Bra-Free Challenge Healthy Breast Practice Number Six - Breast Breath

In the last practice we discussed the lymph circulation in the breasts and chest. This is the superficial, or skin level, lymph circulation. It is most strongly affected by natural movements and massage. The deeper lymph circulation is below the ribs. Lymph flow is promoted by the contractions of the core muscles and the diaphragm. The diaphragm sits horizontally across the chest, creating a dome that reaches from right to left and front to back. It sits pretty much at the level of…..

….. the chest band of your bra. Uh oh.


So we have underwires that pinch the lymph vessels in the skin and restrict the flow. Then we have tight fabric that stops the natural sway and movement of the breasts. This also diminishes the flow. Next we add a concentric ring around our diaphragm that further reduces the natural motion of our ribs, which also reduces breast motion. If that was not enough, we then impede the expansion of our diaphragm, whose job it is to help pump lymph fluid, not to mention oxygen intake.

And we wonder why our breasts are sore and tired at the end of the day? They haven’t been able to breathe!

For many, the issue is the added weight of the breast tissue hanging from the chest. It pulls on the neck and shoulders. For many larger breasted people this causes pain in the upper back. There is insistence from the bra industry that the pain is because the bra doesn’t fit well. I say it is because it is a flawed design.

Using thin elastic bands over the shoulders and around the ribs creates a tourniquet effect. There is a medical condition called “back packers syndrome” that is caused my tight straps from heavy packs pulling down on the shoulders and causing the arms to become numb and painful. I have met women with this condition caused by their bras carrying the weight of their breasts.

What if there was a better way? What if we could distribute the weight of the breasts over a larger surface area?

There are some new brassiere designs that do just that. You will often see them in “sports bras” where there is compression provided throughout the fabric covering the breast and back, not just around the chest band. They will usually have thicker shoulder straps to help spread the load on the shoulders. Many women find these to be uncomfortable and complain of feeling smashed. This also creates the “uniboob” look that we all know and love.

Enter a new bra manufacturer, Ruby Ribbon. They have created “camis” (think camisole) and utilize the surface area of the entire trunk to distribute the weight of the breasts. My first impression of this is that it would cause more restriction. But these have an ingenious variable compression design, so that some areas of the cami have a tighter weave with more compression (over the back and belly), while other areas have a looser weave to allow more expansion (over the areola and underneath the fold of the breast).

Image captured from the Ruby Ribbon website

Image captured from the Ruby Ribbon website

Think of it as the difference between wrapping a bandage around your finger, versus wrapping a string around your finger. Many of us have played at turning our finger tip blue by wrapping a tight string around the end of our finger. This is how you create a tourniquet. But a bandage has a wider surface area, so it is more difficult to wrap tightly enough to stop the circulation in the finger.

The fabric used by Ruby Ribbon is moisture wicking to reduce the perspiration between and below the breasts. There are also rubberized gripping edges so the material adheres to your skin and doesn’t slide up. If a full length cami is not for you, they also have shorter “demiettes” for smaller breast and chest sizes.

I spoke with a local fitter and distributor, Jami Rentko, at Braless in Seattle. She demonstrated the products for me and I have to say I was impressed. She was very knowledgeable and has successfully fit women up to J cup size. But the real reason that I chose Jami and her product was because of a FB post from one of her associates. This woman had a thermography that showed increased inflammation (shown in white) in the area of her underwires. She was very concerned. She changed to Ruby Ribbon camis and had another thermal image taken 2 months later. The image is very convincing. It shows that the temperature beneath her breasts has decreased significantly (red is cooler than white on this image).

Image used with permission from Braless in Seattle

Image used with permission from Braless in Seattle

These items cost in the $80-$90 range. For larger breasted women, I have not found many items that were much less expensive than that. For smaller breasted women, I have found affordable, comfortable, wire-free bras by Hanes. These have a knock-off version of this variable compression fabric which is much less supportive than the Ruby Ribbon material. I took a close up pictures below so you could see an example. The image below also shows the wider chest band and shoulder straps, which allows broader distribution of weight.

Image captured from

Image captured from


I also have modified some tank bras. These tops tend to have enough tension in the fabric around the breast to provide some light support for me, but the chest band is too thin and tight. Here you can see a picture where I cut the chest band, but the construction of the rest of the liner maintained enough structure to comfort my breasts while I was weaning off my bra habit. This was stage 3 in my personal step-down process for becoming bra-free.

Your challenge today is to examine your wire-free bra options that have wider strap and band options. You could also alter some of your tank bras and see what you notice. Thank you again for being a part of this grand experiment. Please share in the Bra-Free Challenge FB group any links or pictures of wire-free bras you find to be more comfortable and allow better circulation. I also love receiving emails with your comments and ideas. Next practice we will explore some free range fashion options to keep your new bra-free habit under cover.