When Kylie Jenner took to Instagram this week to advertise a waist trainer, her post received lots of attention. At the time of writing this blog, her post has almost 5 million 'likes', but there has also been criticism. Understandably, there has also been a dollop of confusion which – like the Ella's puree that I used in a high quality video to demonstrate the possible risks – I am now going to try to clear up.
What is she advertising?
The product which Kylie Jenner is advertising is essentially a modern-day corset, a thick band of material which wraps tightly around the waist and lower rib cage. Waist Gang Society, the company which sells it, offers a specific product for postnatal women called The Postpartum Sweat Belt. Introducing the product on its website in an ever-so-slightly dramatic fashion, Waist Gang Society states: “We have answered all your prayers and created a waist trainer and sweat belt in one.” It goes on to confirm that this product is “perfectly aggressive and comfortable" and promises that it “can definitely improve your posture, provide lumbar support, AND shape your waist.” It offers no research to back up these claims, but there is this: “Disclaimer: Best results with diet and exercise.” This belt is available on its own or as part of the attractively named Snap Back Baby Bump Package, which contains a bunch of other questionable products and includes all of The Waist Gang Society’s bestsellers “that will get you snatched”. And what new mum wouldn’t want to be snatched in an aggressive but comfortable way?
What's wrong with using a waist-trainer?
This kind of garment can put your midsection under an enormous amount of pressure, interfering with the flow of blood and oxygen. If worn too tightly, it can also interfere with breathing. None of this is ideal at the best of times, but if you’re newly postnatal (Kylie Jenner is 6 weeks post) it may be pretty disastrous. For starters, healing requires blood flow and oxygen. Added to that, a garment like this does nothing to strengthen the postnatal core. Think of your core like a unit: the diaphragm sits at the top of the unit, the pelvic floor sits at the base, the transverse abdominis – the deep abdominal muscles – are at the front and the multifidus is at the back. Pregnancy weakens this core unit. The diaphragm gets shunted out of place by the growing uterus. The pelvic floor is likely to get weakened by the uterus’ weight bearing down. The abdominal muscles get stretched out. Postnatally, from a rehab perspective, the priority should be on strengthening the core unit and getting each part of the unit working effectively. A waist trainer will not achieve that. Moreover, if there is already weakness, like diastasis recti or pelvic floor dysfunction, it may well result in hernia or prolapse. It’s logical really; if the core unit can’t handle the pressure you’re applying to it, there will need to be a release of that pressure somehow and somewhere.
Someone has recommended that I use an support garment postnatally. Should I steer clear?
Not necessarily. When my mums ask me about postnatal support garments, I tend to follow the guidance of Marianne Ryan, Physical Therapist, in her brilliant book Baby Bod.
Compression garments. The product Kylie Jenner is advertising must be distinguished from medical grade compression garments with light compression. There is some evidence to suggest that light compression will increase lymphatic drainage and help to reduce pain, and that elastic will help the stretched out, weakened muscles remember how to contract and tighten. She recommends long-waisted medical-grade compression shorts made from light graduated compression material. She states that the bottom of the shorts should offer 15 mmHG of compression, which gradually reduces to 12 mmHG of compression at the top of the garment, so read the product description before you buy to be clear that what you are getting is the right sort of thing. An elastic T-shirt or camisole with medical-grade graduated compression is another option. Because these garments are made of lightweight compression, they won't weaken the abdominal muscles. Marianne Ryan explains, "If you are breastfeeding and you have diastasis recti, consider using the compression garments when when you are doing physically demanding activities for the entire time you are breastfeeding - no matter how long that is - AND for the first few months after you stop breastfeeding. That will give your body some extra support as your hormones get back to normal, which has to happen to allow the connective tissue in your abdomen to stiffen again. You don't have to wear them all day long after the first few months, but do put on your compression garments when you are exercising, lifting or carrying heavy things, or when you have to stand on your feet for long periods of time."
Abdominal binders. Marianne Ryan explains that these sorts of garments (like waist trainers) squeeze too hard and therefore take over the work of the abdominal muscles, ultimately making them weaker. She warns women to steer clear of tight abdominal binders and bands.
Spanx/Shapewear. While your old Spanx (or M&S equivalent) are ok to wear occasionally postnatally if you want to, say for a special occasion like a Royal Wedding, these aren’t an alternative to a medical grade compression garment. As with binders and trainers, the compression in Shapewear garments is too tight and will take over the work of the stomach muscles, which will ultimately weaken your abdominal muscles .
For postnatal return to exercise, the brilliant Emma Brockwell, my fellow Pelvic Floor Patroller and go-to Women's Health Physio, recommends EVB leggings to her patients, particularly those returning to running. She wrote a blog about her own personal experience with these and raves about the way they offer extra support to her tummy, lower back and pelvic floor.
So to summarise?
How lucky you asked. It gives me a neat way to wrap up the blog. To summarise: let's stop this obsession with the postnatal snapback, which - as far as I can understand - is focused purely on aesthetics, weight loss, clothes size and (dare I say) exploiting sleep-deprived, insecure women for the purpose of making money. Let's remember that how a postnatal body looks on the outside doesn't necessarily correlate to what's going on on the inside. "Fit" - in a 1990s way of speaking - is not synonymous with function. Don't be a puree.