Samina Mustafa nurses her baby in a Karachi hospital room and looks at the lactation consultant in disbelief. The specialist has advised the new mother not to wear a bra while she is lactating. But Samina is not comfortable with that. She has been conditioned to wear a bra ever since she was a teen and recalls her mother’s warning that her breasts would sag if she didn’t wear one. Moreover, she is also concerned about her visibly enlarged breasts and the oozing milk.
On the other side of the spectrum are youngsters like Harshita Paul, a 23-year-old student from Goa who believes that patriarchal pressure and the need to ward off unwanted attention were the reasons for her mother’s warnings. She has joined the braless brigade with several celebrities like Miley Cyrus and Rihanna. “It’s my choice,” she reiterates.
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While acknowledging that defying patriarchy, craving freedom from the poking and prodding or choosing to support their breasts with a bra is entirely a woman’s choice, Happiest Health set out to explore the health implications of wearing or not wearing a bra.
Bra-zeal, a good idea?
Jean-Denis Rouillon, a sports doctor at the University of Besançon, France spent 15 years studying the breasts of 300 women aged between 18 and 35 years. Though the study was inconclusive, Rouillon pointed out during a radio program, that medically, physiologically and anatomically breasts gain no benefit from being denied gravity. They get saggier with a bra as the suspension system degenerates and blood circulation gets hampered.
Rama Mahajan, a lactation consultant at Cloudnine Hospital, Chandigarh, advises new mothers not to wear a bra during the initial lactation days. She speaks of a practice called the ‘kangaroo mother care’ where the baby is unclad and placed on the mother’s bare chest several times a day for the first three to four days of giving birth to enhance bonding and healing.
Wear a bra but the right one
Dr Pratibha Chakrawarti a Delhi-based physiotherapist gives us the other side of the story. She says, “The unsupported breasts, regardless of their size, pull the shoulder muscles forward due to their weight and tighten the chest muscles. This strains the back and the neck,” she says. But she points out that the bra must be the right size and type to avoid problems with movement in the upper back and lungs while also made of breathable material to avoid skin infections due to accumulated sweat.
Mahajan warns against tight and under-wired bras during lactation to avoid blocked milk ducts and mastitis (inflammation of the mammary gland in the breast due to infection). She suggests wearing a maternity bra to support the milk-heavy breasts and contain the oozing.
Busting another popular myth is Dr Uma Dangi, a medical oncologist from Fortis Hiranandani Hospital, Mumbai. She says that wearing unwashed bras can lead to skin infections but not breast cancer.
Bra: a must while working out?
Dr Chakrawarti warns against exercising without a bra. “While working out, breasts move a lot and not supporting them during the rigorous movement can damage their tissue, leading to breast and back pain,” she says.
Another reason she gives for wearing a bra while working out is to avoid tiredness. “The extra weight of the breasts without support can tire a person faster while exercising,” she points out. She insists on using a sports bra with broad shoulder straps and broad supportive bands on both sides to minimise the movement of the breasts.
- Not wearing a bra doesn’t make your breasts sag nor does it cause breast cancer. But it could lead to bad posture and body pain.
- Wearing the right size and type of bra made of breathable material is important.
- Tight/underwired bras should be avoided especially during lactation.
- Wearing a bra is a must while working out.