Your Guide To Safer Chest Binding

by | 26/03/24 | LGBTI+

If you’re transgender, non-binary, genderfluid or simply want to minimise your chest size, you may be interested in chest binding. Chest binding is the technique of compressing chest or breast tissue in order to create a smaller or flatter chest appearance. This can help with dysphoria and/or make you feel more comfortable with your body.

While chest binding is generally considered to be safe and can be very gender affirming for those who do it, there are important health risks and safety tips you need to be aware of to avoid possible health complications.

Methods for chest binding

Chest binders

The most common method of chest binding is to use a commercially-made or custom-made specialised chest binder. These are tight garments, also sometimes known as compression shirts, which can be used under your clothing. This is the safest method for chest binding, and they come in many styles ranging from short sports bra-like options, to mid-length, to full length vests that can tuck into your pants. Some even have zippers or velcro to make putting on and taking off your binder a lot easier.

For those in South Africa, we have a lovely company called GenderwearSA which sells tall and short chest binders in a range of different colours. You can check them out HERE.

Sports bras

This is often the first option many people try when they start thinking about chest binding. This is often an accessible way for people to bind if finances are tight or for young people who prefer to hide their binding practices from others in their household. For example, a teen might have unsupportive parents who may find their binder in the laundry so they prefer to use sports bras which are less obvious to others.

Unfortunately, many people might start getting sports bras that are too small or layering them in order to create their desired appearance and end up putting their health at risk.

If you ever feel any pain, discomfort or difficulty breathing or moving while wearing a sports bra, please remove it immediately and get a bigger size, or try an alternative chest binding method.

Layering clothing

This is another more accessible method of chest binding where you can layer items of clothing on top of each other to create a smaller/flatter chest appearance. Often this looks like wearing a tighter vest-like shirt underneath with looser shirts and/or jackets on top.

The problem with this method is that it’s not always the most practical option, especially in warmer climates. The biggest risk with this option is overheating, sweating and dehydration.

Kinesiology tape (or KT tape)

Kinesiology tape is a thin, flexible tape that’s usually used by athletes to assist with injuries, and/or provide support and stability to the joints and muscles.

Some people use this tape to bind their chests, however it was not designed for this purpose and can lead to a number of different health complications. It is not advised that people use this method due to the high risk, and you should never ever wrap the tape completely around your chest as it will restrict your breathing significantly.

Is chest binding safe?

Chest binding is considered generally safe for most people when done correctly but there is still some level of risk. This is why chest binding must be done carefully and with a good understanding of how to make it as safe as possible for your circumstances.

If you have any chronic medical conditions, it’s best to check with your doctor to see if binding would be safe for you and which options would be better suited for you. This is particularly important if you have asthma, scoliosis, fibromyalgia, autoimmune conditions, chronic pain conditions or musculoskeletal problems.

Unsafe options

There are a number of unsafe options which are considered way too risky when it comes to chest binding and should be avoided. These can include: duct tape, packing tape, bandages or plastic wrap.

These options can cut into the skin, cause skin infections or allergic reactions, affect skin elasticity (which can affect future top surgery results), restrict breathing, cause chronic pain, and can even damage or break ribs.

Tips for safer chest binding

Start slow

When you first start binding it can be helpful to start slowly to allow yourself to get used to binding. First start with wearing your binder for an hour then letting your body relax for the rest of the day. The next day you add an hour and wear it for 2 hours then rest for the remainder of the day. You can then slowly build up by increasing the duration by 1 hour every day until you until you are able to wear it for a full 8 hours.

If you ever feel any discomfort, pain or difficulty breathing, take the binder off immediately.

Choose the correct size

The size of your binder is very important, if it’s too small, it can lead to serious health problems. Make sure to look at the sizing chart for the binder you’re considering purchasing and measure yourself as accurately as possible. Remember that when wearing your binder, your nipples should point forward and not downward as this can restrict blood flow to the nipples leading to possible complications in future, especially if you’re considering top surgery.

When wearing your binder, you should be able to take a full deep breath easily without any restrictions to your breathing. You should also be able to move your arms normally with full range of motion. Never wear more than one binder at a time.

Choose breathable, air-permeable materials

Tightly covering the skin with materials that restrict airflow can lead to sweating and a warm, moist environment which could lead to the skin breaking down, or bacterial and fungal skin infections.

Take regular breaks

You shouldn’t be binding for more than 8 hours at a time, and ideally you should take regular breaks throughout the day if possible. It’s also important to have “rest days” where you don’t wear your binder at all for 1-2 days per week.

Never sleep in your binder. You need to make sure your lungs are able to expand fully while sleeping. Also never exercise in your binder because you need to be able to breathe deeply and move freely when exercising.

If you plan on getting top surgery in future, the more breaks you take, the better. Chest binding can affect your skin elasticity and flexibility which can impact your surgical results in future.

Stay hydrated

Chest binding, especially in warmer climates, can lead to sweating and overheating, which can lead to dehydration. So make sure you are staying cool and hydrated.

It can also help to use baby powder on the area to prevent moisture build up or even a thin undershirt to go under your binder.

Take care of your binder

Because chest binding can lead to a lot of sweating, make sure that you regularly wash your binder to limit bacterial or fungal growth. This is also why you should make sure your binder is fully dry before use.

When you are not using your binder, make sure you lay your binder flat to preserve it’s shape. Never put your binder in the tumble dryer, only air dry.

Take care of yourself

Make sure to stretch and do deep breathing exercises when you aren’t wearing your binder to preserve your mobility and flexibility. It’s important to open up and the chest and release tension in the upper back and shoulder area regularly.

Listen to your body. If you ever feel any discomfort, pain or difficulty breathing you should take off your binder, and take a break or get a bigger binder. Make sure to look after your skin and watch out for any skin irritation, rashes or bleeding.

Considering top surgery?

If you are considering top surgery, it’s especially important to make sure you are binding as safely as possible to preserve your mobility and skin elasticity. Take a lot of breaks and make sure you are doing your stretches and breathing exercises.

If your top surgery is coming up soon, then try to bind as little as possible. If possible you should stop binding completely for 4-6 weeks before top surgery to improve the results and limit the risk of infection and scarring.

In Summary

Do’s

  • Start slowly and build up over time.
  • Get your binder in the correct size. Smaller isn’t better.
  • Take breaks throughout the day and 1-2 days off per week.
  • Remove your binder if you experience pain or difficulty breathing.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Regularly wash your binder and make sure it’s dry before use.
  • Make sure to stretch and practice breathing exercises when not binding

Don’ts

  • Don’t bind your chest with duct tape, packing tape, plastic wrap or bandages.
  • Don’t wear your binder for more than 8-12 hours.
  • Don’t sleep in your binder.
  • Don’t exercise or work out in your binder.

If you have been chest binding and have developed a side effect, complication or health concern, please reach out to your doctor for assistance. You should never be judged for developing a complication and you deserve to get the help you need when you need it.

Have a questions about binding that wasn’t answered? Feel free to reach out HERE or book an online consultation with me HERE.

Make sure to share this post with your family and friends if you think there’s a good chance it could help them too. Thank you!

Disclaimer: This blog consists of only my opinions and doesn’t reflect the opinions of the Department of Health of South Africa or The Southern African Sexual Health Association. All information is accurate and true to the best of my knowledge, but it’s possible that there may be omissions, errors or mistakes. While I am a registered medical practitioner, I am not YOUR doctor. The information presented on this blog is for entertainment and/or informational purposes only and shouldn’t be seen as professional medical advice. If you rely on any information presented, it’s at your own risk. Please consult a professional before taking any sort of action.

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