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What Is the Purpose of a Bra? Is It Necessary to Wear?

Maina Ndung'u is a fashion enthusiast and has been a fashion consultant and blogger since February 2015.

It's time we take an objective look at this so-called necessity.

It's time we take an objective look at this so-called necessity.

Most women around the world think they need to wear a bra, but do they? What are the advantages of wearing a bra? Although there is nothing wrong with either wearing or not wearing a bra, there are many factors to consider before making a decision.

Why Do Breasts Need Support?

Breasts contain mainly fat, glands, connective tissue and fluids. These contents are supported against gravity by tissues and the skin that covers them. When you’re sitting or standing, there is much strain on these elements. As you walk or exercise, the tissues inside the breast may experience tiny injuries, causing pain and discomfort. The weight of a large bust may be too much for the chest to support comfortably.

What Is the Purpose of a Bra?

The whole point of wearing a bra is to redistribute some or all of the weight of your bust onto the shoulders and waist area. When a bra is properly fitted, about 80% of this weight is carried by the band, and the remainder by the shoulders.

When a bra fits poorly, most of the weight is on the shoulders. This might cause headaches, or pain in the shoulders and neck.

9 Reasons to Wear a Bra

Women and girls wear bras for a variety of reasons. Below are some things bras do.

  1. Hide nipples
  2. Delay (but not prevent) sagging
  3. Prevent bouncing of breasts, and thus avoid pain and discomfort
  4. Make some clothes look better
  5. Help show cleavage
  6. Control sweating under the bust
  7. Enhance beauty
  8. Prevent backache and spine issues in busty women
  9. Act as underwear (adding insulation and reducing friction) for the upper part of a woman’s body

What Happens If You Don’t Wear a Bra?

Not wearing a bra is not bad, per se. Some women are bra-free at home. But if you don’t wear a bra in public places, though you might feel delightfully free, the following issues may occur:

  • You may feel the need cross your arms over your chest.
  • You sweat under the bust.
  • You may become more self-conscious about your bust, which may affect your concentration.
  • You might notice other people's breasts and bras more than usual.
  • You sometimes feel pain in the chest.
  • Depending on your bust size, you may experience discomfort as you walk.
  • You may get in the habit of wearing layered, dressy clothes, or opt for those with attached support.
  • At work, other people might start seeing you not as professionally dressed.
  • When you go to social gatherings, other guests might treat you as unfashionable and backward.
  • Some people might see you as sexually provocative.
  • Some fashion outfits won’t fit you and you may have to abandon some of your clothes.
  • Showing your cleavage might be more difficult.
  • You might have the inclination to wear baggy clothes.
  • If you have a huge bust, your posture might change as you lean back to balance yourself.
  • You experience a sense of freedom.
  • Some things you used to do, like climbing up and down the stairs, might become uncomfortable.

When Should You Start Wearing a Bra?

Most girls start developing their chests when they are 10 or 11 years of age. Some start as early as 8, while others may start developing as late as 15 years old. So, age has little to do with when you need your first bra.

Some designers have manufactured bras for girls as young as four years. But do girls that young really require a bra? What makes a girl know that she’s ready for her first bra? Below are indications that you, or your little one, may need a bra:

  • Your chest is no longer flat.
  • The outline of your bust starts to show under your tops.
  • You become self-conscious when others look at your chest.
  • You can feel your bust bouncing as you walk.
  • You change your posture and lean forward to try to hide your growing bust (which might lead to long-term posture issues).

When Should You Start Wearing Supportive Bras?

When small girls start wearing bras, they normally wear the camisole or padded varieties. Since their chests are too small to need support, they wear a bra simply to feel good and grown up. But how do you know that your bust has reached the point of needing to be supported?

You may say it’s when the breasts start sagging. But to what degree to do they have to sag? Is it one millimeter or three inches? One specialist came up with the most widely accepted method, called the "pencil test." He argued that if the breasts can’t hold a pencil placed under them, they don’t need any support as yet.

My own opinion is that if it won’t hurt to wear a bra, then there's no harm in wearing one early. But, a bra on a flat chest does not make any sense.

Is It Necessary to Wear a Bra During Pregnancy?

Wearing a bra while pregnant is not harmful. It's not mandatory either, but there are some reasons why a woman might want to wear one.

5 Reasons to Wear a Bra When Pregnant

  1. Your bust might grow more sensitive in pregnancy and feel uncomfortable against outer clothing.
  2. As the pregnancy progresses, your bust may become bigger, heavier and softer in an unpredictable manner.
  3. Breasts may become painful if no bra is worn.
  4. When labor nears, you may start leaking some milk.
  5. Women who don’t wear bras in pregnancy sometimes find it hard to wear them after childbirth.

Best Bras to Wear While Pregnant

During the first two or three months of pregnancy, your bra size doesn't change much. This means you can put on your normal bra. However, a bra on the roomier side is a good idea as you might not notice your bust becoming bigger. Underwire bras can be particularly uncomfortable with the increased tenderness and sensitivity.

The perfect bras during pregnancy are:

  • Support vest tops
  • Maternity bras
  • Sports bras
  • Nursing bras

Expectant mothers should take a bra measurement at about 10–12 weeks, and then at 2–3 months before delivery. A maternity bra is ideal in pregnancy as it has more adjustments at the back of the band, wider straps, soft cotton lining inside the cups, and it also extends 1–2 cup sizes. If you really want an underwire bra, flexible wire maternity bras are available. They should not be worn to bed, however, as the wires may put unnecessary pressure on your chest, thereby causing pain.

During the last few months of pregnancy, some women may choose to use nursing bras. This is a good move, as the bras will still be useful even after giving birth. They also give confidence to those who are worried about colostrum leakage.

During this period, nursing pads can also help. They are used inside the cups and can be re-usable or disposable. Bra extenders are available for those whose cups still fit but whose band size has grown. If you can't find your bra size in your area, you can always look for outlets that take orders, or buy online.

Under whatever circumstances, wearing a bra will not stop sagging or floppiness. What type of bra you wear, how long you wear it, and when you go without it depend on your own specific needs. Because a bra is not a medical necessity, listening to your body is the key to feeling comfortable. If you don’t feel like wearing one, you don't need to; but if you feel like you need to wear it, it will probably ease some pain or distress. Whether you wear one or not is solely up to you.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: What bra is best for a small breasted woman?

Answer: You can try a bralette or a padded push-up bra.

© 2014 Maina Ndungu


Marcy on July 07, 2020:

Let me make it a little more what I meant. I was already wearing a 38 size bra when I was 8 and 44 size bra at age 10.

Marcy on May 19, 2020:

I notice that some of those young girls ask if it's too early for them to wear bras because they're under thirteen when they have larger than thirty size busts. They be wearing bras. I had a fourth size at age ten.

Maina Ndungu (author) from Thika, Kenya on February 12, 2020:

You're correct Trudy Lu.

According to experts, wearing a bra may prevent stretch marks but not sagging

Trudy Lu on February 12, 2020:

I've had 2 reconstructive surgeons tell me that wearing a bra does not prevent sagging in any way, shape, nor form. I'll wear one to church for modesty but that's about it. I wear a 34DD and am a size 2-4. Wearing a bra just makes them appear too large. Yes, they're fake. The real ones tried to kill me

Anonymous on July 19, 2018:

Alot of the reasons for not wareing in a bra sound like an option an based on social norms. In my experience not wearing a bra is easier on my back and shoulders where when I do wear a bra it is painful. I am also big breasted if that counts for any thing but I go with out a bra because I prefer comfort over social norms.

WitchyD on July 14, 2018:

If you're larger than a B cup, yes, in public you do!

But my bra comes out through my sleeve as soon as I get home in the evening and they can be free! (Feels so good too honestly!)

Stalin Matthews on May 01, 2018:

Bra is a very good and sexy undergarment. It supports women's breasts and feel comfortable.

Tatsu on December 18, 2017:

I agree with Nelle. Also my breasts hurt MORE when I wear a bra during pregnancy, and I have never felt the need to cross my arms in front of my chest. I actually feel more confident! And I've never experienced negative reactions or comments at work.

Nelle on September 24, 2017:

You address that there is nothing wrong to choose whether to wear a bra or not, but in your "reasons" why some people choose to not wear a bra, it seems like you're shaming and focusing on the negatives. For example, when you list why to wear one, it says to "enhance beauty" and on the list to not wear it talks about feeling ashamed and people staring :/

Sacarlet on September 24, 2017:

I'm going to be 11 in a couple of days, my chest size is around 33 do I need to wear a bra?

banana on April 02, 2017:

I was just wondering about the pencil test, do you have to the pencil above or under your breasts?

tanu on March 01, 2017:

i am still 12 years old my chest size is only 28 do i need to wear bra ? of which size?

Pam on January 05, 2017:

I'm 15 year old.I'm not still using a bra.but I used to wear simple slips.l used to be naked while sleeping.l've checked by breast size and found it's 33c.Do I've to wear a bra???

mkm on August 08, 2016:

hi, I never wore a bra

I feel better without them, and I think this Science is right to say that for younger women, doing this would lead to increased collagen production

there is one problem, parents say that my chest is bigger that it has to be since mother's a flat and sister has a bra to make her chest smaller.

they told me but I didn't wear bra so my mother got angry and things happened

hadiyaa on June 05, 2016:

mine is so nw16...i need a bigger one ......

Maina Ndungu (author) from Thika, Kenya on December 25, 2014:

Indeed Peachpurple,

One major reason that women and even girls wear bras is to create the illusion of a normal chest. In other cases, a woman may not go out without a minimizer bra if she has the notion that her bust is too big.

peachy from Home Sweet Home on December 25, 2014:

asians women do wear bra compare to western women because our small frame build and flat chest