The History of Belly Binding
For A Better Postpartum
"Belly Binding after birth is a practice used around the world in older traditions, with good reason. It offers such stability
and comfort, like being hugged at a time when there is so much empty space inside."
-Ysha Oakes Ayurvedic Practitioner and Postpartum Doula
The traditional practice of wrapping the belly post-childbirth is an ancient art that was implemented in Asia, Europe, and Latin America. The wrapping techniques commonly involved very long strips of cloth wound firmly around a woman’s midsection after giving birth to her child. As a new mother’s abdomen contracted down, the cloth was shortened and tightened. Japanese women call their belly wrap a ‘sarashi,’ Hispanic women call their wrap a ‘faja,’ and Malaysian women call it a bengkung. The binding method that is gaining popularity in the US is referred to Bengkung Belly Binding, adopted from Malaysian cultural practices. To fully appreciate the process, one must learn the history.
For centuries, Asian mothers have used their “Sarashi” to speed up weight loss and aid in the toning of the abdominal muscles and loose skin after childbirth. Hispanic mothers believe their “faja” helps bring all the muscles used in the birthing process back together again. As a general rule, women practiced abdominal wrapping to reduce swelling and to tighten overstretched muscles. The results of belly binding were very apparent and continued on for centuries, however, this Eastern practice has only been fully discovered and implemented in the western world in more recent years. While lacking scientific studies of the benefits of binding, the words of thousands of mothers support and encourage this ancient ritual, coming from generations of authentic wisdom.
In Japan, it was and is very important for women to have a period of time for “ansei”, or peace and quiet with pampering.
Historically, Japanese women would have spent 100 days inside with their babies. During these 100 days, the women would have been wrapped in blankets with their babies and would have been expected to do little beyond eating and nursing their children.
While it’s no longer common for women to spend that long in bed with their newborns, many of the postpartum pampering practices are still done in many areas. Belly binding is one such practice.
Of the cultures discussed, the traditional Japanese method of belly binding “sarashi” is most closely related to that of the Malaysian bengkung binding. However, the sarashi postpartum wrapping method is used by folding the material rather than twisting the material like the bengkung binding.
Thesarashi is shorter than the bengkung and is about 13 feet in length and between 8-9 inches in width. It starts very low on the hips and traditionally would end between the belly button and the bust line. As a new mothers abdomen contracted the cloth would be shortened and tightened.
In the Malaysian tradition, new moms have their tummies bound for 44 days post-natal. For Malaysian moms, the womb is the center to a woman’s wellness and they believe it’s essential to take care of it at all stages of life, but especially after birth. The tradition originated generations ago at the palaces, with princesses using it to help them ‘bounce back’ and quickly spread across the land. It’s still actively practiced in the countryside and is currently enjoying a resurgence with urban dwellers alike.
The faja is believed to prevent air from entering the woman, to ensure the uterus from falling down and thought to help the uterus close and contract. There are many types and styles of material used to make a faja or belly wrap but the most common are cloth and mixed material i.e.; cotton and elastic.
The faja is typically worn for at least 2 weeks except at night.
In Latin American cultures, the position of the uterus is at the very core of traditional birth medicine. It was common and still is found that abdominal massage after the birth and wrapping are used not just to heal the muscle wall, but to actually help place the “womb” back in its proper position.
Regardless origin, all the binding methods had one thing in common. They were used to promote healing and the health of a mother’s body.