Hello my Zebras and Spoonies! Thanks for coming and hanging out with me today, I’m glad that you are here. Today, I’m going to be talking about bras. If you aren’t among the bra wearing folk, feel free to take a stroll or you can pull up a chair and get a better idea what goes on with other folks’ clothes. The thing is that bras are notorious for causing problems and those of us with chronic illness are often more prone to having those issues. So, let’s talk about some of the problems that bras cause and what you can do about it.
WARNING: This post is going to be talking about undergarments, breasts and the ways those things can make us feel.
The first thing that I have to say about bras is that no one should ever feel that they are required to wear one. If they are not serving you, don’t use them. However, if you feel that they offer you physical support or emotional armor or a comfortable sense of modesty or make you feel sexy, then by all means put one on. But please make sure that they are serving a purpose for you and that you aren’t feeling obligated to wear one just because society expects it of you. We’re being told way too often how we should dress when most of the time it just isn’t anyone else’s business!
There are many alternatives to wearing bras if you feel that you want to wear something under your shirts, but would rather it not be a bra. You can go with nothing under your shirt and that’s completely fine, but if you’re looking for other options: I got you.
You can go with the simple under shirt or camisole. They will provide you with an additional layer that will increase coverage. These are a great option if you are looking for an increased sense of modesty. They are not a good option for providing support. There are many of these that claim to have built in bras and built in breast support, but they are lying. This type of garment is simply not going to be able to support the weight of your breasts. This is especially true if they are made of stretchy fabrics. Many camisoles are a good option if you are looking for something to help you feel sexy. Many are made of satins and have really nice lace trims. But they also come in the plain cotton style if you are not looking for a sexy garment.
If you are looking for support, but hate bras, you might want to consider trying a corset. Hear me out! Corsets and bras are both designed to bear the weight of your breasts but these garments are built in very different ways. Finding that one is uncomfortable doesn’t mean that the other one will be. A bra primarily supports the weight of the breasts with the band which shifts some of the weight bearing to your ribs rather the shoulder and upper back. A corset bears the weight of the breasts with boning which shifts most of the weight bearing to your hips. Having the weight of your breasts being carried on your hips versus your ribs might be more comfortable for you. It’s worth consideration.
Another option for support is a compression garment. In the fashion world, these are usually referred to as shapewear. Sometimes they are misleadingly called shaper bras. These garments are made from compression fabrics that are going to compress your breasts against your chest to give a mild amount of support. They are not going to give you lift or rounding of your breasts. But they will keep you breasts from being as mobile while you are moving about. The down side to these is that they are often difficult to put on. Additionally, they are compression garments. By definition that means that they are putting pressure onto your skin. These are not a good option for those with fragile skin or those with decreased sensation.
The Chest Binder
The other type of compression top that you may want to consider is the chest binder. These are compression garments that are designed to flatten and compress the breast tissue. These are most often used by individuals looking for a flatter chest appearance. However, they also offer the advantage of a lot of support. These garments are different than shaper tops because they apply pressure in different locations. Shapewear will have the most compression on the stomach and under sides of the breasts with the goal of increasing the appearance of an hour glass figure. A chest binder will have the most compression across the fullest part of the breast which will reduce the appearance of the breast’s size. Again, compression garments are not a good option for those with fragile skin or those with decreased sensation. If you are interested in a chest binder, I recommend that you go over to Fytist and read their Binding 101 page.
Bralettes are often classified as bras, but they are not really the same type of garment. These garments are not going to provide support. They are not built for that. They will provide you with additional coverage if you are looking for something to help with modesty. They are also a great option if you are looking for something to help you feel sexy. They are often made with the same fabrics and laces as bras which can give them a similar sexy look.
There is also the option of using nipple covers. These are usually marketed as a nursing product. These won’t offer any support, but they will help with modesty since they will keep your nipples from showing through. There are many options on the market, but generally speaking I would recommend using one of the silicone products. The silicone ones are more likely to stay put without needing adhesives which can be irritating to the skin. They are also very easy to clean. They are just a quick rinse and good to go. The downside to the silicone is that they are not going to absorb any moisture. LilyPadz makes a good silicone nipple cover. If you have a problem with moisture, you may need one of the fabric covers with adhesives. However, they do make fabric nipple covers that adhere to your shirt rather then your skin. Minism is one of the best fabric nipple covers out there.
There is also the option of adhesive bras. These are really not bras and are not going to provide much support. Depending on the design, some can provide a small amount of lift. But mostly, these are just over sized nipple covers. While they are an option, this isn’t one that I personally recommend to anyone. They are especially bad for those with large breasts or skin issues. If you are going to try this kind of product, I’d recommend avoiding the style that has separated cups that you scoop the breast up with (like this one). They shift all the weight of your breast to your skin putting you at a high risk for a shearing skin injury.
Get the Right Bra
The single most important thing that you can do to prevent your bra causing you problems is to be sure that you are wearing a bra that properly fits you. I’m not going to go into all the details about how to figure out how to tell if your bra is properly fitting you or not, because there is already an excellent resource out there to help you with this. Go over to Her Room’s The Fitting Room to get more information on how to find a bra that fits you the way that it should. Having the right fit really is the starting point because making sure your bra fits often resolves many other issues that you’re having with your bra.
Managing Pain with a Bra
Having a chronic illness all too often means having chronic pain. If your bra fits you properly, it will not be the CAUSE of your pain. However, it is completely possible for a bra to exacerbate pain that is being caused by your chronic illness. The first option to address this problem is to not wear a bra. Consider one of the bra alternatives that I’ve already discussed. There are three areas that bras primarily exacerbate: shoulders, upper back and ribs.
If you find that your bra is increasing your shoulder pain and you’re sure that you have the right fitting bra, I recommend considering your shoulder straps. How your straps sit on your shoulders will have an impact on your body. Put on your bra and look at yourself in the mirror. Look at how your straps look on your shoulder and consider the following.
The straps should be firmly against your skin, but not pressing down into it. If your straps are creating a visible depression, they are bearing too much of your breasts’ weight. This could be that the straps are too tight. But it could also be a fitting issue. If you are having this problem consider trying a bra with a wider band. A long line bra style being the widest possible. The advantage to a long line bra is that they completely remove the weight bearing from the shoulders and many don’t even have straps.
Long line or bustier? Well, either will work but you don’t need a bustier to reduce the shoulder weight bearing. The difference between a long line and a bustier is that of waist shaping. A long line bra is one that the band extends over the rib cage and can be as low as the waist. Some have boning and some don’t. Those with boning will offer more support. A bustier is a full long line (one that goes to the waist) that also provides waist shaping with either compression or lacing. The waist shaping will have no effect on your shoulder pain.
The wider the strap is, the more it will distribute the weight and pressure across your shoulder rather then creating a focal point which is likely to increase pain.
Get a bra that has padded straps. This helps reduce the pressure that the strap is applying to the skin of your shoulder. When your skin on your shoulder is being pressed and sheared downward it creates mirco injuries to the underlying structures that can cause pain. Additionally, this can lead to a tightening of your shoulder muscles in an effort to compensate for the sensation of pressure you’re feeling on your shoulders.
You can also purchase bra strap or shoulder pads. There is a surprisingly diverse amount of options out there to add padding to your bra straps. There are ones that slide over the strap. You can get them made from either silicone or fabric. There are ones meant for protecting a port, that could be used up on the shoulder. There are shoulder pads that are made from silicone or ones that are fabric. And if none of those work for you, there are a whole bunch that are intended for bag straps that you could try.
You can also try a racer back bra. This changes the way that the bra strap lays over the shoulder. A racer back is when the bra straps connect to each other before connecting to the bra’s band. This makes it so the line of the strap follows the line of your trapezius muscle which often makes it more comfortable for that muscle to bear weight. If your bra isn’t a racer back, you can use a racer back bra clip to bring the straps of your bra together.
So, here’s the list of things to try for reducing shoulder pain:
- Not wearing a bra
- Long line or bustier
- Wide straps
- Padded straps
- Strap or shoulder padding
- Racer Back
- Racer Clips
Upper Back Pain
If you are having increased upper back pain while wearing a properly fitting bra you can try all the same adjustments as will help with shoulder pain. The additional thing to consider is trying a corset rather then a bra. A corset will shift all of the weight bearing of your breasts off your upper body and onto your hips. This can go a long way to alleviating pain. It is a very supportive garment that can also help with a hypermobile spine.
The largest down side to a corset is that they are going to restrict your movement until you get used to them. They are made from heavy, stiff fabrics that don’t have any stretch. This fabric is not going to move with you which is why the garment is going to provide so much support. But most people are use to wearing loose fitting clothing made from stretchy fabrics. Thus, a corset will be a big change to get used to. However, it can provide support similar to a clam shell brace. The thing to keep in mind is that the more bracing (support) that you have, the more the garment will restrict your movement.
If you’re having increased rib pain while wearing a properly fitting bra you can try all the things that help with shoulder and upper back pain as they also tend to help with rib pain. But you might also want to consider trying a compression garment. Either shapewear or a chest binder would be options. A chest binder would likely support all but your floating ribs while shape wear is likely to be the reverse. Thus, it would depend on which ribs were causing you trouble as to which would provide the best support.
Compression on the ribs is a well researched way to relieve rib pain. There are numerous styles of rib belts out there that you could also try. There are those that are designed to provide compression beneath the bust line. These will provide similar compression to the shape wear. There are also those that provide compression above the breasts. A Chest binder would provide similar support. When you where a rib belt, they will offer no breast support. Thus when wearing a rib belt, you’d still need to wear a bra if you desired to have breast support. The advantage to wearing compression garments is that you will get some breast support while getting rib support. This may allow you to tolerate removing your bra which has been increasing your pain.
Skin Breakdown Beneath the Breast
The other major problem that wearing a bra can exacerbate is having skin break down beneath your breast. The nature of a bra has several factors that contribute to skin break down. Even a properly fitting bra can cause skin breakdown beneath the breast. However, if your bra fits properly it will reduce the likelihood of this problem occurring. The two factors that a bra exacerbates is pressure and moisture. These are two major causes of skin breaking down.
The first thing that you want to do is complete a skin check after you have worn your bra all day long. A properly fitting bra should not leave any indentations or marks on your person when you’ve removed it. If your bra is leaving an impression of itself on your person it is too tight. Correcting this will go a long way to healing your skin.
There are bras that are designed to reduce the moisture beneath your breasts. These are going to be bras that are made with moisture wicking fabrics or ones that are designed to allow more air flow. Don’t assume that a padded bra will absorb moisture as most padding is not made to do this. Often times padded bras make moisture worse because they make your breasts warmer. Bras that lift and separate your breasts will allow more air to reach your skin and will reduce skin to skin contact; both of which will help reduce moisture.
You can try using a body powder. Avoid the use of a product that includes perfumes or dyes as they can make skin break down worse. If you want to make a great body powder at home you can do that by mixing 1 cup of corn starch with 1 teaspoon of baking soda. The corn starch will wick moisture while the baking soda will help manage any odors.
There are also bra liners that can help with moisture. The best ones are made from bamboo or cotton as they are less likely to cause skin irritation. They also provide the additional benefit of adding a small amount of padding between your bra band and wound. It can be painful to have your bra band pressing against skin that is open.
If these things don’t help or your skin break down is getting worse, you should go see your doctor to have your skin checked. It can often be difficult to tell the difference between a fungal infection and a moisture related skin injury. If there is a fungal infection, reducing the moisture is often enough to allow your body to fight the infection off. However, there are times that these infections require medications.
Phew! I got all long winded with this post today! Thanks for coming and spending some time with me. And thanks for staying through to the end. I hope that you all find peace and wellness. Until we talk again, you take care of yourselves!