Ob la di, ob-la-da, life goes on, bra-less?*
I have it on good authority that when the bra comes off, it’s a sign that you are staying in, and with everyone sheltering in place right now, bras don’t even leave the drawer some days. I generally advocate for the benefits of wearing bras, but there are those who disagree. If you have been curious enough to spend some of your at-home time researching the topic, you will probably have come across some well-worn truisms, some not so true. I thought it might be a good time might take another look:
Does bra wearing make your breasts more likely to sag?
“It’s been observed that using artificial breast support long enough will cause the breasts’ cup shaped suspensory Cooper’s ligaments to atrophy, allowing the breasts to sag over time.” I found this quote a few years ago when I wrote a piece called Bravo for the Brassiere. That blogger suggested exercises to strengthen pectoral muscles, advice I have seen repeated recently. It could be true, but probably not; Cooper’s ligaments, also known as the Suspensory Ligaments of Cooper, are the thin fibers that go through the breast tissue and help to maintain the breast’s shape. Research shows that breast sagging (called ptosis) is related to pregnancies, history of large weight loss, large breast size, and smoking. It makes more sense to me that supporting the breast would prevent the ligaments from stretching. No way to know for sure, but this seems more likely. What I do know, from research on the internal bra, is that breast shape holds up better over time with the addition of support. Cooper’s ligaments aren’t usually up to the job by themselves.
Are bras bad for breast health?
One idea is that because the bra is worn against the skin continuously, it may contribute to clogged pores, rashes, and poor health in breast skin. OK, I’ll buy that. I don’t often see it though in patients who have to wear a post-surgery bra continuously for a few days, but I won’t dispute it. What I will categorically dismiss is the idea that bras contribute to risk of breast cancer. I don’t see this idea having much traction these days anyway, but for a while it was seriously debated. In the mid-1990’s a book came out claiming to have data that women who wore a bra 12 hours a day or more had a substantially higher incidence of breast cancer. The data was never substantiated, and the opposite was found in large 2014 study from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. In that peer-reviewed study “No aspect of bra wearing, including bra cup size, … average number of hours/day worn, wearing a bra with an underwire, or age first began regularly wearing a bra” was associated with risk of breast cancer.”
The decision is of course a matter of personal preference. It makes sense to me that supporting the breast with a bra – external or internal – will help over the long run. As I am not personally in possession of breasts, I base this only on my experience as a plastic surgeon, trying to observe what helps with outcomes and what doesn’t.
*Apologies to the Beatles, I am pretty sure this was not the sort of thing they had in mind with this song, but I couldn’t resist.
La-la, how the life goes on
Ob-la di, ob-la-da, life goes on, bra
La-la, how the life goes on
And if you want some fun, sing ob-la-di, bla-da