We’ve been on lockdown for more than a year, mostly staying at home and surviving the heat with opened windows, electric fans, and wearing pambahay as our uniform.

We haven’t worn shoes in a year and for a lot of women, neither have they worn a bra, too.

But how does not wearing a bra for a longer period of time affect women’s breasts?

In an interview with GMA News Online, Head of Aesthetic Gynecology Section Department of OBGYN in Asian Hospital & Medical Center Dr. Rebecca Singson and General and Breast Surgeon Dr. Alodee Mejia shared a few things women should know about brassieres.

What are bras for anyway?

According to Dr. Mejia, bras are made to (a) primarily support the breast tissue and (b) to “keep the breasts in place and allow the wearer to comfortably pursue physical activities.”

Dr. Mejia mentions a third function — to “improve the appearance of the bosom” — which is more cultural and aesthetic than anything else. 

While wearing a bra is a preference among women, it is recommended for those “with bigger breasts as well as those engaging in physical activities for support,” Mejia said.

Dr. Singson said some people have a “medical and surgical need” for bras but most people wear them for “fashion or cultural reasons.” 

How do bras impact women’s health and the breasts?

Real talk: Bras “have no direct impact on the health of women’s breasts,” Dr. Mejia said.

Why? Because bras are really, mainly, just for support.

Without ample support though, breasts, especially bigger breasts, may change in appearance. 

“Our breasts have ligaments that support its own weight, but over time, these ligaments will stretch, causing the sagging of the breasts,”  Dr. Mejia said.

Now, “breast sagging is not purely due to stretched-out ligaments (Cooper’s suspensory ligaments are the fibrous bands that support breast tissue),” Dr. Mejia said. “It’s also because of tissue changes within the breast [that occur] as a woman ages.” 

According to the doctor, “not wearing a bra doesn’t automatically mean your breasts will sag because it [the sagging] depends on what you were born with and your age.”

Still, it’s worth noting that breasts will eventually sag, Dr. Mejia said, pointing to menopause is one of its leading causes.

“Without ample support, breasts may sag at an earlier rate,” Dr. Mejia continued. 

If sagging is an effect of non-wearing of bras, can the undergarments also influence the growth of breasts?

According to Dr. Singson, while bras can make our boobies seem bigger — and yes, even smaller, too as in the case of minimizers — there is “no evidence that bras can influence the growth of the breast.”

Breast size is “largely  influenced by genetics, hormonal changes such as adolescence, pregnancy and menopause, by weight gain or loss, since the breast is mainly fatty tissue,” Dr. Singson continued. 

So should women resume wearing a bra, even if they’re just at home?

If you have small breasts, don’t have plans of working out, and don’t really care if your breasts sag, not wearing a bra should be ok.

If exercise and work out is on your agenda, consider wearing one.

Dr. Singson cited a research study saying  the “strongest recommendation for wearing a bra is when performing sports or physical activities such as exercise. [This is] to prevent breast pain and too much movement of the breasts.”

Women with larger breasts may also want to consider wearing a bra, as “proper brassiere allows women additional reinforcement to support the weight of their breasts,” Dr. Mejia.

“Second generation bras have combined biomechanics and physiotherapy expertise to improve posture and breast movement, intended  to offer short or long-term relief of symptoms without needing  to do breast  reduction  surgery,” Dr. Singson said. 

“Biomechanically informed-posture bras can effectively support the breasts and improve shoulder position without compromising spinal curvature, reducing the risk of musculoskeletal pain associated with poor posture,” she added.

The good news is, there is no recommended duration of bra-wearing. So you can wear one during exercise and then free the boobs after.

In fact you shouldn’t wear a bra for longer than 12 hours because “bra usage of over 12 hours increases risk for breast cancer,” Dr. Singson said, citing a study.

She also said that a few researches “have found sleeping with the bra to be associated with an increased risk for breast cancer.”

Ok, so how does ample support feel like?

Citing a correlational study, Dr. Singson said 70 to 100% of women are “wearing the wrong size of bra.”

“The larger a woman’s breasts, the more likely she will be wearing bras that are too small, and conversely, the smaller a woman’s breasts, the more likely she will choose bras that are too big,” she added.

The discomfort brought by wearing an ill-fitting bra “has been found to prevent women from participating in physical activities such as sports or exercise and even cause some of these women to  seek a reduction in mammoplasty,” Dr. Singson said.

Or even to wear a bra at all!

A bra size has “two components: the band size, expressed as a number (ex. 32 and 34), and a cup size expressed as a letter (ex. A and B).”

According to a study, the band size is calculated through “measuring an individual’s under-bust chest circumference (UBCC) at the infra-mammary fold.”

Meanwhile, to get the right cup size, one should calculate the “over-bust chest circumference (OBCC) at the level of the fullest part of the breast.”

The study said “the difference between the OBCC and the band size dictates cup size” which means the “cup size is dependent on band size.”

So get fitted and measured — and stay relaxed while doing so.

Perhaps it would be helpful to look at sports bras and how to find them.

In a 2019 story, Dr. Ian Banzon, an athlete and a physician practicing medical and sports acupuncture, told GMA News Online that a right fitting sports bra shouldn’t restrict your movements. It should also be comfortable moving in. 

“If it’s too tight, it restricts breathing a bit or it gives me a bit of a tummy ache. If it’s too loose, you feel everything is just moving,” she added.

Now, if you’re going to wear a bra, make sure it’s the right fit. Because apart from being uncomfortable, ill-fitting bras are also associated with breast cancer.

Dr. Singson cited a systematic review and meta-analaysis on “brassiere wearing and breast cancer risk” which showed that among eight areas of brassier exposures that has been studied, “bra wearing for more than twelve hours, sleeping with a bra on, tightness of the bra, wearing an underwired type, and incorrect bra wearing were found to have a significant association with breast cancer.”

“Brassiere-wearing practice is undoubtedly a serious issue whose relation to breast cancer risk needs to be explored,” she added.

— LA, GMA News

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