Bengkung, Belly Binding and Post Partum Girdles

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Let’s face it; most mothers-to-be would have purchased a post-natal binder, bengkung or some form of post-partum girdle way before their delivery date. This is partially due to the fact that belly binding is not something new, but it is what mothers across Malaysia have done for generations. However, this practice’s best selling point is the promise to speed up the process of getting back to your pre-pregnancy body. So it is no wonder why belly binding, bengkung and post-partum girdles feel like a must-have / must-do thing in every mother-to-be’s repertoire. 

And there are so many benefits aside from getting your body back in shape. Belly binding is known to:

  • promote recovery from childbirth
  • encourage blood flow
  • improve posture and mobility
  • reduce back pain
  • stabilise your pelvic floor
  • support your abdominal muscles 
  • minimise associated incision pain for c-section mothers
  • reduce swelling and fluid retention

Aside from the benefits mentioned above, when it comes to traditional Malay bengkung, it is also believed to help with:

  • expelling wind (buang angin) and preventing wind from reentering the body
  • flattening the tummy
  • speeding up blood flor for postpartum bleeding, or lochia
  • shrinking your uterus after giving birth

The history behind belly binding is a little unclear, although most sources attributed it back to the Malaysian royalties centuries ago. Back then midwifery traditions and practices were passed down through apprenticeship unlike practising midwives today who obtain their knowledge formally. One thing for sure is that the influences from neighbouring countries, including the various traditional practices across the states have all contributed to how it is practised today. This is apparent in the names of the traditional bengkungs which you will read about later on.

Although there might be slight differences in practice that could vary from state to state, the main focus remains the same; to help post-partum mothers to recuperate and recover from childbirth. Therefore, belly binding is still very much the same today as how it was done long ago whereby a mixture of herbs is applied thinly to the skin before a mother is bound with her bengkung of choice.

The Various Types of Belly Binding Options

You can find so many different products on the market today. Still, they are generally grouped into two major types, namely the traditional bengkung and bengkung moden which incidentally is the same category post-partum girdles and corsets are lumped into.

Traditional Bengkung Options

Most traditional bengkungs are made from Belacu or Calico Fabric. You can buy them ready-made, or you can get them custom-made for you. Commonly you will see either one of these three, and here are their pros and cons:

Bengkung Bertali / Barut
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This post-natal binder is made like a skirt with plenty of ties to be tied one by one. It is a very basic binder that is easy to use, and one you can put on by yourself either lying down or standing up.

There are several downsides to this binder. First of all, there are a lot of ties, and they can get entangled easily if every single one of them is not tied and tucked away neatly. 

You also need to undo the bottom half a little to make it easier for you to go to the toilet, but they also just tend to loosen on their own which means you’ll have to retighten them every time. It can also get quite hot wearing this binder for long periods.

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This is definitely a binder that you’ll not be able to do on your own. Just the pulling and tightening alone will require a lot of arm strength, not to mention just how long it would take from start to finish. 

But, it does stay put and hold everything in pretty snugly. It is also neat looking with no stray ties sticking out anywhere and fully customisable since this binder is essentially a long thin strip of cloth which gets wound upwards from the hips all the way to the waist. In short, it is just a nightmare to put on and take off.

Bengkung Zig Zag
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This is the most common and popular of the three. Similar to the bengkung bertali,  the bengkung Zig Zag is like an upgrade of the earlier design.

Easy to put on, stays put and looks a lot neater without so many ties. However, there are two downsides to using this post-natal binder. First of all, the binder comes in sizes, and you need to get the right one. Tough luck if you got it in the wrong size because you wouldn’t be able to use it at all.aso if you end up getting the wrong one. They also tighten from the bottom up, which means if you need to loosen your binder to go to the loo, you’ll have to unravel the whole thing.

Modern Bengkung Options

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Hence mothers are switching to more modern options like corsets, girdles and tube belly binders with zips, velcros and hooks. In addition to offering convenience, they are also far more practical compared to traditional binders. Moreover, they are made of elastic, like a wide compression belt that encircles your abdomen, which is perfect for mums who have had surgery. They also come in various sizes and widths, with some even offering secondary lumbar support – all good things.

However, with all things elastic, they tend to stretch and loosen after a while, whereas fabric binders are relatively fixed because the fabric used has minimal stretch.

Which should I buy?

You should always choose the one that works best for you, given your current situation. If modern bindings are just easier overall, then why not. Or, if you think traditional bindings are far more effective then stick with traditional methods. There are even hybrid binders, where they combine the best of both worlds, by adding a zip to the standard bengkung zig zag

Generally, Malay mothers are recommended to practice post-natal binding for up to 5 hours maximum. Therefore you should stick to that guideline. Try to embrace good body image and do not exceed the recommended time. You mustn’t be overzealous about rushing your body back into shape at the expense of your health. Instead, combine healthy eating, portion control and some light exercises. Slowly but surely you’ll watch your weight drop, and you’ll have a smaller tummy in no time.

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