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My daughter wants to wear a training bra. Is it too soon?

The question: When is it a good time for my daughter to start wearing a training bra?

The answer: One of the pleasures and challenges of writing this column is that the questions are so varied and unpredictable. I don't recall many lectures in medical school on training bras, so I will rely heavily on my experience as a father of two teenage daughters. For those who may not be in the know, training bras are lightweight undergarments designed for young girls who are just entering puberty. Unlike regular bras which provide support to the breasts, training bras offer little to no support. As such, the purpose of a training bra is more social and psychological than it is physiological.

The desire to look the same as your peers is very powerful at this stage of development. Training bras are perhaps most important for young girls at the extremes of puberty, the so-called early and late bloomers. The early bloomers may feel the need to use a training bra to conceal the fact that they are starting to develop breast buds. By contrast, the girls who are late bloomers may want to use a training bra so that they look like their bra-wearing peers.

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Be sensitive to your daughter's personality. Some young girls will welcome being the first in their peer group to wear a bra, while others may be very uncomfortable being different from the crowd. Wearing a bra may also garner attention from young boys which may be welcomed by some and feared by others. Asking your daughter if her friends are wearing training bras and how she feels about it may break the ice to further discussions on the topic.

Training bras are not without controversy. Some believe that such items are unnecessary and tend to sexualize prepubertal girls. Companies that market padded bras to very young children have particularly come under scrutiny. I, too, question the wisdom and ethics of companies and parents who try to make seven-year-olds look like they have breasts.

The best time to discuss bras and training bras is prior to the start of puberty. These discussions can start once children are school age and can include topics such as the body changes that occur during puberty, menstruation, and where babies come from. The use of bras can also be included in these conversations. Some young girls may wish to pick out their own training bra, while others may prefer to receive one as a gift.

Undoubtedly, a first bra will be perceived as a rite of passage for young girls about to start puberty. As girls at this age can be quite sensitive and particular about their body image, it is best to let your daughter decide for herself when she wants to start wearing a training bra regularly. Almost always it is best to follow your daughter's lead and not pressure her one way or another.

Dr. Michael Dickinson is the head of pediatrics and chief of staff at the Miramichi Regional Hospital in New Brunswick. He's a staunch advocate for children's health in Atlantic Canada through his involvement with the Canadian Paediatric Society.

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