floor exercises are still recommended. And wrapping your belly after a C-section supports your abdominal muscles as you heal from the surgery.
Wraps that are specifically designed to be worn postpartum are typically less rigid and often wider than maternity belts. Di Paolo suggests looking for one that you do up or wrap around yourself starting at the bottom and moving upward—if it starts at the top, it’s putting pressure on your organs and pelvic floor muscles. You want it to fit snugly—the right size is typically about the size you were at three to four months into your pregnancy—but be sure you can still breathe into your diaphragm while wearing the belt.
Don’t want to invest in a belt? You can also wrap your belly with things like rebozo scarves or even baby-wearing wraps. Hydeman suggests checking out YouTube for some ideas.