The bra has been around since 2500 BCE – when Minoan women wore bra-like garments to lift bare breasts out of their clothing. So why, oh why do so many women struggle to find a bra that fits? It is an even bigger problem when breast surgery is involved.
Post surgery bra
This is a bra worn for a short time when recovering from surgery. It is a tight-fitting compression garment that helps to reduce swelling, promote blood circulation, and prevent discomfort or pain caused by movement. Before surgery ask your surgeon if such a bra is needed and whether they can recommend a fitment expert in your area.
This specialised bra has pockets on the inside of the cups into which breast prostheses can be inserted. They are ideal for women who have not yet had reconstructive surgery or have chosen not to have reconstructive surgery.
Prosthesis Pockets: although it is possible to use a breast prosthesis with ordinary bras, a mastectomy bra is designed to hold the prosthesis securely, giving you more confidence, as it cannot be dislodged – no matter how active you are.
Mastectomy bras don’t have to be dull and boring. Although beige, white and black tend to be the colours of choice, there are a variety of colours and laces now available.
When Can I go for a Bra Fitting?
The mastectomy will leave you tired, sore, swollen and bruised. You may also leave the hospital with a drain. Go for a fitting after the drain and stitches have been removed and most of the swelling has subsided – at least 10 days after you leave the hospital. Remember it is important for you to feel comfortable with your bra, so you might want to go for a fitting after a few weeks, when you have fully recovered.
What Can I Expect During a Bra Fitting?
It takes time to fit a bra correctly, at least an hour, and certainly not less than 30 minutes. You should feel comfortable with the person assisting you as well as the environment in which the fitting takes place. Most specialised suppliers work from private studios and by appointment only. They ensure undivided attention, away from the hustle and bustle of the mall and offer a choice of styles.
Be absolutely sure that the bra you choose is the correct style and size before you leave with it. For reasons of hygiene underwear is non-returnable and non-exchangeable.
What Should I Look for When Fitting a Bra?
• Clip the hooks into the middle row of eyes. This will provide some space on days that you feel a bit bloated. The tighter hooks can be used if the bra stretches slightly, if you lose weight or when post-surgery swelling subsides.
• The band around your chest should sit firmly, yet comfortably. You should be able to slide your finger under the band but it should not pull more than two or three cms away from your body.
• When fitting the cups for a single mastectomy the bra should cover your other breast completely. When inserting the prosthesis the cups should look more or less symmetrical. Keep in mind that natural breasts also differ in shape and size.
• Mastectomy bras are usually cut a bit higher under the arm to ensure that scars are covered and sensitive skin is firmly – but comfortably – held.
Mastectomy bras are often more bra than you are used to. Do not reject a bra purely because you don’t like the look of it. The proof is in the fit – and trying on is free!
• Underwires should never dig into your breasts nor be uncomfortable in any way. If they do, try a different size or style.
• If your breasts bulge out over or under the cup or at the under arm, select a bigger cup size.
• The centre gore (middle) of the bra should be flat against your body.
• Your nipples should be level with the middle of your upper arm (from shoulder to elbow and line up with the seams in the cup.
• To test that the bra will remain in place try these moves: bend over forward, stand up and twist your shoulders left and right, stay upright and (if possible) lift your arms above your head, if that is not yet possible for you then try shrugging your shoulders up and down. If the bra rides up at any time select a smaller size.
When fitting a bra be sure to look at yourself fully dressed, with a top or dress that you would normally wear.
• Nobody but you will be staring at your breasts to see if they are the same size and shape. Friends and family won’t stare because they know you have had surgery, others will be oblivious. Most women who have a fitting after a mastectomy claim that the better fitting bra makes their breasts look better than before surgery, and remember, a bra that fits well will ensure better posture.
Wire or no Wire?
Many words have been written on the so-called evils of wearing an underwire bra. None have stood the test of time. Wearing an underwire or a soft cup (a bra without underwire) is a personal choice. Wires help to separate the bosom, forming a cup in which the breast can lie comfortably. They nudge the breasts forward, holding them where they should be – in front of your body. An underwire bra will give you a better shape… but take care that it never pokes into your flesh.
Never go for price! Go for perfect fit, shape and comfort. Bra prices vary between R400 and R900. Some medical aid schemes cover the cost of two bras every two years so check with your medical aid and your supplier before committing to a purchase.
Caring for Your Bras
Your bra will be close to your body the whole day so keep it free from the main causes of irritation: dust, dirt and perspiration.
When it comes to laundering:
• Fasten hooks before washing to prevent snagging and damage
• Hand wash is best – particularly for underwire bras. If machine washing: put the undergarment/s into a washing bag and use the delicate cycle
• Use only a small amount of mild detergent. Strong detergents damage the bra and may result in skin irritation
• Fabric softeners should be avoided as they may damage elastic
• After washing, padded bras should be stored flat – folding them inverts the cups
• Dry indoors rather than in direct sunlight
• Do not tumble dry!
Ladies who have had a double mastectomy are more likely to be happy with a soft cup bra.
Written by Tanya Combrink