It all started about four weeks postpartum, after I had given birth to my second baby. I'd known beforehand that my body was...well...going to be different this time around. After my first pregnancy, I lost the baby weight rapidly, and even though I worked hard on my body pre-baby with lots of running and yoga, I knew that jumping back into my old fitness routine was going to take some time.
At first, I decided to go easy on myself and stop worrying about losing the baby weight so fast. Then my little girl turned one month old, and I started to see myself in the mirror with a bit more clarity. I was squishy in areas that used to be a bit more defined. I was getting winded walking up and down the stairs. And I constantly wore leggings instead of pants. My rose-colored glasses were gone: it was time to figure out a way to start getting rid of the baby weight.
I knew that a good 20-minute workout a few times a week would slowly help me get back in shape. But I wanted something quicker and more dramatic. So my sister suggested that I try wearing a postpartum waist trainer.
“I started using mine right away,” she said, “I even think that I wore it home from the hospital.”
Postpartum waist trainers (which also go by many other names, such as corsets, wraps, or waist cinchers) are essentially girdles that you wear to tighten and tone your waist after delivery. The theory is that when worn for extended periods of time, postpartum waist trainers can help you shave inches off your waist, leaving you with a youthful hourglass figure. They vary in price from $50 all the way up to hundreds of dollars. And of course, the Kardashians have been known to endorse them from time to time.
My sister told me that buying a postpartum waist trainer was a game changer for her. She credited it with helping her lose 10 pounds a week the first 6 weeks after she gave birth. I was officially convinced, and decided to buy one to give it a try. But I needed more details first.
There are variations on the postpartum waist trainer that are used for reasons other than weight loss. A c-section compression girdle, for instance, is similar to a waist trainer, but its goal is to wrap and protect the c-section incision rather than trim the waist down in size. Lindsey Hunter Lopez, a California mom of two, told Romper that she used a postpartum wrap after both of her c-sections. "Without it, I would have felt like my insides would spill out," she said.
Yet there's a sizeable contingent of new moms who are snapping up postpartum waist trainers, motivated by the belief that they can help shed pounds quickly. Lori Caden, the COO and co-founder of the postpartum waist trainer company Belly Bandit, told Romper that there's a science behind how the garments can help slim down your waist immediately after you've given birth.
Caden said that the wraps "work with your body's natural hormone, relaxin," which "allows your pelvis and ligaments to soften for childbirth and stays in your body for a limited amount of time after delivery." Because relaxin leaves your joints malleable, Caden claims, waist trainers can be effective at shaping your waist in the first few weeks after labor.
"Waist trainers and belly wraps often claim that they can help relieve water retention and shrink the uterus faster, but this is in no way medically proven."
That said, there's not a ton of evidence that postpartum waist trainers actually work. Dr. Sherry Ross, M.D., an ob-gyn and women's health specialist at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California says that wearing a postpartum waist trainer basically does nothing to expedite weight loss.
"Waist trainers and belly wraps often claim that they can help relieve water retention and shrink the uterus faster, but this is in no way medically proven," she told Parents Magazine. While it might seem like waist trainers are knocking off inches, that's actually just natural water retention loss taking place after childbirth (which likely would have happened anyway).
Chandra Adams, an OB-GYN and the owner of Full Circle Women's Care of Jacksonville, Fl., said that waist trainers "don't help with weight loss as much as with core muscle training."
Adams added that they might be helpful for women who experience diastasis, a condition that involves the separation of the abdominal muscles as a result of childbirth. "Once the uterus returns to its normal size, the muscles can remain apart and be difficult to return to their former position," Adams said. "Wearing a waist trainer can help bring those muscles back together."
Adams cautions, however, that "it's important not to start [waist-training] too early, as postpartum bodily fluid shifts can cause dependent edema or swelling of the areas below the waist (ex. vulva, legs, and feet)." In addition to edema, when waist trainers are worn for too long, they can make it difficult to breathe, which can lead to you passing out. There's also the possibility of developing fractured organs and ribs.
So how did my experience go? I certainly ended my waist training experience with mixed feelings. I wore it for an hour per day for about a month, and while I definitely noticed my pants becoming less tight, I think that a lot of it was water weight that I would have lost anyway. For a while, I wished that I had used it as my sister did, right after I got home from the hospital. But after learning about some of the nasty side effects of the garment, I'm glad I waited a bit.
Having a waist cincher work for postpartum seems to be a very different and personal experience for everyone who uses. But one thing is for certain: they're not a quick fix, and they're certainly not going to help you drop inches and pounds overnight.