I celebrated my birthday this week, and it seemed appropriate to address birth–as related to wraps, of course–in a blog post. Woven wraps have been used in many ways by many cultures, and in addition to babywearing, a simple piece of cloth can be used to help a pregnant or laboring woman in several ways.
Pulling downward on a rope or strong cloth is an age old labor aid. It assists a pregnant woman in holding a supported squat position in which gravity contributes to the downward thrust of the labor. The upright squat position is ideal for helping a baby to become positioned for the easiest birth, and in this way can accelerate the progress and contribute to the ease of the birth.
A similar practice is to play tug-o-war with the laboring woman with a wrap, or towel, or a pillowcase with knots tied in the end to help hold on. A birth attendant might pull on one end and the laboring woman pulls on the other during contractions. Or a cloth could be looped around a bedpost so that the laboring woman pulls on both ends, and a second person is not needed to assist her. In the picture below of a pioneer birth, the laboring woman is pulling on the arms of her birth attendants, and even modern midwives will sometimes bring a towel or cloth and encourage the pregnant mom to “play tug-o-war” for the same benefits: for pain relief and to give leverage while pushing.
Hanging a rope or cloth over a tree branch outside was traditional, but we don’t all have a place to do this during birth (or a clear sky, either). If you do not have a safe, strong way to hang your wrap from the ceiling, you might knot the end of the wrap and close it in the closet door with the knot on the inside and the wrap hanging over the top of the door so that you can pull outward and downward from the top of the door (pictured below).
This blog post has some photos of labor and delivery rooms in a German hospital–standardly equipped with wraps hanging from the ceiling and knotted into a loop so that the laboring woman can pull or loop the wrap around herself to dangle.
Another way that a wrap can assist a woman in labor is when used to squeeze the hips to open up the pelvis, which can help the baby to become more ideally positioned, and also provides relief from back pain:
A wrap can provide a vital service in lifting the belly in order to assist the baby in descending during labor: Sometimes, as in my friend Nancy’s labor, the pregnant belly sticks way forward of the mommy like a torpedo, and the baby–instead of pushing downward in a direction that will cause labor to proceed and the cervix to open–will push forward and backwards (so that the mother feels the pushing in her back and at her navel) or will have no real directional push going at all because she is almost sitting on the mother’s lap, way out in that extended belly. This can cause labor to stall or to go very long without progress, exhausting the mother of strength that she will need for the birth. What to do? Lift the mother’s belly, so that the baby starts to move into place and exert a downward force towards the cervix. You can stand in front of mommy, holding her belly, or try to reach from behind with your arms around her. Or you can put the wrap under mommy’s belly and pull upward on that. You can even hold the belly in the desired position by tying the wrap ends together around the mother’s neck or shoulders, or some midwives and doulas may tie the wrap in place around the mother’s waist once the baby is in the desired position, to keep the belly, and baby from sinking back downwards in front of the mother. This article explains using a lift to help position baby and accelerate labor. Anything that helps baby into position ought to accelerate labor as it is that position that causes progress.
A wrap (traditionally a rebozo, or short wrap) can also be used to sift or jiggle the pregnant belly, loosening and relaxing muscles in the third trimester and during labor as demonstrated here:
Wraps can also assist the pregnant woman in pregnancy to provide comfort before the birth-day. This illustration shows one way that the wrap can be used to support the pregnant belly similarly to how I descried it above, but in this case, the support is to give the mom-to-be support in her third trimester, to easy the pains and weight of her now large belly, and could be especially advantageous to mothers of twins with twin sized bellies!
Here is another way to do it:
And Post Partum? A woven wrap is most often used to carry the baby, of course, but it has other uses, too. Many moms feel that wrapping the belly AFTER baby is born can be very beneficial to helping the post-partum body to most quickly regain full health and the closest pre-pregnancy appearance. Many products have become available to achieve this, but a woven wrap or rebozo remains a simple and effective option that prevents the family from having to accumulate another pregnancy/birth expense.
You can use any supportive piece of cloth for this, either under your clothes or over them. Wrap the fabric tightly around your abdomen. It should reach from your hips up to cover your entire belly. It should be wrapped tightly enough that you feel the support, but not so tight that it is painful or that it needs to be adjusted when you sit. Advantages have been reported when a woman wears the bind for the first 4-6 weeks of her baby’s life, but you can do it for as long (or short) as you like. I know that several women have used this after cesareans and been very happy with their healing, but I would not want to presume to give medical advice and would suggest that a post-cesarean mama research for herself and check with a birth professional.
And this practice has traditional roots, as well. This brochure speaks of the Malaysian belly-wrapping tradition, claiming that:
“The Malay Way, in particular, focuses on the health of the woman’s reproductive organs. The Malay Way will heal the wounds of childbirth, reposition the uterus and restore the tightness of the vagina muscles. To achieve this, a special corset known as a ‘barut’ is used throughout the 6 weeks. This ancient practice, until now almost unknown outside of Malaysia, is the key secret in ensuring a firm flat stomach, clean and devoid of stretch marks, even after undergoing several births. Furthermore it helps to correctly re-position the uterus.”