Over the weekend, the internet exploded over the latest launch from Kim Kardashian West (as it tends to do.) This time, the outrage was focused on the Skims maternity collection, a five-piece line launching Wednesday featuring underwear designed for pregnant and postpartum people. Many on social media spoke out against the line, saying it’s harmful to make products trying to “shape” a pregnant person’s body, but Lucky Sekhon, MD, a New York City-based fertility specialist and board-certified OB/GYN, says maternity shapewear has many underrated benefits.
“Maternity shapewear can help improve posture and take weight off of your back as your pregnancy bump grows,” says Dr. Sekhon. “It can also be more comfortable than your regular underwear or tights, which are prone to slipping and bunching.” This is especially true at the beginning of a pregnancy, she says, as pre-pregnancy underwear might still technically fit but don’t always sit right on your changing body. “As long as you aren’t wearing the type that constricts at the tummy, it is completely safe, and likely to be very comfortable, to wear maternity shapewear,” she says.
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There are also uses for maternity shapewear during the postpartum period, Dr. Sekhon adds. She says these products can provide support to a healing C-section incision, “especially when the abdominal muscles are strained, such as when coughing, laughing, sneezing, lifting, or getting up to sit from a lying position.”
Wearing maternity shapewear isn’t for everyone though—it all depends on what’s comfortable on a person’s unique growing body. Those who gained more weight during pregnancy, or who carry their bump up high and towards the front, are more likely to benefit from the support of shapewear than those who gain less weight or whose bump seems more evenly distributed, Dr. Sekhon says. “[Pregnant people] who have excess amniotic fluid or who are carrying twins are likely to have a large bump and could benefit from additional support,” she says. People who walk a lot while pregnant, or who tend to have back pain or strain, might want to consider that support, she adds.
Skims isn’t the first shapewear line to create maternity options. Brands like Spanx, Belly Bandit, and Blanqi all have supportive shapewear options for pregnant and postpartum people. Kardashian West defended her line in a series of tweets on Sunday, stating that she decided to create it after thousands of pregnant women wrote to the brand requesting it—and that its main goals were to provide physical support to the bodies of pregnant and postpartum people.
Of course, it should be said that maternity shapewear can also provide a smoother, smaller silhouette, and it’s certainly possible that people will seek these products for that reason. But given the massive fixation society places on people to lose their baby weight and “bounce back” almost immediately after giving birth, we should cut pregnant people some slack for choosing products that support their physical and mental well-being. “As long as the shapewear is not constrictive and provides gentle support to help smooth out lines/bumps, is it fine,” she says. “Pregnancy is a major transition and many women, especially first-time mothers, may have unrealistic expectations of what their body should look like postpartum.”
If you chose to wear maternity shapewear, make sure it is designed for pregnant and-or postpartum people (read: don’t just buy a regular pair of shapewear shorts) and it’s not too snug. “If it is tight, overly constrictive, it can be irritating to the skin and tissue of the abdomen,” says Dr. Sekhon. This is particularly crucial for the postpartum period, when the body is healing from what it went through during a birth or a C-section.
The bottom line: Maternity shapewear might not be everyone’s cup of tea. But it can provide some real physical support to a pregnant person’s body. And given how hard it is to be pregnant, who are we to judge?