Corsets and the Female Reproductive System

11 Jan

This entry is a summary of the video “Corsets and the Reproductive System” which you can watch on YouTube here:

(Note: this entry is on the female reproductive system; male corseters don’t need to worry about this.)

I have received many questions by women on how corsets may affect the uterus, birth canal and other parts of the reproductive system, so I’ve compiled the most popular questions and answers here.

Will my uterus be compressed or fall out by wearing a corset?

There can be some small amount of uterine compression if you wear corsets. When the uterus begins to drop from its normal position, it’s called uterine prolapse. Uterine prolapse cannot with any certainty be tied to corseting because the risk of prolapse increases with several events:

  • Age (especially after menopause when estrogen levels drop)
  • Atrophy of the pelvic floor muscles
  • High number of vaginal deliveries (especially if you receive trauma like ripping of the birth canal)
  • Anything that creates pressure on the organs, including heavy lifting and straining when having a bowel movement.

Can wearing a corset decrease your chances of conceiving a child?

There is a large misconception about corsets “squeezing out” fetuses and as a result, it was thought to believe that many corseted ladies would not be able to become pregnant. In truth, there is no proof that corsets cause infertility. Many women in the 18th and 19th centuries managed to conceive 10-15 times (or more!) easily within their lifetime. Of course, miscarriage and stillbirth statistics were much more prevalent than they are now, but when you factor in less access to medical care, no prenatal screening, poorer nutrition overall (consider the fact that shipment of fresh produce was largely impractical until airplanes were used), not to mention lack of education in terms of drug/alcohol abuse during pregnancy, there is no way to prove that corsets are to blame for not being able to conceive. The largest culprit of illness or death among new mothers in the 19th century was “childbed fever”, an infection of the still blood-rich womb, due to the lack of sanitation (germ theory was not widely accepted until the late 1880’s), not due to corsets.

Can you corset when you’re pregnant?

Victorian women were always corseted, even during pregnancy. It was considered indecent to go out without a corset at any time in one’s adult life (consider the fact that the corset also served as bust support before the modern bra was invented). However, pregnant women used specialized maternity corsets that had laced panels which expanded as their bellies grew. Ultimately these corsets were not used for waist reduction nor to achieve an hourglass shape, but rather they were used for support for the back and core, as 24/7 corseting since late childhood often caused weakening of wearer’s back and created dependence on the corset.

Today, it’s true that in the first trimester you don’t tend to show a baby bump, and many women can still do crunches and sit-ups without harming the fetus. Many women in the Victorian era still laced with their normal corsets in their first trimester of pregnancy, but I still strongly recommend not wearing a corset at any point during pregnancy. Just as any responsible woman would immediately stop drinking and smoking once she discovered she’s pregnant, a woman of today should immediately remove the corset upon realizing she’s pregnant. If you are pregnant and find you have a weak core or experience back pain, back support still exists in the form of more flexible maternity support belts or “belly bands” which won’t harm the baby.

Post-partum Corseting

What causes belly pooch after childbirth?

  • Distended uterus
  • Other organs moved out of place by the growing baby
  • Subcutaneous fat (the “squishy” feeling fat underneath the skin)
  • Visceral fat (the fat surrounding the internal organs)
  • Diastasis Rectus (diastasis recti for plural)

 After the baby is born, when the mother is nursing her newborn baby, release of the hormone oxytocin makes a woman’s mammary glands contract to help the milk flow (called “let-down” reflex), and the uterus contracts in response to the oxytocin in order to shrink down close to its original size and improve muscle tone (which is why new mothers may nurse their newborn babies and experience pelvic cramps). Along with this process, the other organs more or less move back into the position they held before pregnancy. (A woman’s organs never fully goes back to the way they were before their first pregnancy, but the body tries as much as it can).

Belly binding has existed for many hundreds of years

Many women of the past wear compression gear to help their organs move back into position. Although compression gear is not necessary, it can help quicken the process. In fact it’s nothing new. Civilizations have been using it for centuries before tightlacing corsets appeared in the west.

The Mayan women in central America bound their torsos after childbirth. In Spanish this is still called a “faja” which literally translates to “strip of fabric” or “belt” (wound around the body many times to achieve the compression) but now the term is used for any corset or cincher.

In South India during Bananthana (or post-partum) there is a strict protocol including belly binding to put the uterus and intestines back into place, keep the body warm, and help purge the “bad blood” accumulated during pregnancy.

Japanese women wore an obi (“sash”) most of the time, which was a piece of cloth about 1 foot wide by several meters long  tightly bound around and around and around the torso. Later in pregnancy, many of these women switched to a sarashi which is again a long strip of cloth that binds the midriff and also the chest.

I want to wear a corset after childbirth. How do I know if it’s right for me?

Check with your doctor before wearing compression gear after labour. Your doctor may or may not recommend compression gear for you, depending on your size, your level of health, the difficulty of your delivery (and/or whether any damage to your pelvis occurred during childbirth). The largest factor is whether you delivered naturally or by caesarean, as a natural delivery can increase the risk of prolapse, but caesarian involved cutting into your abdominal wall which can be painful or nonconducive to healing if you put too much pressure on it. However, if you get the go-ahead from your doctor to use compression gear to hasten the process of recovery after childbirth, it should be okay to lace down lightly (2 inches or so) in a well-fitted corset.

Next time, I’ll share with you the common skin issues that may arise when you waist train on a regular basis.

*Please note that this article contains my opinion and provided strictly for information purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of a medical physician. Please talk to your doctor if you’d like to start wearing a corset for any reason.*

13 Responses to “Corsets and the Female Reproductive System”

  1. Damita August 17, 2013 at 11:13 am #

    Hello, I am a plus size girl who recently discovered the benefits of corsetting. I understand the imprtance of it especially since I am having back ache problems dues to alot of fat on my breasts and genereally. So I was really interested in trying out the CS426 corset from Orchard Corsets as my first corset. However, I do have a problem with my ovaries. I have ovarian cysts in my ovaries but they are small. I wanted to know, that by wearing corsets, is there a risk involved to my ovaries when I am wearing a longline corset? I decided to go with a longline corset because I have a hanging belly and it is this belly that causes me pain in my lower abdomen. I thought b y using a long line corset and by pulling my belly up, I would minimise the risk, help me in my weight loss and put me on track to become a better version of myself. I know I need to consult my gyne about my ovaries, but you see, the I need to know ans understand where does the corset (underbust ones) sits mainly on and their target area. Does it affect my uterus or ovaries in any manner? Thank you very much and God Bless.

    • bishonenrancher August 17, 2013 at 3:44 pm #

      Hi Damita, thanks for your comment. I’m not a doctor so I’m hesitant to tell you whether you would be allowed to wear a corset or not with your ovarian cysts. A corset is technically supposed to put direct pressure on the upper waist and simply hold and support the lower abdomen, but the extra intra-abdominal pressure may be uncomfortable for you – the corset pushes on the waist, which pushes down the intestines, which may push on the uterus. In the case of menstrual cramping etc, the extra pressure can actually help relieve pain, but unfortunately I don’t know the effects of extra pressure on ovarian cysts and I’d definitely recommend you ask your gynecologist/OB when you go visit.

      • Priscilla October 24, 2013 at 10:11 am #

        Can I use a corset while breastfeeding ?

        • bishonenrancher October 24, 2013 at 2:27 pm #

          Hi Priscilla, I’m nulliparous so can’t answer you from personal experience, but from what other women have told me, it’s possible to wear an underbust corset (paired with your nursing bra) while breastfeeding. However, you may need to prop up your elbow/ the baby with pillows to get the right position, because the corset prevents you from being able to lean in towards the baby.

  2. Pamela H November 16, 2013 at 6:38 pm #

    I have ovarian cysts too, I go Monday to talk to the doctor about it, I assume I am much older then you are Damita, (I’m going on 45) and I will report back, after my appt. I need to get the green light from the Oby Gyn and then I’ll know if I can continue wearing my new (CS-411) from Orchard Corset. I am seasoning it so its not giving me a lot of waist reduction, pretty much none or one or two inches at most when I tighten it after the first 30 minutes during my 2 hour wearing sessions to break it in. But my back feels amazing, I think they’ll be fine with it, my regular doc is fine with it. But with having female issues and possibly facing a hysterectomy at some point in the future, I know that I might be told I have to wait and just NOT cinch down, as I am in the first week of seasoning my corset, I am sure that I’ll be told it’s fine to wear it as I have been, unless they tell me I need the surgery sooner rather than later.

    I want to thank you Lucy for all the work you put into your blog and your channel, you’re delightful to listen to and a large part of your appeal, I think is that you’re so knowledgeable about corsetry and are able to present information in a passionate, and moving manner. I first wore a corset at 15, but never got serious until recently. I decided to get a corset for the pain in my back and sides. I settled on the (CS-411) in a 38″ as I am a 46″ and am glad I did, because I don’t think I am long enough for the (CS-426). The (CS-411) is a great comfort to me already. Someday I hope to save up for a custom corset maybe even by Fran like that gorgeous summer mesh one you’ve had made.

    I will definitely share my results with you as I progress down my journey in corseting. I am grateful to have good company with me on the journey, as I feel like I’ve joined a wonderful community of people who share the mutual interest in corseting that I have. I really appreciate the time you take in updating your channel and your blog. I truly respect your opinion and admire your poise, you’re a classy lady Lucy.

    • bishonenrancher November 19, 2013 at 4:22 pm #

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Pamela, I truly appreciate your kindness and your feedback. I hope your chat with your doctor went alright, do let us know if you have any updates. Best wishes and happy corseting!

  3. Courtney February 12, 2014 at 1:55 pm #

    Will the shape of one’s new body hinder pregnancy and childbirth? I guess I’m asking if pregnancy is difficult after wearing a corset because of the moving of organs and the ribs.

    • bishonenrancher February 12, 2014 at 2:01 pm #

      It technically shouldn’t, Courtney – once the corset comes off for those 9 months, your organs will accommodate that growing baby and move once more. Babies will also often push out the ribcage and widen the pelvis, even in women who have never worn a corset before. The body is designed to accommodate this and releases the hormone Relaxin to help your bones move more easily. Remember that some women in the 19th century gave birth to 10 or more babies, and they were corseted the rest of the time – so their ability to give birth was certainly not hindered by wearing a corset. However if you’re concerned, you could always talk to your trusted doctor/ OBGYN about it.

      • Anbreen February 14, 2014 at 11:15 am #

        I just wish I had known, when I was younger, that corsets often relieve severe menstrual cramps! I would have spent a lot less time in bed with a heating pad.

  4. Mai March 24, 2014 at 6:44 pm #

    Hi Lucy, after having 2 children I have the lower belly pooch. I’ve been wearing a long under bust corset in size 28. I’d like to start wearing a waist cincher as it provides more mobility however, I am worried about my belly hanging out. Would you recommend I get a cincher?

    • bishonenrancher March 25, 2014 at 5:27 pm #

      Hi Mai, if you have a protruding lower tummy, I’d recommend staying with a longline corset. If you wear a cincher, there’s a possibility that your tummy will spill out the bottom edge of the corset. If you feel that your longline corset is too long for you, there are petite longlines (like Isabella’s Petite Josephine underbust) or you can have a corset altered for you to be cut shorter.

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