By Vicki MacLean, N.P.
Women’s health and breast surgery in Melrose & Wakefield
Wearing a properly-sized bra supports your health in more ways than you may realize.
What you wear can affect your health. And I’m not just talking about dressing properly for Boston weather. Women put on ill-fitting bras every day, and it’s causing back and breast pain, restricted breathing, headaches, and skin irritation.
Surveys have shown anywhere from 60 percent to 80 percent of women do not wear a bra that fits properly. That’s as many as 1.6 million women in Massachusetts alone!
Many of the women who come to me with breast pain are wearing bras that are too small. For example, they are wearing a DD when they should be in an F. We need to stop worrying about the number and letter and find a bra that fits! Follow these guidelines to find a bra that will be comfortable and improve your health and well-being.
How to measure bra size
When bra shopping, don’t automatically grab the same size you bought last time. Finding a properly sized bra isn’t a one-time event. Women change bra sizes multiple times throughout their lives due to hormones, weight gain and loss, pregnancy, and aging (hello, gravity!). So while your bra may have fit last year, it may not fit now.
The best way to find the perfect bra size is to go to a store with staff trained to fit bras. Along with measuring you and determining a size, they also can help you navigate the many brands and styles, because each can be slightly different.
You may not always be able to get to a store with a bra-fitting specialist, so you’ll want to know how to measure yourself. There are two measurements to take when determining your bra size: band and cups. To get your band size, measure around your rib cage directly under your bust and round up to the nearest even number. To get your cup size, loosely measure around the fullest part of your breasts. Then subtract your breast measurement from your band measurement. Each inch represents a cup size. So one inch is an A, two inches a B, and so on. For example, if your band measurement is 32 inches, and your bust measurement is 36, your cup measurement is 2 inches – or a B cup.
This isn’t an exact science, and each brand may be slightly different, so here are a few things to keep in mind when you try on bras:
- Band: The majority of a bra’s support does not come from the straps. The band does the bulk of the work if fitted properly. It rests below the breasts and around the ribcage. The band should be snug but should not dig into your skin, and should be level to the floor all the way around.
- Straps: While the band does most of the support work, the straps are still important. They should sit comfortably over the shoulders, and not dig into the skin or fall off.
- Cups: The bra cup should completely contain the breast. If the breast is bulging over, you need to go up a cup size. If there is space between the cup and the breast, you need to go down a size. The piece of material between the cups should lie flat against your body – if it’s pulling away, go up a size.
While sports bras don’t have the same sizing conventions, it’s still important to pick one that fits. A sports bra should give you double the support of a regular bra and follow the same guidelines as above. When trying on a sports bra, jump around, twist, and bend over to see how it reacts to movement – it should be comfortable and stay in place.
How an ill-fitting bra can impact your health
You may not know it, but those nagging symptoms you’ve been experiencing could be the result of an ill-fitting bra. A bra can cause all sorts of problems if it doesn’t fit correctly.
- Back, shoulder, and neck pain: If your bra is too big or too small, you’re not getting the support you need. Your bra should help your back hold up your breasts, but the straps shouldn’t pull too much on your shoulders and neck. This tends to be more of a problem for women with larger breasts.
- Breast pain: A too-tight bra can dig into your breasts, causing pain. If your bra is too big, your breasts may bounce around a lot, leading to tenderness.
- Headaches: A bra that’s too small can cause tension on your shoulders and back, which can then cause a headache.
- Indigestion: If your bra is too tight, it can obstruct the flow of the digestive system.
- Skin irritation: The friction from an ill-fitting bra can lead to chafing or scratches.
The next time you put on your bra, pay attention to how it fits. It may be time to rethink your size. Believe me —your body will thank you.