1. Should I wear a post-surgery bra?
2. What bras should I wear in the first year after breast surgery and beyond?
3. How can I find out my bra size after breast surgery?
4. Where can I buy suitable bras after breast surgery?
5. What is a bra pocket?
6. Will I have to pay for my bras after breast surgery?
1. Should I wear a post-surgery bra?
In the first year after breast surgery (such as a mastectomy or lumpectomy), it’s best to wear a bra that has:
- soft seams
- a wide underband (the band that goes under the cups and round your back)
- deep front and side panels
- full cups
- cup separation (the centre of the bra between the cups should sit flat on your chest)
- fully adjustable straps
- minimal detailing
- no underwires (the wires sewn in under each cup)
It may take up to a year for the area to recover from surgery, the nerves to repair and any skin changes from radiotherapy to settle down. The type of bra you need may also change because of weight and other treatment-related changes during this time.
It’s best to avoid wearing an underwired bra while the area recovers after surgery because the underwires can be uncomfortable.
Initially after breast surgery you may have swelling. Try to find a bra that fits on the loosest hook so it can be worn looser to begin with and then gradually tightened as the swelling goes down.
Where possible, choose bras that have a high cotton content. These will be gentler on your skin while it heals and will help you stay cooler if you’re experiencing hot flushes.
Bra strap cushions can make the straps more comfortable on your shoulder and help the bra stay in place. You can buy these from lingerie shops or online.
Once the skin in the chest area has healed and settled down, which may take up to a year, you can wear less restrictive bras. However, if you’re planning to wear a breast prosthesis they should still be well-fitting and have a full cup.
Our Your guide to a well-fitting bra leaflet includes illustrations and practical tips on how to make sure your bra fits comfortably and gives proper support.
You can also watch our video about choosing a suitable bra after surgery.
This video was made in collaboration with George at Asda.
Most specialist lingerie shops, and some high-street shops or department stores, have experienced bra fitters who will use a tape measure to give you your exact bra size. As your shape and size may change during and after treatment, it’s a good idea to have your bra size accurately measured before you buy any new bras.
An experienced bra fitter will often have specialist training and experience in helping women who have had or are going to have breast surgery. It might be useful to call ahead and make an appointment to ensure you can be seen by a trained fitter.
Any bra is suitable after breast surgery providing it is well-fitting and follows the points above. You can buy mastectomy bras from specialist suppliers that are specifically designed for women who have had their breast(s) removed. Mastectomy bras are also available from many high-street shops, which can often be a cheaper option.
A bra pocket is a fabric pocket sewn into the inside of a bra cup to keep a prosthesis in place.
If you choose to wear a breast prosthesis, a well-fitting bra with a full cup is often all that’s needed to hold your prosthesis in place. Many women find this creates a more natural appearance and is secure enough. However, some women prefer to have a bra with a pocket.
Mastectomy bras come with an optional bra pocket. If you prefer, you can adapt an ordinary bra by sewing in a piece of stretchy material loosely across the back of the bra cup to act as a pocket.
You can also buy pockets to sew in yourself. These are available to buy online from most mastectomy bra stockists. Use loose stitches when attaching the pocket as if a pocket is sewn in too tightly it can affect the bra’s shape. Another alternative is to sew in two strips of evenly spaced ribbon, from the top to the bottom of the cup.
For a small fee, some mail order companies or high-street shops may be able to sew a pocket in for you. Some NHS hospitals will put a pocket into two or three bras free of charge. Ask your breast care nurse if this is available at your hospital.
You will normally pay for your bras but mastectomy bras are exempt from VAT (value added tax) if they’re bought by someone who’s had breast surgery. The order forms on most websites and catalogues will have a box you can tick so that you don’t have to pay VAT. If you’re buying a mastectomy bra from a shop, check with a member of staff before paying for your bra. Many shops may ask you to sign a VAT exemption form stating that you have had breast surgery. You shouldn’t need to provide a doctor’s letter or other medical proof.
Macmillan Cancer Support provides grants that can be used to purchase surgical and mastectomy bras and swimwear.
If you’ve been advised to wear a surgical bra and you or your partner are claiming certain benefits you don’t have to pay for it. The qualifying benefits are outlined in the Department of Health leaflet HC11, which you can get from the hospital, your nearest Jobcentre Plus the NHS Business Service Authority website.
If you’re not receiving a qualifying benefit but are on a low income you may still be eligible for a free surgical bra or help towards the cost of one under the NHS Low Income Scheme. To find out if the NHS Low Income Scheme can help and how to apply, visit their website or call their helpline on 0300 330 1343.