When you go visit a friend who just had a baby, you usually tote along a big pot of soup or a bundle of sweet swaddling blankets. Massage therapist, yoga teacher and perinatal expert Lara Kohn Thompson thinks you should go and wrap a scarf around their hips instead. “It's literally the best gift you can give a woman," she says, noting that the effect of wrapping helps women reconnect with their bodies after the transformative effects of pregnancy and the extremely arduous experience of labor and birth.
“It's preventative care that helps her restore her body—to help her have a better sexual life in the future, to prevent back pain, to help strengthen her body's systems and keep her healthy, even change her menopause experience (for the better) down the road." Sounds pretty great, doesn't it? But how exactly does body-wrapping work?
After giving birth, your body is in quite a state. Your musculoskeletal system has been put through the ringer after carrying a baby around for nearly ten months. Your lower spine lumbar muscles are shortened; your hip flexors are weakened; your pelvic muscles are out of whack; and your ligaments and muscles are still in the loose, relaxin-boosted pregnant phase that allowed baby to grow in utero and pass through the birth canal. In addition, your organs, which have been re-arranged to make space for your baby, drop back down into their natural places after months of being squished up into your ribcage and pushed toward your back.
Many cultures around the world traditionally offer new moms a 40-day postpartum period to nurture and shelter them from the outside world and help them recover. Today in the United States, letting new moms recoup for more than a month is just not common practice. The immediate postpartum period is prime time to find some other ways to give new mamas some TLC.
“We wrap babies up all the time," Thompson says. “They crave our touch and want to be held; we should be holding new mothers, too." She adds that the simple, supportive act of wrapping the hips and pelvis with a long length of fabric or scarf can do just that.
Postpartum wraps, also called rebozos, heal and stabilize the body after it undergoes numerous physical shifts during pregnancy. Thompson's body-wrapping technique, in particular, wraps the hips and lower abdomen to create a gentle sense of support without making you feel constricted. This technique can help bring your tired back and stressed hips some relief, help settle the pelvis back into its natural state, restore sensation to internal tissues, and aid in uterine involution.
Postpartum wrapping is far from a new practice. “Closing" or “sealing" ceremonies are a traditional way to celebrate new moms in countries like Mexico, where midwives and close female relatives offer a ceremonial bath and head-to-toe wrapping to warm up the new mama and offer her physical and emotional comfort after the birth of her child. While the wrapping is a physical experience, the metaphysical and emotional effects are just as important to note. “It's an opportunity to say to a woman, 'this is your new body, let's find where your present structure is, both physically and emotionally, and help you come back together,'" Thompson says.
Unlike “belly bands" and abdominal wraps, postpartum wraps don't claim to help mamas shrink back to their pre-baby bodies, but they can help you get back into your jeans. During pregnancy and birth, your pelvis widens a few centimeters. “I hear women say all the time that they've lost all the baby weight, but they still can't get back into their pants," says Thomson, who combines this ancient practice with specific breath, movement and bodywork to support healing and retraining. It turns out, those few extra centimeters make a difference in the way your body is shaped and the way your clothes fit. The very act of supporting the hips with a wrap helps draw it back together and heal, prompting the soft-tissue structures within and around the pelvis to heal and realign, helping you get your body back in sync.
If you're looking to try body-wrapping for yourself or a friend, Thompson recommends finding the crease that forms in your hip when you lift your leg out to the side from a standing position. This demarcation usually falls across the center of your rear, and that is where you want to wrap. Place the rebozo, long scarf or shawl underneath the hips and lay down on top of it. Place a pillow under the knees, ensuring the body is fully extended with the spine and neck long and making sure that the fabric remains along your buttocks and at the center of your hips, wrap each long end over the lower abdomen and hip. Loop under the body and pull out the other side, securing the shawl tightly to form a taut swaddle for the hips.
So the next time you see a birth announcement on Instagram and plan your new baby visit, make sure you tote a long scarf along so you can swaddle your new mama friend up. She might think it's a funny idea, but once she's all wrapped up, she'll get it. Trust us.
Original illustration by Nicole Hetzel for Well Rounded.