Girls are maturing faster than they were 10-20 years ago. They reach puberty faster, which means that their breasts are developing earlier than when their mothers were young girls. What does that mean for families today? At what age should a girl start wearing a bra at all?
Should a 10-year-old girl wear a training bra? Since girls’ breasts develop at different rates, the answer depends uniquely on your child. Girls breasts typically begin to develop anywhere from age 8 – 14. To decide whether or not a 10-year-old girl should wear a training bra, consider: if her breasts are starting to develop and show through her clothes; if she feels wearing one may help her fit in socially with her peers; or if she feels uncomfortable not wearing one. The best thing to do is to encourage open and honest communication about any reasons from her perspective, and balance those with your own.
It may be that you have noticed that your daughter has starting developing and may be ready, or perhaps she has come to you requesting one. In either case, once you have talked the idea through together and are clear about the reasoning, you can decide if now is the right time for your daughter to begin wearing a training bra – whether she’s 8, 10, 12, or older.
What is the Right Age for a Training Bra?
Every girl is different and may respond differently to the idea of wearing a bra at any age. The “right age” or “best age” really doesn’t exist, as the considerations more so relate to other factors (see the bulleted list below).
Tread delicately if you are the one bringing up the topic. Young girls can embarrass easily, so it’s usually best to bring up the discussion in private rather than in front of family, friends, or in public.
I learned the hard way that my daughter was dreadfully embarrassed when I mentioned looking at training bras while we walking through a department store. She nearly ran out of the store to escape! So even after you may have had conversations in private, remember how sensitive this topic can be for young girls. Respecting her privacy, in this case, extends to being out of earshot of anyone else when discussing training bras.
When initially thinking about discussing training bras with your child, consider these points:
Fitting in with peers – If your daughter’s friends are wearing training bras, it’s a good chance that your daughter may want to wear one so that she doesn’t feel left behind or like she doesn’t fit in. For young girls in middle school, for example, fitting in with her group of peers is helpful. Girls tend to go through stages of times throughout puberty when fitting in with peers is more important than other times, so try and get a sense of this from your daughter through conversations.
Family members – If your daughter has an older sister who started wearing a training bra when she was 10, your younger daughter may feel entitled to do the same (whether or not they have developed at the same rate). But again, this is a way of fitting in and there’s no harm in indulging her desire to start wearing one early. Discussions will help you to learn more about your child’s motivation.
- Sports – If your daughter is involved in certain sports, such as running, tennis, basketball, or any sport where developing breasts may hurt from physical activity, a sports style training bra may be beneficial. It can offer support and comfort at a time when breast development can be associated with physical pain from certain jarring activities.
- Body image – Your daughter may think that wearing a training bra makes her feel better about how she looks as she is maturing. Since a young girl’s body image can be delicate during these pre-teen years, it’s an important consideration in determining what’s best for your child. Especially if she doesn’t like the shape of her developing breasts, some training bras offer a bit of foam padding that can help to round out the shape.
- Maturity – Wearing a training bra may help your daughter feel more mature, which may in turn help her to act more mature. Knowing your child’s personality is key to knowing if this may be a factor in your decision.
School – Depending on your child’s school, there may be rules about when girls should begin wearing bras. Check your school’s policies for guidelines relating to dress codes.
Church – As with schools, church or religious environments may encourage young girls to begin wearing training bras when they start developing and it becomes noticeable through their clothes.
Keep in mind that not all girls focus on thinking about training bras at all. If your daughter doesn’t ask (or even hint) that it may be time for a training bra, you may need to bring the topic up yourself.
If you notice that you can see her developing breasts through her shirts or dresses, that’s when it may be time for a private gentle conversation to open up a dialogue and learn more about how she feels regarding training bras.
Breast Growth and Development
Breast growth is a unique and individual experience. Typically, girls start developing breasts as early as 8 years old or as late as 14 or 15 years old. Breast size and development are hereditary and also based on body weight. If a girl’s mother has larger breasts or if she has extra body weight, her breasts may be larger than her peers. And the opposite is true, as well. However, it’s not always the case.
Breast development happens in stages, with the first stage called “breast budding,” which describes when a small raised bump appears behind the nipples. Next, the skin begins to darken on and around the nipple. After that, the breast begins to grow and develop.
During this stage of growth, shape varies. Sometimes breasts start out pointy before rounding out as they grow. And one may be a bit larger than the other. These may continue to grow through her teens and even into her twenties before settling into a size that seems to stick for a while. As she grows older, other factors come into play regarding breast size – body weight fluctuations, birth control pills, other hormonal changes, and overall lifestyle can all play a role.
Other Signs of Puberty
If your daughter has any of these other signs of puberty, it’s likely that considering a training bra is soon to follow or already in motion.
- Pubic hair growth
- A bit of weight gain
- Started her menstrual cycle
Usually “breast buds” begin to appear at around the same time as these other signs of puberty.
Are Training Bras Necessary?
Training bras don’t actually “train” anything. They are not essential items of clothing, yet can provide a more comfortable transition for young girls in getting used to wearing a bra prior to wearing more robust types of bras (with underwires for additional support).
Using the considerations listed above, you can determine how helpful a training bra may be for your child. It may be that she goes from wearing no support to wearing a small sized “real” bra, without ever wearing a training bra at all. Most often, though, a training bra is a comfortable first step for young girls as they begin to develop.
Bra Sizes and Types
Understanding how bras are sized can help determine the best level of comfort (avoiding pinching, gaps, and straps falling down).
Most bra sizes include two parts: the chest size (or band size) and the cup size. Chest sizes run in inches (32, 34, 36, 38, 40, etc.) and is related to the band that runs around the back and under the breasts in front.
Cup size relates to the actual part of the bra that “cups” the breast and runs in letter sizes (AA, A, B, C, D, etc.)
32AA, for example, is one of the smallest sizes (both band and cup), while 40D would be a much larger bra (both band and cup). Though one may need a larger band and yet have smaller breasts, so a 40B is also a possibility. Or the opposite – a smaller band size with larger breasts would be a 34D.
Types of bras vary greatly, but here is a list of common bra styles for young girls:
Training Bras – Training bras usually offer minimal support, are not padded (though may be lined), and are a first step in getting used to wearing a bra-like undergarment. At this stage, girls typically just have “breast buds” and not full breasts, and these bras provide an extra layer of clothing so that her developing breasts have a bit of cover.
Sports Bra – Sports bras can be helpful to provide additional support during physical activity. Since they compress the breasts to limit movement, girls can be more comfortable in moving in various positions without interference from growing breasts. These types of bras also prevent moisture from sticking to the skin, and also reduce chafing of the skin.
Bralette – This type of bra does not have molded cups or padding…just straps and a bit of coverage (similar to what a camisole might offer, but shorter and daintier). This option is best for those with small breasts as it may not provide enough support for medium or large sized breasts.
Soft Cup Bra – These types of bras are best for young girls with small to medium-sized breasts. They offer more support than a training bra or bralette, but less support than an underwire bra.
Underwire Bra – Underwire bras offer the greatest amount of support and is best for medium to large sized breasts. The wires run under and up the side of each cup, providing extra support. A well-made underwire bra is just as comfortable as a soft cup bra, as material covers the wires completely.
Strapless Bras – Strapless bras are available even in small sizes for young girls for formal occasions. These may be less comfortable than other options, but are sometimes preferable (and necessary) depending on clothing choices so that the bra straps aren’t visible.
When shopping for any style of bra, training bra or otherwise, be sure you end up with a comfortable fit. If your child isn’t able to try the bra on in the store, keep the tags on until she has tried them on at home so that you can exchange them for another size if necessary. With the wrong bra size, your child’s skin may get chafed or pinched, or she may simply be uncomfortable throughout the day.
So start with an understanding attitude and thoughtful consideration about when to start with a training bra. Then, with the right size and style to fit the need (whether sports, formal function, or everyday wear), she should feel comfortable in her clothes, as well as in her own skin, while her body continues to grow and develop through her teen years and into adulthood.
Mike Zhang. Founder of FamilyLifeShare