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Maternity Shapewear; Separating Myths from Medicine

by SRC Health on March 12, 2020

Approximate Reading Time: 6 minutes

According to Shape.com, the world’s No1. fitness publication, shapewear is the biggest hoax in fashion history. Celebrities and everyday women love the results and swear by their secret slimming undergarment, but many others raise the potential health implications whilst also putting the marketing of these garments under the microscope; are we being misled by "toned" bodies that are really squeezed into figure-flattering undergarments?
All this is much more complicated when you are pregnant, and the health of your unborn child becomes a consideration, so we’ve decided to put the maternity shapewear category under the microscope, starting with the term itself - “maternity shapewear”. It’s 2 words that should not be seen together, being fused, whether by attention seeking marketers, by Instagramming celebrities looking for brevity or simply the result of the public reacting to the confusion caused by the actions of the market influencers.

What is Maternity Shapewear?

Maternity shapewear is becoming a “maternity fashion de rigueur”. According to Refinery29.com, maternity shapewear is designed to "shape" your body”. Who doesn’t like the sound of a perkier behind and smoother curves whilst getting support for the lower back and tummy and leaving room for the baby? They tell us it’s more comfortable than trying to wear "regular shapewear" when you're pregnant, but should you be wearing either is the real question? Just because a second solution is better than the first, it doesn’t mean that the first was ever a good solution, to begin with. Should comfort and health not be the primary focus. Are we really expected to squeeze ourselves into maternity shapewear for the sake of fashion and approval of strangers?

So now we have “regular shapewear” and “maternity shapewear”? No wonder there’s confusion.

According to Sherry A. Ross, MD, author of “she-ology, The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period”, the benefits and risks for pregnant women depend on the maternity shapewear product, and how much you wear it. She goes on to say:

  • Maternity shapewear that is too tight and puts unwanted pressure on the body is never a good idea. If you have trouble breathing, or you're in pain while wearing your shapewear, that's a sign that it's probably too tight for you. This advice also applies equally to regular shapewear.
  • Discomfort, pain, reduced blood circulation, heartburn and yeast infections are some of the potential issues from incorrectly fitting maternity shapewear and regular shapewear.
  • Moderation is the key and we interpret this as “… don’t wear for too many hours in a row.”
  • Ross is most concerned about the Kardashian favourite “waist trainers” that can if done up too tightly, compress and squeeze internal organs and ribs.

So what type of garments does this relatively new term “maternity shapewear” encompass?

  1. Maternity Belts, also known as Maternity Support Belts, Belly Bands, Belly Belts, Tummy Wraps and Maternity Girdles.
  2. Maternity Support Underwear
  3. Maternity Leggings, Maternity Pants, Maternity Tights, Maternity Stockings

Maternity Support Belts – According to Dr Christopher Smith, obstetrician and gynaecologist, they offer additional comfort during daily activities, they reduce soreness associated with abdominal wall expansion in the late trimesters. He does point out that there is some concern that wearing a pregnancy support belt during pregnancy may impair blood circulation, and negatively impact pelvic floor and bowel function. He recommends women wear belly bands for short periods at a time to prevent dependency and encourages them to use maternity support belts in conjunction with core muscle strengthening programs.

When it comes to weight loss, Dr Smith points out that there is no current medical evidence to support claims that belly bands promote weight loss following pregnancy, and their use should not replace the role of healthy lifestyle modifications including a balanced diet and exercise regime.

So why wear a Pregnancy belt / Maternity belt?

There is a range of valid reasons as long as you also understand the reasons not to wear pregnancy belts:

  • Relieving joint, muscular and pregnancy back pain
  • Assisting with sacroiliac joint pain and hip pain
  • Decreasing discomfort and provide support to the pelvic area during various physical activities by stabilising and relieving pressure from the lower back.
  • Help with improving posture

The reasons not to wear a Pregnancy Belt

  • Mums can become overly dependent on the pregnancy belt which is the exact opposite of what you should be trying to achieve. “Activate don’t de-activate” is often heard advice of many women’s health physios as well as the founder of innovative pregnancy and post-natal compression garments for women, Sinead O’Donovan. The commonly accepted advice about belly belts means that you shouldn’t be wearing it all day long every day. Wearing it just for two to three hours every day is best. If you were to wear it too long, you may end up weakening your lower body muscles. There is also the troubling issue of muscle wastage: a garment that supports your stomach and bottom all day, every day, will take the load away from muscles and ligaments. London-based physiotherapist Sammy Margo, a spokeswoman for the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, explains: 'What I say to my patients is “use it or lose it”. 'What we find is that women who wear maternity shapewear when they have no physical need can weaken muscles in their bottoms, stomachs and lower backs. 'After the birth of their baby, they are more likely to be injured as they lift and care for their newborns' she warns.
  • Also, wearing it too long especially if it’s too tight can cause a lot of compression on your abdomen, which can have negative effects on your body’s ability to circulate your blood. Apart from the possibility of high blood pressure, the constant use of a belly band could also cause indigestion or even heartburn because of bad blood circulation. Ask your doctor how to wear your belly belt to avoid putting pressure on your uterus, and only wear a belly belt for a couple of hours a day, never wear a pregnancy belt continually.
  • More expensive but much more versatile options are purpose made medical grade compression garment like SRC Pregnancy and SRC Recovery Compression Shorts and Leggings. Where maternity belts may not be comfortable or flattering, especially with fitted shirts or dresses, making people stare at your belly wondering what you have strapped to it, compression garments can be worn as an undergarment or a piece of your outerwear wardrobe providing a flattering effect under fitted clothing.
  • You may simply not like wearing a pregnancy belt, so it may be a good idea to try one on before buying or better still borrow one, so you can try it for a number of hours to see whether you like it or not and prevent the potential of adding another dust gathering item to your never worn drawer.
  • Belly Belts / Pregnancy Belts have hooks, loops or Velcro to adjust the belt and keep it in the right position and at the right tension, however, the very feature that provides the benefits, is also a hindrance of catching on and ripping your clothes.
  • The physical difficulty of removing constricting shapewear could cause other problems, according to Gail Johnson, a midwife and education adviser at the Royal College of Midwives. She tells women to embrace their natural pregnancy shape instead of trying to constrict it.

Check out what Anna Scammell has to say on the subject.

2. Maternity Support Underwear
As far as we can tell its underwear that makes allowances for your bump but doesn’t do much else especially in terms of support. Here’s a good article reviewing all the latest options available to you https://momlovesbest.com/pregnancy/clothes/maternity-underwear 

If you are after shapewear to minimize the appearance of love handles there are some excellent choices here https://thebetterfit.com/best-shapewear-for-love-handles/ and if you wear your shapewear for a short time of a few hours then there’s certainly no danger of muscle deactivation.

3. Maternity Leggings
This term highlights the inadequacy of the word Maternity when applied to many product categories. For example. Take a multifunctional garment like SRC compression, Pregnancy and Recovery, Shorts and Leggings. Approved by the APA and originally designed in consultation with an obstetrician, each Pregnancy and Recovery garment address a different “maternity stage”;

The SRC Pregnancy Leggings specifically address Lower Back Pain, Pelvic Girdle Pain, Mild Varicose Veins and Vulvar Varicosities.

The SRC Recovery Leggings address recovery after pregnancy by treating Abdominal Muscle Separation, Perineal Tears and stitches, C-Section wounds, Sciatica and Low Back Pain.

Both types of maternity leggings can be worn under regular clothing, the leg panels are deliberately logo free on the visible sections to make them the perfect choice for both work, gym, or a Sunday morning brunch. The gentle medical grade compression range of 4mmHg – 15mmHg does not de-activate the muscles and makes it safe and comfortable to wear all day and sleep with them at night. 24 Hour wearability ensures comfort and relief. Find out more at srchealth.com 

Embrace yourself, regardless of your shape, there’s the only one you, you are unique. Look after yourself and don’t forget to enjoy this special time in your life.

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