Wearing old bras or wearing the wrong bra size leads to lack of adequate support and contributes to discomfort and breast tissue sag. Discomfort can often be dealt with but sag is permanent and only correctable with surgery such as a beast uplift, or if it is minor sag, a breast augmentation. Prevention or reduction in the cause of sag is better than surgery! After surgery to enlarge breasts, or even breast reduction surgery, wearing the correct bra size is even more important. Breast implants act as mini tissue expanders and will stretch tissue- without good support this is accelerated. Small changes in bra size and bra type affect comfort and given the variety of shapes of the female chest wall it is no surprise that there is no single way to get this right.
Breast Band and Breast Cup Measurement.
There are different methods to measure bra size and some are specific to one manufacturer and don’t give the same result if applied to another!
Correctly Measuring the Bra Band Size:
This method is one of the commonest in the UK and the one that I find to be the most reproducible: Measurements are taken with a soft tape measure and always measured in inches (or if in centimetres just divide it by 2.54). The band measurement is a full horizontal circumferential measurement directly under the breast in-line with the crease (the infra-mammary fold). Hold you arms loosely to the side as this measurement is being taken and breathe gently. Do not hold your breath with your lungs full as this will over estimate the band. And do not do very shallow breaths as you will later feel discomfort if the band is too small as a result. Take the tape measure across your back and under your arms keeping it exactly horizontal, as the measurement is taken at the front near the midline between your breasts at the lower edge of your breast bone. Round the number up if your measurement falls at the half inch point. Now add 4 to this number if your measurement was an even number. Add 5 to this number if was an odd number. This new number is you correct bra band measurement in inches.
Example: If you measure your under bust circumference as 28 inches, your correct bra band measurement is 32 (as this is an even number you just add 4 = 32). If your under bust circumference was 28.5 inches your correct bra band measurement would be 34 (as you would round 28.5 to 29, then as this is an odd number you would add 5 = 34).
Correctly measuring the Bra Cup Size:
You will usually always need to wear a thin non-padded bra if you are any bigger than an A cup or have any breast redundancy (saggy tissue). To determine Bra Cup Size you first need to measure your ‘Breast Size’ at the fullest point around the circumference of your chest directly across the front of the breast cups. This measurement is taken with similar consideration to normal breathing. Start with the tape around your back at the same band level and now measure at the fullest part of your breast which will usually be across the line of the nipples at the front. The tape should be snug against the breast, but not in any way compressing the breast to alter the breast shape at all. If the number in inches falls half way between two numbers always round it up. This Breast Size number (in inches) needs to be subtracted from your Bra Band Size, and then using the result to determine the cup size from this table:
Example: Breast Size measurement is 34 inches. Bra Band Size was 32 inches. 34-32 = 2 inches. In the chart, 2 inches corresponds to a ‘B’ cup size. You would therefore look to buy a 32B.
|Breast Size minus Band Size||Bra Cup Size|
|0 to 0.5″||AA cup|
|0.5″ to 1″||A cup|
|1″ to 2.5″||B cup|
|2.5″ to 3.5″||C cup|
|3.5″ to 4.5″||D cup|
|4.5″ to 6″||DD/E cup|
|6″ to 7″||DDD/F cup|
|7″ to 8″||G cup|
|8″ to 9″||GG cup|
|9″ to 10″||H cup|
|10″ to 11″||HH cup|
|11″ to 12″||J cup|
|12″ to 13″||JJ cup|
Checking The Fit of your Bra
Look in the mirror and see if the breasts look comfortable in the bra. If you have a gap in the cup usually at the upper front part of the breast, then your cup measurement is too big. If the breasts are excessively squeezed by too small a cup, they will be overly distorted and you are not going to feel comfortable for long. If your breast tissue is spilling over the cup your cup is clearly too small. The straps should be snug across the shoulders. If they are too loose you will be able to slide a finger too easily under the strap. If they are too tight you will soon get a groove mark in the skin. If your band is too tight you will feel discomfort and get a red line under the bust. On the whole if you are big busted you want the band to be more snug as this is the primary point of support of the breasts. When you remove the bra you should not have red lines across the breast where the seams in the cup have put too much pressure on the skin, or down the sides of the breast from under-wiring that is cutting in. If you wear a bra like this you will likely end up with breast pain. It is a sign that the cup measurement is too small. If you see deep groove marks and you don’t think your bra has been too tight you make have breast oedema or a more sinister problem, so get a breast check up with your doctor or specialist. If you have red skin or an orange peel appearance this should never be ignored.
What If One Breast Is Bigger Than The Other?
I quite commonly see women with different breasts. Volume differences are very common and most women are very confident about these differences. No one is perfect and remember it is quite normal to have some asymmetry. In some situations the differences between the breasts can be too significant. Where they are very obvious to a patient it will not only cause difficulties with bras but also affects confidence and self esteem. When I carry out breast surgery in the situation of marked breast asymmetry I often use a combination of specialist approaches derived from my experience as a reconstructive breast surgeon. This combined with my knowledge and expertise in aesthetic breast surgery is a very useful combination and it is an area of surgery that is challenging but very satisfying. I might use different implant sizes, lipomodelling, partial breast reduction and uplifts, circumareola techniques, and ADM use. Surgery for challenging cases needs to be staged over a more than one operation. This is most typical for severe tuberous breast deformity.
Where patients have breast asymmetry there are often a number of differences that I look for beyond just the volume. It takes an expert specialist to evaluate these and I believe that many doctors do not accurately assess these or even know what to look for. These are the differences that I most commonly assess:
- The level of the crease under each breast
- The distribution of breast tissue in the lower pole below the nipple
- The inner fold under the breast may be fuller and higher as it curves into the cleavage
- One breast may be truly at a different level on the thoracic wall than the other
- The nipple height and centrality may vary from right to left
- Nipples may deviate in our out
- The consistency of each breast can also vary being either more fatty or more glandular and fibrous
- The envelope of the best may be looser or tighter
- There may be more redundancy on one side compared to the other
- The rib cage can also be different on each side with prominence at the top or along the edge of the breast bone
- Some patients have a chest wall that is very protuberant and others that is sunken
- One rib cage area can be narrower than the other
- There may be an abnormality of the curvature of the spine when assessed from the back- a scoliosis in cases of asymmetry
Is it any wonder some women have trouble finding a comfortable bra? If you are worried about asymmetry or breast pain please consider a specialist consultation.
Not all can differences can be 100% corrected but often big improvements are possible. If they don’t need correcting by surgery, often seeing an experienced breast care nurse who is used to fitting prosthesis can be the answer. Corrections with small inserts are pretty amazing for most patients. Even specialist swim wear is available.
How Often Should You Wash A Bra?
Once you have found a good bra you need to look after it properly. I would usually recommend that a standard bra can be worn a couple of times before it needs to be washed. Wash it according to the manufacturers instructions. Ideally hand wash and air dry bras. If suitable use a non-biological powder and wash on delicate if you decide to machine wash. If you have sensitive skin or any history of eczema, it is best to do extra rinses and avoid fabric conditioners as these can irritate the nipple areola area.
When Should You Buy A New Bra?
If your body has changed due to weight gain or weight loss or due to cosmetic breast surgery get refitted. But if your old bra is looking worn or is on the tightest hooks or beginning to ride up your back it is well past the time to buy a replacement. In general I would advise 6-months is a reasonable time frame but if you are rotating 5 bras you will get longer. If you get pain in your breast consider a breast check up and don’t automatically blame the bra.