Is There Such a Thing as a Healthy Bra?

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Wellness Mama » Blog » Health » Is There Such a Thing as a Healthy Bra?

Sixteen million bras are purchased every year, and yet an estimated 80% of us are wearing the wrong size bra! I’ve covered some of the pitfalls of the modern bra in this post, but today I want to discuss how to find the healthiest bra, and also consider the position of whether bras are healthy at all.

The answer depends on several factors, some of which may surprise you!

Why Do Women Wear Bras?

First it was the corset, then came the girdle, and finally the modern-day brassiere. Over the centuries, fashion has changed and the desired shape of breasts has changed with it. These special undergarments offer modesty, support during activity, and the enhancement of the female form.

Women today basically wear bras for the same reasons. They keep the girls perky and provide support, especially during more intense physical activity. Fashion has evolved, so special bras are necessary for different outfits.

Benefits of Going Bra-Free

Even though most of us wear one, research is showing that the 1970s may have been onto something with their bra burnings! There’s a surprisingly controversial link between bras and breast cancer. Several studies show that sleeping in a bra, underwire, or tightly fitting bras suppress lymphatic flow and may contribute to lymph stasis. This is when the lymphatic system can’t drain properly because of breast restriction. Some research show improper lymph flow may contribute to breast cancer.

There are easy ways to support lymphatic health at home, but we women can’t ignore that wearing a better bra (or no bra at all) could be one of them!

Built-in Breast Support

During puberty, the breasts and surrounding chest tissue are developing. Ligaments in the breast tissue, called Cooper’s ligaments are thin tissues that weave through the breast and attach to the chest to support the breast.

Over time, these ligaments naturally stretch and may cause the appearance of droopy breasts. Some believe that muscle atrophy also plays a part.

According to our medical reviewer, Dr. Greenleaf:

Droopy breasts are not necessarily from muscle atrophy. Though it is true that muscle can cause a lifted appearance, droopy breast occur naturally over time due to stretching of the Cooper’s Ligaments and because as we age our breast tissue diminishes and is replaced with fat which doesn’t fill out the breast as much. In addition, if you get muscle atrophy of the chest, pectoral muscles all you need to do is start working out to regain those muscles back.

In other words, chest exercises might not always be the answer, but they certainly don’t hurt.

Going Bra-Free

The evidence seems to suggest that going braless is the best option, if possible. However, for those who aren’t comfortable going braless in public, or who feel more comfortable with some support, this isn’t the best option.

Buying a healthy bra that allows the best lymphatic flow possible minimizes the potential damage caused by the contraption, while still providing the needed perks.

The Healthiest Bra Materials

Bras vary widely from sexy, lacy pushup models, to plain Jane cotton white. A few guidelines to follow when choosing a bra:

  • Choose a bra made with breathable (and preferably organic) fabric.
  • Organic cotton and bamboo are good choices.
  • Watch out for latex straps or nickel closures, which can be irritating to those who are sensitive to these materials.

A breathable fabric wicks away moisture to keep the chest area cool and comfortable. Our bodies eliminate toxins in sweat, so trapping that all inside a sweaty bra isn’t just uncomfortable, but unhealthy. Some have even postulated that tight undergarments may be a contributing factor to cancer as it inhibits the body’s natural cooling mechanism.

One case study of a 34-year-old woman found that her Mondor’s disease was most likely caused by her constricting bra. This rare disease is when a vein just under the breast tissue or chest becomes inflamed. Medical professionals suspected that tight-fitting bras and girdles are the primary culprit.

Ditch the Underwire… Maybe

As I mentioned earlier, several studies have shown and some experts agree that the metal underwire in our bras could be contributing to breast health problems. On the other side, there are those who adamantly disagree with this evidence, most notably the Komen foundation and the American Cancer Society.

I’ve opted for a bra without underwire just in case the evidence is true, and I’m more comfortable without it anyway. Tight or cheap underwire digging into the chest can also cause skin irritation, shoulder and neck tension, and even headaches.

A regular underwire bra isn’t designed to work without the added support, so simply removing the wire from the bra can create an ill-fitting result. There are plenty of bras designed to hold shape without plastic or metal running through the bottom.

The Perfect-Fitting Bra

A shocking number of women are going around in poorly fitting bras. This can be due to a number of reasons, but isn’t too hard to remedy. Here are some tips to keep in mind when fitting a bra:

  • The band on the bra should be comfortably snug, but not restricting. If it’s sliding around, then a tighter band is needed.
  • If the band is leaving red marks or the skin is bulging, it’s too tight.
  • The breasts shouldn’t be bulging out of the cups on the sides or top.
  • Neither should the bra look wrinkly or puckered, meaning it’s too large.
  • For those having trouble finding the perfect bra, a fitting with a professional can be helpful.

Another note: Heavily padded bras, like pushup bras, or even T-shirt bras push the breasts into a more pleasing shape. However, this artificial manipulation of the breast tissue isn’t necessarily healthy. The sexy, lacy, push-up bra in the store probably won’t be the one that’s healthiest. A comfortable, healthy bra can be worth giving up some frills for.

Consider Your Stage in Life

Pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menopause are times of hormonal change when the breasts fluctuate in size. A bra that has flexible, stretchy fabric helps to accommodate these often rapid changes. It will also allow freedom and movement of the breast tissue for healthy lymphatic flow and detox.

Unlike our circulatory system where the heart is the pump, the lymphatic system relies on physical movement to flow properly. So a little bounce in the bra is actually a good thing! Dry brushing is another great way to stimulate lymphatic flow.

The Healthiest Bra for Activity

Those involved in jostling sports, like running or horseback riding, are typically more comfortable with firmer support. The fabric should still be breathable and somewhat flexible though. In one study of 23 larger-sized women, they found that those running in sports bras with a wide, vertical strap stayed more comfortable than their cross-backed counterparts. However, in a similar study of smaller breasted women, the vertical shoulder straps were more likely to slide down and they were more comfortable with cross straps.

Factoring in Body Size

Those with a larger cup size tend to be more comfortable with wider straps and wider closures. This helps reduce the weight on the back, shoulders, and neck, which could negatively affect the spine, not to mentioning back pain or strained neck muscles.

One study of post-menopausal women found that those who had larger breasts and body sizes tended to have more mid-back pain.

Even if the back isn’t triggered enough to cause pain, it doesn’t mean that the body isn’t under damaging stress that still causes spinal subluxations. Subluxations compress the nerves that lead to all the body’s systems, impeding their function.

An ill-fitting bra can sometimes cause these issues for women with smaller cup sizes, too.

Concluding Thoughts on Bra Health

Going braless, or at least taking it off whenever possible (like in the evening or at night), is the healthiest option for many women. However, for those who still want or need a bra for various reasons, there are healthier options out there. A proper fitting bra with flexible, breathable, natural materials is a must.

Unfortunately, I haven’t found a lot of bras that fit the bill, and I certainly hope more companies start to consider breast health when making them.

  • I’ve worn the Coobie bra for years as a comfortable and supportive wireless option, but it isn’t natural material or organic.
  • Companies like Pact and Organic Basics have some great choices and there are more companies following suit.

If you know of a great healthy bra option, I’d love to hear about it!

This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Betsy Greenleaf, the first board-certified female urogynecologist in the United States. She is double board-certified in Obstetrics and Gynecology, as well as Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.

Which bras have you tried? Do you have a favorite, or are you a fan of going au natural?

Sources
Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.

Comments

56 responses to “Is There Such a Thing as a Healthy Bra?”

  1. Tao Becker Avatar
    Tao Becker

    I’ve tried many underwire bras and they are either useless or too constricting (unhealthy). I’m 34 C (or 36B, depending on style). The only thing that has worked for me is an underwire bra that is about 1 or 2 cups bigger than I need (like 34D), so it will not squeeze my breasts from the sides, as the cups go wide. It just gives support from bottom. The underwire allows the band around my torso to be comfortabley loose (not binding) without my breasts slipping out the bottom because of the structure of the underwire. With wireless bras, the torso band has to be too tight, or my breats eventually slip under the band, & they usually compress my boobs (unhealthy), rather than supporting from bottom. The one problem with the bra 1 or 2 cups bigger than my size, is all the extra fabric over my breasts. This doesn’t stop the support that goes from underwire frame to straps (breasts rest on the “shelf” even if extra fabric above), but the extra fabric is awkward. I can see how that could easily be adjusted appropriately if I were a good seamstress. I wish someone would consider, and make, this kind of bra design (wide underwire for smaller cup sizes), rather than saying underwires aren’t good. I find they are the best way to have bra that is not too binding.

  2. Jennifer Avatar
    Jennifer

    Hello everyone!

    I’d like to say that Brook There has a great selection of wireless bras that are organic cotton, and they are comfortable!

    I hope this helps!

    All the best,
    Jennifer

  3. Caroline Avatar
    Caroline

    I’m so happy to read this because I’ve always taken every opportunity to be braless! I used to be very self conscious in public without one, but for the past 3-4 years I got used to it and stopped caring. I’m also quite top heavy, wearing a 38H now, but whatever, I’m comfortable. The dresses I wear give me a little support and they’re all from Bravissimo. When I get a bra for special occasions, it’s also from Bravissimo. They have a huge range of non-underwire bras.

  4. Miryah Avatar

    Kindred Braverly for bras – they have some lovely organic options and supportive stretchy sports type bras but with cups, no underwire that are so comfy and breastfeeding friendly.

  5. Catherine Avatar
    Catherine

    Here is a tip for increasing blood circulation in the breasts that I came up with myself. I use a Clarisonic brush on my face almost every night while in the shower. At some point, I decided to start using it on my chest and breasts as well. After all, one of the reasons bras can be problematic is that they restrict blood flow. And the Clarisonic, since it is made for facial skin, is very gentle with the regular face brush attachment. (I have very fair skin without a breakout problem, so I use the gentle brush anyway.)

    Since the Clarisonic has four cycles, two at 20 seconds each (for your t-zone) and 2 at 10 seconds each (for the cheeks and sides of your face, I just use the first two longer cycles for my neck and shoulders then my chest and under arms. The two 10 second cycles I use on my breasts which gives them a lovely massage.

  6. Gina Burns Avatar
    Gina Burns

    Katie, I just ordered some camisoles from Ruby Ribbon. They are a wonderful alternative to traditional bras, and I highly recommend them. They are better for breast health, and the support is better and more firm than an underwire.

  7. Theresa Avatar

    Boodywear is amazing! Organic bamboo. Soft and breathable and and sustainable for environment. The bras and underwear are extremely comfortable.

  8. Kathy Schlenz Avatar
    Kathy Schlenz

    I try to not wear a bra, at least in the winter when it’s easier because of layering and sweaters.

    Decent Exposures is a great company that makes custom fitting bras, panties and other clothing. They have organic cotton and even the tread can be requested not to contain latex.

  9. Isabelle Innocenti Avatar
    Isabelle Innocenti

    By far my favorite bra (and I’ve tried many) is the Majamas Easy Bra. I’ve been nursing my little one for 2.5 years now and I keep buying this one above all others. I wear it everyday. I highly recommend it! It is made with no wire, and organic cotton.

  10. Thea Avatar

    I am older and used to run a lot. The band from the bras I wore created a lump I thought may be scar tissue but now after reading here, I wonder if it wasn’t lymph related. It’s been painful fir years but has diminished since following an anti inflammatory diet.
    I ordered a bra from The Very Good Bra from a Kickstarter campaign. At the time I ordered it I was a little smaller and fit their largest size. I love the bra, unfortunately it’s not fitting right now. Made from all compostable materials it is good for you and good for the earth. It’s very soft and well fitting. They have since added sizes and styles so I should try again.

  11. Ellie Avatar

    I wear the Lamaze nursing bra. You can look it up on Amazon. I wear them as my normal bra even though I’m not pregnant or nursing.

  12. Laura Avatar

    I’ve not read all of the comments, but next time you’re in Finland, we have lots of options here. Google organic bras Finland to see them all. Ekohelsinki is a popular one. I’m on sports bras daily still so can’t comment on them personally

  13. Jen Avatar

    ibex merino wool bra. Pricey ($60) but very comfortable and I love wool.

  14. Aimee H. Avatar
    Aimee H.

    Hi Katie! I’ve never worn an underwire bra, only sports bras when I first started wearing them as a girl and then later supportive bras without wires. However, I am petite with a smaller chest and don’t really need support, but I want to stay modest. I’ve also had mild breathing difficulties for quite a few years (don’t know if it’s in any way connected to wearing bras or not). I was wondering would a plain simple strapless bra (such as a bandeau) be a good option? I can’t really find a lot of health related articles about them, but I’ve read that the bands on them are tighter in order to keep them in place, and with that I’m wondering if there would really be any difference health-wise between a bra and a strapless bra?

    1. Katie Wells Avatar

      Great question. I would need more support than a bandeau bra so I haven’t tried many of them personally but I’ve seen some options that look stretchy enough to be comfortable and not too tight.

      1. Aimee H. Avatar

        Are there any particular brands that you would recommend? I’ve been doing some looking around, but it doesn’t seem like there are any name brands that make them.

  15. Helen Avatar

    I’ve worn bras from a place called The Healthy Bra Company in Seattle area for a long time, and they can do fittings long distance. They are expensive, but to me, they are worth it.
    Helen

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