The Purpose of a Training Bra

Tween girls looking through gift bags

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A training bra is a bra intended for young people who are just beginning to experience breast development. Training bras became popular during the 1950s. Before that time, girls wore undershirts until they developed breasts.

It is important to note, though, that a training bra does not train the breasts. Rather, it provides a bit of camouflage, protection, and support for tender breast buds and nipples. It may also help young people adjust to wearing a bra.

Training bras are also, for some young people, a rite of passage. By wearing a bra, a young person is essentially telling themself (and anyone who notices their undergarments) that they are growing up.

A training bra is only appropriate for young people who have very small breasts, have not developed yet, or are just beginning to develop. Young people whose breasts have developed beyond the training bra stage should consider other types of bras, such as soft cup bras or underwire bras.

Does My Child Need a Training Bra?

Years ago, training bras were touted by medical professionals as being a way to prevent stretching and sagging of breast tissue. However, young people with just-developing breasts have so little breast tissue that support is usually not necessary.

On the other hand, training bras may be a psychological necessity for young people who are slow to develop and are particularly sensitive to that fact. Meanwhile, for those who have matured early, training bras can provide coverage that makes them feel less self-conscious. Training bras may even protect sensitive budding breasts.

Benefits of Training Bras

Young people who have sensitive breast buds may want a training bra to provide protection from bumps they get from playing sports or walking in crowded hallways at school. Young people with prominent nipples may want a training bra to create a barrier between the breasts and their shirt.

Training bras allow young people who develop breasts later than their peers feel more secure about their slow development by providing the illusion of larger breasts, and the chance to wear undergarments similar to what peers are wearing.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it is common for young people to feel embar­rassed and self-conscious when their breasts begin to develop. To help them acclimate to these changes, you can encourage them to wear loose-fitting clothing that disguises early breast development. You can also willing to buy a training bra when when you feel they could use one or they request one. 

Types of Training Bras

There are a wide range of training bras on the market, running the gamut from frilly to athletic. Training bras also may be plain or printed with designs. Training bras with padding not only provide protection, but also add to a more mature look. Some are designed to be pulled over the head, while others have fasteners in the front or back. Styles include:

  • Racerback sports bras: No padding or fasteners
  • Bralettes: Often feminine and lacy; halter-style or with narrow straps; no fasteners
  • Lined bras: Lightly padded; looks like a traditional bra but with very little support
  • Clasp-back (or front) bras: Traditional bra design; may be lined or padded or not

How to Pick a Training Bra

Adolescence is a challenging time, and breasts and breast development can be particularly embarrassing and confusing. Researchers note that the process of breast development can negatively affect body image and self-esteem as well as impact in physical activities and sports.

In one study, 87% of girls surveyed reported at least one breast concern such as checking for breast cancer, bouncing when exercising, breast pain, and finding a bra that fits. So it's likely that your child has questions too. Seek to normalize breast development, bra selection, and breast health.

Bra Sizing and Measurements

Selecting a training bra may be the segue parents need for discussing breast growth, breast care, and breast self-examination. And although training bras do not necessarily require a true bra measurement, it is good practice to get measured for a bra.

If your child is self-conscious or not ready to have a professional measurement taken at a boutique or department store, you can do a measurement at home. To size for a bra, you will need two measurements—the band size and the cup size.

To get the band size, measure around the rib cage directly under the bust and round up to the nearest even number. So, if your measurement is 27 inches, the band size would be 28. To get the cup size, loosely measure the fullest part of breasts, then subtract this measurement from the band measurement. If the difference is one inch, that is an A cup. Two inches is a B, and so on.

When buying bras initially, if may help for your child to try on bras in person until they find the perfect style, brand, and size. But keep in mind that the fit of a bra will vary somewhat by manufacturer (and your child will likely keep growing).

You want to make sure each bra your child owns fits well. An ill-fitting bra can cause skin irritation, chafing, and pain in the back, shoulders, neck, breasts, and even head. A bra that is too big or too small is not providing the needed support. Bras that are too tight obstruct the flow of the digestive system.

A Word From Verywell

If your child is beginning to develop breasts, or even if they are not there yet but their friends are, you may want to consider a training bra. Even though a bra of this type is not required because there is little breast tissue to support, it can ease self-consciousness and provide an opportunity to talk about proper fitting bras and breast self-examination.

What's more, training bras can protect sensitive breast buds. Just be sure your child is ready for this next step. You don't want to force it before they are ready. Some tweens and young teens are content to wear layers instead. Support your child in the decision they make.

6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. The Met Museum. Brassiere ca. 1917.

  2. KidsHealth from Nemours. Breasts and bras.

  3. Brumberg JJ. The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls. Vintage Books.

  4. American Academy of Pediatrics. Concerns girls have about puberty.

  5. Omrani A, Wakefield-Scurr J, Smith J, Wadey R, Brown N. Breast education improves adolescent girls' breast knowledge, attitudes to breasts and engagement with positive breast habitsFront Public Health. 2020;8:591927. doi:10.3389/fpubh.2020.591927

  6. Tufts Medical Center. Tips to find a bra that fits —and boosts your health.

By Jennifer O'Donnell
Jennifer O'Donnell holds a BA in English and has training in specific areas regarding tweens, covering parenting for over 8 years.