One of the most perplexing (and often disheartening) moments following a mastectomy is when we realize that our bras and other undergarments that we wore before surgery no longer fit…
That on top of everything else, we now also have to recreate our lingerie wardrobe. But shopping is not like it was before surgery. Our size and shape have changed; we have incision sites and port scars, swelling, skin sensitivities, and for many of us, the need for prosthetics or discretion pads – likely, for the rest of our lives.
Not to mention, we often can’t drive right away, making trying on garments that much more difficult. We understand these challenges first-hand, so we put together a handy dandy, how-to guide for selecting bras following a mastectomy, lumpectomy and all types of reconstruction and cosmetic breast procedures. Here are some things to consider, and hopefully, make the process easier and more streamlined.
Timing is Everything
Much of what we need depends upon how far out from surgery we are. The closer we are to our procedure, the more wounds, sensitivity and swelling we have. We break down the stages of healing into three key phases: Post-operative, Recovery and Beyond.
Immediately after surgery, we often have drain tubes inserted for several weeks, so we need to find garments to accommodate them by keeping them secure against the body. We also likely have sore arms and chests and ultra-sensitive skin, making putting on clothing quite painful. Our post-operative Maia Camisole that we can pull on over our hips is a great choice in this phase, since we’re likely still bandaged up and don’t necessarily need a bra. If we’ve had lumpectomy (which usually doesn’t require drains) or procedures where breast tissue is spared, light compression is often recommended. Look for garments made of natural fabric such as cotton or modal, as they will be naturally antimicrobial and antibacterial on healing skin.
This middle stage can last anywhere from several months to a couple of years, depending upon our treatment protocol and response to surgery. In this stage, swelling starts to reduce, yet our nerves, tissue and scars are still acutely healing. We also may have ongoing sensitivities due to chemotherapy and radiation treatments. We suggest keeping things simple with our Astrid bralette you can step into or our Maia Camisole with a shelf bra. We may not be recuperating at home anymore but rather out in the world again, so finding bras that work well under clothing is important. Pieces that offer discretion as our incisions heal are comforting too.
Once the majority of healing is behind us, we may have fewer sensitivities, but we still have ongoing needs. We may be using a prosthetic breast or have ongoing nerve damage or sensitivity around our nipples or incisions. It will be easier to determine our size in this stage, since swelling will be reduced. This is the time to really build out our wardrobes and treat ourselves to the range of pieces we had before surgery – from our lacey Vela Pocketed Bra to our Astrid Bralette.
Surgery Type Determinants
Different surgery types often require different types of bras. Following unilateral or bilateral mastectomies, we’re bandaged up pretty good, so bras usually aren’t warranted right away. Going back to our Maia Camisole with drain management or Astrid Bralette to cover but avoid applying pressure to the chest are best. We may also find ourselves needing to accommodate breast prosthesis on one or both sides, so make sure to look for pocketed bras or bralettes.
For lumpectomy and many cosmetic procedures, however, compression is often recommended. How much compression can be specific to our individual scenarios and needs, so consulting our surgeon here is critical. Gentle compression bras with front closure to avoid arm mobility limitations and soreness are best.
Following reconstruction, our garment needs also depend upon our procedures. Implant reconstruction may require fewer accommodations, making it easier to get back to wearing lingerie, but surgeries that utilize our own body tissue to reconstruct the breast (DIEP, SEIA, or TUG) will leave us with more than one incision site that we will want to avoid aggravating. In this case, our Astrid Bralette that we can step into and that isn’t too tight is best.
The Shape of Things
One of the things that often comes as a surprise following mastectomy is that implants are not the same shape as natural breasts. Where natural tissue can form to bra cup shapes, implants are solid, fixed and offer very little in the way of adaptability. This factor can make bra shopping especially frustrating at first, so we recommend looking for fabrics that stretch and accommodate swelling fluctuations throughout the day. Bras without wires, that are not overly structured or molded, are best. Even those who need more support can enjoy our Vela Wireless comfort with a proper fitting soft bra.
Fabric – You Get What You Pay For
Not all fabrics are created equal, and that’s especially true when it comes to lingerie. Following any type of surgery, the body is in an acute state of healing. Fabrics made with natural fibers can support this process by offering breathability, antimicrobial/antibacterial properties and moisture wicking – all aimed at keeping skin healthy, dry and clean. We believe in wearing certified sustainable fabrics to ensure that what we’re putting against our skin is truly good for us. While they may be more expensive at times, they are also made to last, so we end up spending more in the long run. Health is holistic, and wearing truly good-for-you fabrics helps the body heal.
The Heart of the Matter
An often-underestimated aspect of this experience is that seeking elegant and nurturing intimate apparel and loungewear post-surgery can also be a gesture of self-love. Many women attest that where bras might have been a non-factor in their wardrobes pre-surgery, afterward they find themselves wanting to adorn their body with more feminine styles or cheerful colors.
The removal of breasts and breast tissue can be an incredibly traumatic loss, so finding ways to reclaim a sense of self and femininity – through clothing or other methods – can facilitate this important, deep and emotional healing. We strongly recommend that women honor their desires to beautify and care for their bodies – for in many ways, we heal from the inside out.
Ultimately, the process of selecting lingerie following mastectomy or any other breast surgery is a personal one, and we all have varying needs.