What Happens When You Stop Wearing a Bra? We Asked Experts

A few things to consider before you free the girls.

Are you someone who finds comfort in sweatpants most of the time? Perhaps you're also one of the many women who have chosen to forgo wearing a bra at home. It makes a lot of sense. Who wants to be poked and prodded by underwire when they're wearing their coziest clothes and have nowhere to go?

But while ditching a bra might offer some temporary comfort, you probably haven't thought about the long-term effects of not wearing a bra. So what really happens to your breasts when you stop wearing a bra? Are there real side effects of going braless or concerns to consider for overall breast health?

Turns out, the answer is a little more complicated and conditional than a simple yes or no. We talked to a handful of bra and breast health experts, and the verdict on whether wearing a bra or not wearing is actually bad for your breasts (or for you) is still out. At the end of the day (or the beginning, in this case), whether you want to put on a bra is entirely up to you, but knowing all the potential risks and consequences, as well as some of the advantages, of going braless can help you make the best decision for you.

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What to Know About the Effects of Wearing—and Not Wearing—a Bra

Not wearing a bra might contribute to eventual breast sagging.

Since the dawn of time—OK, 1889—bras have been considered the best way to support your, erm, assets. 

“Breasts are composed of dense glandular tissue which is supported by ligaments—specifically, your Cooper’s ligaments—which anchor the breast to the chest wall,” explains Andrew J. Shapiro, MD, medical director of the Comprehensive Breast Center at Wellington Regional Medical Center. “As women age, the dense glandular tissue is replaced by fat and the suspensory ligaments can stretch out, contributing to sagging.” While there are many factors that contribute to sagging (a.k.a breast ptosis)—genetics, breast size, and gravity, to name a few—wearing a bra can help limit the stretching of your Cooper’s ligaments.

Ditching your bra once or twice will not cause long-term sagging, however, however years and years of going braless—especially if you are a C-cup or larger—can eventually catch up with you, according to Elisa Lawson, owner of the Women’s Health Boutique at Mercy’s Weinberg Center, a full-service center providing breast cancer patients with post-mastectomy garments, prosthesis, and swimwear.

“I've seen some very young women who are very saggy because all through their teenage years when they were full-breasted, they [didn’t wear] bras that really supported [them],” Lawson notes.

One study previously suggested that not wearing a bra could decrease sagging—but it's inconclusive.

A 15-year-long study, concluded and published in 2013, seemed to find that forgoing a bra could actually decrease any sagging. According to the study, the support of a bra can weaken the tissue surrounding the breasts, causing them to droop. "Medically, physiologically, anatomically—breasts gain no benefit from being denied gravity. On the contrary, they get saggier with a bra," the study's author, professor Jean-Denis Rouillon, MD, PhD, of Besançon Regional University Hospital Center, Besancon, France, had said in a radio interview.

However, a decade later, Jené Luciani Sena, bestselling author of The Bra Book, is calling the study “scientific clickbait.” 

“That study looked at a relatively small sampling of women and a short amount of time: It did not look at factors like whether one woman had breastfed and been pregnant,” she says. “While we have muscles beneath our breasts, our breasts themselves contain no muscles, therefore working out or resting them literally does nothing.”

Breasts will sag naturally due to gravity and age—two factors that are out of our control. But just know that leaving your bras and bralettes in their dresser drawer isn't the biggest or likeliest culprit behind natural breast sagging.

Not wearing an ultra-tight bra may help improve your circulation.

Though many experts emphasize the importance of wearing a supportive bra, there’s a difference between supportive and suffocating. In fact, the Montclair Breast Center noted that wearing a bra that’s too tight can cause circulation (and even cardiovascular) issues. While unhooking your underwire is often a moment of sweet relief after a long day, Lawson says that the itch to fling off your bra shouldn’t even happen in the first place.

“A bra should not be uncomfortable, and if it's uncomfortable, it probably isn't fitting properly,” Lawson says. Speaking of comfort, you’ll also want to pick out your bra based on what you’re doing. (After all, that wireless, barely-there bralette won’t do you any favors during a grueling HIIT class.)

“The minute you become more active, you need to support your breast, which is why a sports bra is a different style of bra and has a compression fit,” Lawson explains. “You don't need that kind of a bra on for everyday activities.”

But not wearing a bra might also strain your back.

Of course, a bra can impact more than your breasts. Not having a bra's support can put a strain on your back and wreak havoc on your posture. If you're going on a walk or working out, you might want to strap on a bra. (Your back will thank you!) Lawson adds that not wearing the right bra can also do a number on your back.

“If the bra isn't fitting you properly across the front—if the band isn’t snug enough—all the weight of your breast is falling on your shoulder straps,” she explains.  “And that is continually going to keep pounding into your shoulder, which will eventually [irritate] your back.”

If wearing a formal, wired bra is out of the question, you can still find a happy medium with a sports bra or bralette. If you do want to invest in a few sports bras, consider looking into styles with an adjustable closure. That way, you can help create a fit that's supportive, not constricting.

The Bottom Line

So, the million-dollar question: What happens when you don't wear a bra? Ultimately, according Dr. Shapiro, there are no known health risks associated with not wearing a bra. “There is no ‘wrong’ answer,” Dr. Shapiro says. “If you find that you’re the kind of person who’s comfortable and confident without a bra, that’s fine.”

He does confirm, however, that some women—especially those with a larger bust—often experience physical symptoms such as back and neck pain due to the weight of the breasts, which can be alleviated by wearing a bra. While you don't need to worry that your breasts will sag and age 30 years overnight if you do go braless, it's worth giving bras some credit for offering the support you need to look perkier for longer and help keep you free of aches and pains.

The key, however, is to wear a bra that’s supportive and comfortable. After all, very few things can cramp your style like wearing a rigid, constricting bra. "A good bra needs to have good support to be comfortable," says Dora Lau, founder of DLI, a company that develops bras for global brands. "The support is in the band and wings, not the shoulder straps."

The band should be snug and comfortable. If you’re a size C or larger, Lau recommends going up a cup size and down a band size to find your perfect, comfortable bra size. Learn how to measure bra size to get a bra that actually fits, and then check the best places to buy bras to find your favorite new style.

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