Did my experience with corset wear help or hinder me – or in any way affect my pregnancy experience? Here I’ve done my best to compare and contrast my 15+ years of corset training experience with my one pregnancy experience, separating them into five different categories: organs, skeletal frame, eating, breathing, and movement. In some ways, my corseting experience has helped prepare my body for pregnancy, making for a more comfortable or even semi-familiar experience – but in other ways, corseting couldn’t have possibly prepared me!
Read more below, and please excuse any typos, as I typed this as a sleep-deprived frazzled ball of newmom stress – hopefully you’ll be able to glean some useful information from this (and I’ll be able to edit this into a more coherent article by the time my kid is in school ;) ).
Displacing my intestines wasn’t (and still isn’t) a horrible experience, whether during pregnancy or while corseting, as intestines are designed to move – in fact, they move all the time due to peristalsis, and if they didn’t move, we would die out as a species.
While many pregnant folks complain of constipation, I kept my bowel movements regular through diet and regular physical activity as I’ve learned to do while corset training (I will also touch on this in my upcoming treadmill desk update).
But when the baby starts kicking your liver and head-butting your bladder, it gets uncomfortable for sure. Corsets make you more in tune with your body, so I know where each of my major organs sit while I’m in and out of a corset, and I also know which organ my baby was using as a punching bag in the moment. For instance, when my kiddo was having a dance party and I felt a sudden punt to my upper right quadrant (where my liver is), it made a different kind of vibration compared to when he was kicking the front of my uterus (which is stretched and pushed against the inside of my abdominal muscles), or my empty stomach on the left side. Physicians learn to tap on different parts of the body and listen to each organ (which a different reverberation) and they can determine whether the liver is enlarged or inflamed based on this reverberation. If you’re very still and in tune when babies kick you from the inside, you can sense different reverbs as well.
Another thing that an assertive kick to the liver does is cause a vasovagal response, which can cause a sudden drop in blood pressure. The baby isn’t super strong, so these movements didn’t make me drop like a rock, but if I felt a kick in the upper right quadrant and instantly felt nauseated or a little light headed, I knew it was likely due to the baby hitting a nerve that caused a temporary vasodepression. Thankfully that didn’t happen too often – but this is an example of where corsets couldn’t prepare me. Corsets always give an even, constant, slow compression and don’t kick you from the inside without warning.
Corsets have also trained me to be okay with eating small portions throughout the day so as to minimize discomfort or reflux. Around 10 years ago I would have labeled myself a grazer. In recent years I really prefer not to graze but rather have two large meals a day – but once I became pregnant, grazing and having small, frequent meals eventually became a necessity, and it was easy to switch back into that mode of eating.
Because of my long-term experience with corsets, I was already familiar with the foods that were problematic to me: mainly dairy (mild lactose intolerance), and high FODMAP type foods like corn and grapes – the foods that cause bloating, indigestion and discomfort during corseting were the same foods that caused problems in pregnancy, so it was easy to recognize and avoid those.
Acid reflux was so much worse with pregnancy – my digestive organs were squished more than there ever was with a corset, but added to this was the hormonal factor: the high levels of estrogen and relaxin causing my esophageal sphincter to relax, which allowed more reflux than I had ever experienced before. Previously, the only corsets that ever caused even a little bit of reflux were specifically underbust corsets finished with a sweetheart shape in the front, (rather than a corset that was straight or pointed upwards at the sternum). The sweetheart shape dips down in the front, leaving part of my solar plexus area completely unsupported, which causes my diaphragm to bulge out over of the top edge of the corset – this difference in pressure is not a good time (I know that plenty of folks love the feel of a sweetheart underbust, and likely these folks have a lower sternum than I do, so that their xyphoid process covers more of their solar plexus and diaphragm than in my situation). But pregnancy was easily 10x worse for reflux compared to my worst corset.
Corsets taught me how to breathe from my chest rather than my abdomen, so I found it incredibly easy to breathe even with the growing belly – up to around 7 months gestation. The final two months were way worse than any corset, for several reasons:
Firstly, most of my corsets are generally rounded in the ribs and they only compress the squishiest part of the waistline below the diaphragm, so my lung capacity typically isn’t as affected by corset wear compared to those who might wear a stricter and higher corset (like a conical rib overbust corset, for instance) – or the growing uterus pushing up significantly on the diaphragm.
Secondly, the increased blood volume. I remember reading that a significant portion of protein consumption by the fetus and placenta (up to 50%) are not for growing the fetus but rather to make hormones that regulate the mother’s metabolism and homeostasis – including appetite and respiration rate, to ensure that there is sufficient nutrients and oxygen for the extra blood cells circulating the body – so there there is a hormonal and body fluid influence on respiration rate over and above the physical hindrance to the descent of the diaphragm.
Thirdly, carrying 35 lbs of extra weight tuckered me out faster than usual. I could walk easily, but dancing or running was more challenging. I would say that in the final 6-8 weeks of pregnancy, breathing was far more labored (ha!) than I had ever experienced in a corset.
Skeletal frame (ribs, hips, and lumbar spine)
In terms of my skeletal frame, I was able to somewhat predict in what ways pregnancy would be a little easier on me, and what ways in wouldn’t. For instance, I know from my measurements that I have a slightly longer torso (this can contribute to carrying small), but also it somewhat protects my ribs from dislocations in the final months, especially as my sternum is very high. My floating ribs are also very flexible, they would swing inward with relative ease with corsets, and could also swing outwards when I used to be a floutist and sang in choir, so this flexibility was used to my advantage.
Where pregnancy was probably a bit more difficult is the fact that I have relatively narrow hip bones. When compared to my friends in school, they often noted that my Venus dimples were closer together than anyone else’s; I was able to buy my jeans from the boys’ section; my gait was narrow (I would walk practically with one foot in front of the other); I’ve never had a thigh gap ever despite having a lanky frame through my teen years, etc.
Around the 6th month of pregnancy, the relaxin started kicking in to loosen the ligaments in my pelvis and widen the joints. My sacro-iliac (SI) joints started slipping, and it aggravated the sciatica that I sustained from my car accident eight years ago. And then about a month after that, I started getting pain in the front (symphysis pubis dysfunction, or SPD). I immediately asked my OB doctor for some exercise recommendations, and I increased my activity at my treadmill desk again through the 3rd trimester. I know that with those who suffer from extreme SPD, they can end up bed-bound, as they need to avoid anything that forces them to even temporarily balance on one foot or the other… including walking. So with SPD, your mileage may vary. (Literally.) I was fortunate not to have an extreme case of it, but if my SPD continued for months or years postpartum, I would certainly make use of my longline corsets to help stabilize my pelvis.
Regarding my lower back, I thankfully had a very positive experience here. I think a combination of my corset wear and my standing desk affected my posture greatly. For the first two trimesters of my pregnancy, I carried small compared to many other childbearers in my family (which, as mentioned before, is partly influenced by the length of my torso), but I think the other part of of it is due to the strength of my muscles in my lumbar spine, and around my hips and glutes – such that even as my center of gravity was shifted forward, I resisted developing that telltale lordosis and anterior pelvic tilt until the very last few months of pregnancy. But the thing about “carrying small” is also that the baby isn’t small – the uterus is just displacing more of your peritoneal organs in the abdominal cavity instead of growing outward past your ribs (see above for my commentary on displacement of organs).
(One last contributor to “carrying small” is a tilted / retroverted uterus, which I do not have, but it’s worth mentioning just for a complete discussion on this topic.)
The only negative effect I experienced with regards to my lower back was about three months of lower back soreness at the site of the epidural injection, and some “back labor” (painful contractions that are felt most strongly in the lower back and tailbone), which obviously subsided after the delivery.
Reduced range of motion:
Not surprisingly, I lost the ability to bend significantly at the waist about 20 weeks into gestation. Corseting prepared me for this loss of range of motion in my torso, and I was able to easily compensate by bending at the hip and squatting (putting more movement through my legs instead of my waist) when I needed to pick things up off the floor, putting my shoes on, etc.
As an aside: regarding the whole “boots before corsets” argument, as a Canadian who is not in the habit of wearing shoes in the home, this typically doesn’t really apply to me; although I have some indoor shoes that I use exclusively for my treadmill desk, and slippers that I use when walking across cold tile. Having a long shoehorn is a nice-to-have, but I can and do put my shoes on without one (in and out of a corset, and also during pregnancy), and I wouldn’t consider myself to be particularly limber.
It’s more about having the proper form, as well as not having the corset (or your pregnant belly) hang below the hip flexor. Another requirement is having enough leg and hip strength to squat when picking things up off the floor, which circles back to the importance of physical activity in my third trimester, in tandem with with my years of prior posture training from corsets.
That’s all I can think of at the moment about how corsets may have affected or influenced my pregnancy experience, but I may add more if it comes to me. If you have any questions you’d like me to answer regarding my experience with corsets vs pregnancy, feel free to leave a comment and I’d be happy to add more to this article.
In summary, pregnancy was much more uncomfortable than corseting for a variety of reasons – and that’s coming from someone who has had a relatively easy and uneventful pregnancy experience. I’ll return to this topic again in several months once I have more experience with corseting postpartum, and how it relates to my nulliparous corseting experience – but I’ve only very recently returned to corseting, and would prefer have more experience before commenting on it officially.
If you have any experience with becoming pregnant before and/or after corseting and would like to comment on the differences between the two experiences, feel free to share your thoughts below!