Belly Bands: What to Know About These Pregnancy Support Devices

belly band

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Let’s face it: pregnancy comes with a lot of aches, pains, and discomforts. If your back and pelvic area are twinging and it feels like you could use a little support, you might look into trying a belly band. Belly bands are supportive garments worn during pregnancy to provide extra support and to help alleviate pregnancy-related back and pelvic pain. They are often recommended by OB/GYNs and midwives, and many pregnant parents find them helpful.

If you are considering trying a belly band, you likely have questions about which type of band to purchase, what the bands are commonly used for, how to use a belly band, and whether there are any circumstances where you shouldn’t use one.

Here, we’ll address all those questions, along with expert tips for the safest and most effective ways to use them during pregnancy.

What Is a Belly Band?

Belly bands refer to flexible tube-like compression devices that cover the abdominal and back area of a pregnant person, says Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH, a physician double board-certified in obstetrics/gynecology and maternal-fetal medicine. The term “belly band” is often used to refer to a broad category of abdominal support devices and may include belly bands, belly belts, and maternity cradles, says Dr. Gaither.

“Their purpose is to provide support to the lower back and abdomen, with the intent to decrease musculoskeletal pain,” Dr. Gaither says. Pregnant people often experience physiologic lordosis (inward curving of the spine) which can result in lower back pain. “Supporting the back and lower abdomen helps diminish this occurrence,” Dr. Gaither explains.

What Belly Bands Are Used For

The primary purpose of a belly band is to reduce the muscle and ligament pain and strain that’s common during pregnancy as your belly expands and your body supports the extra weight. The American College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians (ACOG) recommends the use of an abdominal support garment as a way to decrease back pain, particularly during exercises like walking and running. As they describe it, a belly support device often acts like a girdle and “helps take the weight of your belly off your back muscles.”

There is some limited research that supports the use of abdominal support devices to help with the common muscle aches of pregnancy. A 2017 study found that using a pelvic support belt helped decrease pelvic girdle pain (pain around the pelvic joints, hips, and lower back) in a small sample of pregnant people.

A systematic review from 2019 found that maternity support garments likely play a role in reducing lower back pain, pelvic pain, and sacroiliac joint pain. They may also improve a person’s muscle mobility and functionality and decrease the risk of pregnancy-related falls. At the same time, this review did not uncover the way that abdominal support garments accomplish this and how long their effectiveness lasts.

Types of Belly Bands

When someone talks about a pregnancy belly band, they usually mean any device that is used to support a pregnancy belly and to relieve back and pelvic pain. There are many devices like this on the market, but they aren’t all exactly the same and have somewhat different purposes. Let’s take a look at the most common pregnancy support devices.

Belly Bands

Belly bands usually refer to a stretchy, non-constrictive piece of fabric that’s worn around the abdomen, says Ashley Rawlins, PT, DPT, a pelvic floor physical therapist and the Clinical Learning & Development Lead at Origin.

“You can think of these as like a sports bra for your tummy that can provide a little bit of support to your abdominal muscles,” she explains. “When the abdominal muscles become over lengthened and tired in pregnancy, these bands can provide comfort and some feedback for your abdominals that may help ease pain or discomfort in your low back and pelvis.”

Belly Belts

Belly belts are a bit different than belly bands and provide more targeted support. These are devices meant to be worn under the belly, says Dr. Rawlins and give your belly a bit of a lift. Think of it as if your own hands were lifting up your belly, Dr. Rawlins describes.

“These tend to be more structured and snug than belly bands, and should not be used over the abdomen,” she says. Belly belts often work to ease pain in the pelvic and lower back, Dr. Rawlins says. Belly belts tend to be bulkier than belly bands, and may be seen under fitted clothing, she adds.

Maternity Cradles

Maternity cradles are a variation of a belly belt. Basically, they are “belly belts which wrap both under and above the pregnant abdomen to form a ‘cradle’ of support,” Dr. Gaither says. Belly cradles are usually constructed to be worn around the shoulders as well, for extra support.

Cradle support devices are marketed as devices that can alleviate back pain, provide abdominal support, take pressure off the bladder, and improve posture. Some even claim to reduce the development of varicose veins. So far, little data exists on their effectiveness in doing these things, but many parents find them useful.

Tips for Using Belly Bands

In general, Dr. Rawlings recommends belly support devices and says that they can be helpful in giving your overused and strained muscles a break. It’s important that you use one that fits correctly. “Belly bands should never be overly compressive or cause pain, or impact your ability to breathe normally,” she advises. “You want to ensure good circulation and normal movement in your body when wearing.”

Additionally, Dr. Rawlins says that you should not overuse an abdominal support device. “What should be considered for both belly bands or belly belts is that they are not meant to be worn continuously and relied on as a substitution for your natural abdominal muscle support,” she says. She encourages her pregnant patients to continue to safely strengthen their abdominal muscles, pelvic floor, and lower back during pregnancy and not simply rely on a device to do this work. This will help you be stronger and more functional after your baby is born.

Dr. Rawlins recommends speaking to your healthcare provider, who can recommend abdominal strengthening exercises, or refer you to a physical therapist if needed. Your provider can also help you with your abdominal support device. “They will help you determine a proper wear schedule, and make sure your belts are fitted properly and support you in the way that your body needs it,” says Dr. Rawlins.

Potential Challenges

Dr. Rawlins says that while abdominal support garments have their place when it comes to stabilizing and supporting your joints, there are some potential pitfalls. “On the downside, these supportive belts can limit some of the natural joint movement and muscle activation patterns, which can (ironically) contribute to limited movement and some discomforts,” she says.

Again, abdominal support devices must be worn properly and fit well. Dr. Rawlins recommends reading the instructions for your device carefully and consulting with a healthcare professional if you have any questions.

The main safety consideration is that you don’t want the device to be too constrictive. Stop using your device if you experience numbness or tingling in your pelvis or legs, if you notice your breathing is labored, or if you experience new pain while wearing it, Dr. Rawlings warns.

A Word From Verywell

Pregnancy is a special time, but it’s not always comfortable, especially toward the end when it feels like you are carrying a bowling ball in your belly all day. Pregnancy bands and other abdominal support devices can be super helpful and can take a load off—literally. But they shouldn’t be used without consulting your healthcare provider first. Your doctor or midwife can also give you advice about which device to purchase, and the best ways to use them.

10 Sources
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By Wendy Wisner
Wendy Wisner is a lactation consultant and writer covering maternal/child health, parenting, general health and wellness, and mental health. She has worked with breastfeeding parents for over a decade, and is a mom to two boys.