Choosing the perfect bra after breast surgery: What you should know

Life offers many rites of passage. We engage in some enthusiastically, others begrudgingly. But in every case, these moments present opportunities to expand our perspective and write the next chapter of our story.

Most women remember fondly the experience of wearing a bra for the first time. For many girls, it symbolizes stepping across the line from childhood to womanhood. For women who have undergone a lumpectomy or mastectomy, the task of finding a new bra for their new body is understandably intimidating.

But there is great news in the bra industry for all women, including those who have undergone breast surgery.

With the help of advanced technology, product engineers are creating designs that support the unique biomechanical functions of women’s bodies. Boutiques and major retailers are recognizing that breasts come in all shapes and sizes, and two unique breasts are possible on the same chest.

Many offer expert assistance in helping women find bras that actually fit their bodies and lifestyles.

Finding a bra will always be a personal experience. Doing so after breast surgery may be more specialized, but with preparation and self-advocacy, it can be a powerful tool in your physical and mental healing process as you write this part of your story.

  1. What you should expect physically after breast cancer surgery
  2. Buying a bra is an art, not a science
  3. Don’t take “no” for an answer
  4. What you should look for in a bra after breast cancer surgery
  5. How to find a well-fitting bra after breast cancer surgery
  6. Determining your bra size
  7. Additional resources

Survivors, designers, bloggers, health practitioners, and business owners are here to have your back – and front! Let’s get started.

What you should expect physically after breast cancer surgery

Physical changes

The best source of information for what to expect physically, post-surgery, is your medical team. They are the experts regarding your surgery and treatment plan. The following is a list of items to discuss to prepare you for the physical changes you may experience:

  • Numbness
    • Following a mastectomy, you will experience numbness across or in certain areas of your chest that will most likely remain permanently
  • Swelling in your underarms
    • Occurs when cancer has spread to the lymph nodes
  • Change in shape and size
    • The cancer or a lumpectomy will transform the shape and size of the breast which may result in asymmetry
  • Post-Surgical Drains
    • Usually required following a mastectomy or reconstructive surgery, drains are put in place to remove the fluid that collects during healing

Mental changes

Before even starting the process of looking for a new bra, it’s vital that you take the time to properly process the changes that have occurred to you physically and prepare yourself for all the lifestyle changes the surgery warrants.

In this time, support groups and therapists are beneficial. Receiving counseling and validation of your experience from trained professionals will help you navigate the months and years ahead. Be patient with yourself as you:

  • Let go of many of your former bras
  • Have your sense of style, aesthetic and femininity challenged
  • Find that your clothes fit differently
  • Work to accept your scars
  • Manage breast asymmetry

Grant yourself the permission to approach the task of buying a bra in a way that you never have before – as a priority and not a chore.

Embracing the changing landscape of your body is self-care and exactly what you need and deserve; now and always.

Buying a bra is an art, not a science

Perhaps you’ve heard this statement before: 80% of women are wearing the wrong size bra. While this statistic oversimplifies the problem, it contains a partial truth.

In the world of fashion, bra sizing can seem nonstandard and nebulous, differing across brands and styles within them.

This being the case, there’s a certain level of personal preference and discovery that goes into buying a bra. What works for one woman following breast cancer surgery may not necessarily be right for you. So be willing to be patient and take the time to find the garment that best suits you.

Don’t take “no” for an answer

Lingerie is a $56 billion industry worldwide. Consumers are driving the market toward designs that suit active lifestyles and away from the restrictive, heavily wired, and padded bras of decades past.

Women are letting manufacturers know that a bra is much more than an aesthetic fashion statement. Younger generations are demanding that lingerie companies demonstrate more inclusivity, less sexualization, and better fit and function.

Retailers are stocking sports bras, bralettes, and camisoles. Bralettes alone have experienced 123% growth in sales since 2016. Once considered boring, nude shades are becoming best sellers.

During 2018, sales of nude bras increased 101%, prompting designers to develop comprehensive lines of nude bras for every skin tone. TechStyle Fashion Group is partnering with Rihanna and Fenty Beauty to replicate their 40 shades of make-up foundations into coordinating bra fabrics.

The world wide web and its ability to crystalize a zeitgeist across cultures is exerting the necessary pressure to let manufacturers know that a woman’s bra is much more than an aesthetic fashion statement. It’s creating access for consumers in every corner of the world and spurring competition for a market of underserved women. Younger generations are demanding that lingerie companies demonstrate more inclusivity, less sexualization, and better fit and function.

Breast cancer survivors are expecting that this necessary garment is able to meet their post-surgery needs, as well as their desires to return to their daily personal and professional activities while defining their individual femininity.

What you should look for in a bra after breast cancer surgery

The major components of bra construction for accommodating your breasts post-surgery include:

  1. Band – Band fit is of the utmost importance, as it holds your bra in place. Your bra band should wrap around your chest and run parallel to the floor. If the band rides up as you shift positions, it may be too big. If it is compressing your chest uncomfortably, it’s probably too small. Wide bands with strong elasticity work best, and bands with Velcro customize the fit throughout your recovery.
  2. Cups – The cup shape of the bra you choose should fit your breast comfortably. Initially fit the cup to your larger size breast. If the sides are pinched, or there is spillage, the cup is too small. If your breast is not filling out the cup, it is too large. Prosthetics or alterations will be made to create a balanced silhouette.
  3. Pocketing – Companies specializing in post-surgery bras include pockets for your prosthesis. If you choose to buy bras from mainstream marketers, pockets can be added by a local tailor.
  4. Straps -Wide, adjustable straps via sliders or will be the most comfortable. Once again, be sure nothing is cutting into your shoulders or skin.
  5. Closures and wires – In general, avoid all wires in your post-surgery bra. Due to the numbness, you will not be able to tell if the wire is cutting into you or your scars. Front closures are recommended at first to make the bra easier to put on and take off. Special consideration must be made regarding closures and design if drainage tubes are in place.
  6. Fabrics – Choose soft, luxurious fabrics that feel like a second skin.
  7. General Fit and Feel – your new bras should be the most comfortable you have ever owned. A good litmus test: do you want to sleep in your bra? When the answer is, “Yes,” you have found your new bra.

How to find a well-fitting bra after breast cancer surgery

Immediately after surgery

During recovery, your surgeon will likely provide you with a temporary bra that serves to keep pressure on the surgical site in order to promote healing. Depending on your surgery, there may also be pockets and rings included to support surgical drains.

Your doctor will tell you how long you need to wear this bra. According to breast cancer survivors, this is usually about eight weeks or so.

The reason doctors recommend that you wait eight weeks before purchasing a new bra is that it’s very likely that, post-surgery, your breasts will change sizes, sometimes even on a daily basis. Therefore, it’s wise to wait until your body has healed initially before you buy.

Once you’re cleared by your doctor, you can begin wearing bras that are more comfortable and better suited to your needs. It’s important to remember that your chest will likely be sensitive in the weeks and months after surgery, so it’s critical to find a bra that is comfortable to wear, but also gives support to the surgical site.

Determining your bra size

In-person fitting

An in-person, professional fitting is ideal. There are custom lingerie fitters who can work with you throughout your recovery and healing. A personal relationship can simplify the process as your breasts continue to take shape.

To find a boutique in your area, you can ask your medical team or support group for a referral or search online for lingerie boutiques that specialize in breast cancer services.

Some major retailers also offer comprehensive services for post-surgery clients. Look for a department store or source with specially trained fitting personnel for:

  • Breast forms for lumpectomies, mastectomies and reconstructive breast surgery
  • Post-surgery camisoles and bras
  • Attachment of pocketing on any bras

Online fitting tools for your general bra size

If boutiques and brick and mortar retailers are geographically or cost prohibitive, there is no shortage of online fitting tools and calculators.

Our favorite is a tool called My Bra Size Calculator, which considers much more than the standard measurements in order to provide an accurate fit. We love the European method of sizing, and easy conversion charts are available once you have calculated your true size.

Additional Resources

As you’re searching for the perfect bra, here are some forums and blogs that we found useful that can help guide you through the buying process:

Cora Harrington is the author of “In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear, and Love Lingerie” and editor of the Lingerie Addict. She recommends reading reviews on blogs or forums because real women write them without a marketing agenda. has a very active forum full of women who have been through or are going through breast cancer treatment. Topics and discussions vary widely, including some valuable conversations about bras.

The blog What Bra Sizes Look Like has photos and comments from real women, including the size and brand of the bra.

Last-Minute Thoughts

Whether you shop in person or online, finding the right bra will be a process of trial and error. Be sure to know your retailer’s specific return policy, so you are never stuck with a bra that does not fit you perfectly.

Be patient, do your research, and in due time you will find a garment that leaves you feeling comfortable, confident, and beautiful throughout your journey to recovery and for years beyond.

Breast cancer is only a part of your story.

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