Sales of abdominal bindings are growing as new mothers try to squeeze back into pre-baby clothes. But they may be putting their lives at risk

It is rumoured to have whittled the waists of A-list celebrity mothers including Angelina Jolie, Gwen Stefani and Minnie Driver, is enormously popular in the United States and is rapidly gaining a following among British mums desperate to slip back into their skinny jeans after giving birth. But now the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has warned that abdominal binders such as the Cinch – which launched here last month – may endanger women's lives.

Designed to be worn just one day after giving birth, the Cinch is claimed by its makers to help women lose weight and shave inches off their waistlines if worn 24 hours a day for six weeks. The £85 product, which has been selling out since its launch in Harrods and upmarket maternity shops in recent weeks, is supposed to "shrink the swollen uterus... compress the stomach muscles... and reduce stretch marks".

But a spokeswoman for the RCM said: "It is not safe to wear them just after giving birth. I wouldn't recommend it from a medical perspective. A midwife needs to check that a woman's uterus is going down after birth. Wearing that could hide the fact that a woman's uterus isn't going down, and conceal internal bleeding."

While abdominal binding is sometimes recommended by doctors to treat some post-pregnancy problems, medical professionals say that women should not see it as a quick fix to regaining their pre-pregnancy figure. "We'd recommend more women see obstetrician physiotherapists to help them with alignment and posture. You can't substitute that with clothing. There is no evidence for these claims," said the RCM spokeswoman.

Asked if they had ever had any complaints from customers who felt unwell, a company spokesman said "No, moms love the Cinch." The representative pointed to the warning on the product packaging which indicates women should see a physician prior to wearing and said "actual medical doctors who went to medical school and are practicing high-profile OB/GYN's in the US endorse the tummy tauts.

The product's steep price tag means that the Cinch is likely to appeal to the more affluent "yummy mummy". Ann Diego, manager of the Pretty Pregnant store on King's Road in London, said: "We have sold 50 in the last month. People want to get back into shape and are willing to pay for it."

In January the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons reported a 31 per cent rise in tummy tucks compared with this last year; many cosmetic surgeons now offer "mummy tucks" which can include everything from tummy tucks to breast lifts.

John Lewis department store recently reported that sales of shape-wear were up 46 per cent compared with this time last year. It has launched "instant body control consultations" to help women to choose from the vast array of control underwear now on sale, while Selfridges noted that sales of Spanx control pants have risen by 60 per cent during the same period.

There have been many postings on the parenting website Mumsnet about abdominal binding. "Mumsnetters are intrigued to know if there are genuine medical benefits from wearing something that supports your stomach and back," said the site's co-founder, Justine Roberts. "The weeks and months after birth are one of the few times you can have a guilt-free wobbly tum."