Here's What Parents Need To Know About Chest Binding

Binders are a form of gender affirming clothing for transgender tweens and teens, and there's a lot to know before choosing the right one.

Trans masc person trying on a chest binder
Photo: Grace Canaan

Mauve Juntti-DelCamp was concerned about safety when her teen wanted a binder, a garment that flattens the chest for a more masculine or androgynous look. "I thought you could hurt yourself," she said to her son.

He responded with a shrug in his voice, "I usually forget I have it on."

Rory Juntti-Heese, now 15, has been binding his chest for a year and a half. "While you're wearing one, sometimes you forget it's there. It can feel like it's just the chest you have," he said, explaining that it helps him feel more at home in his body. "That's the most important thing for people like myself," he added, referring to trans teens.

Cisgender kids who are uncomfortable with the size or look of their chests might bind to minimize their curves, too. But for transmasculine, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming teens or tweens, binding can alleviate gender dysphoria or promote a sense of gender euphoria—a feeling of contentment or authenticity. Binding is generally safe when practiced correctly, but it's important to consider risks and pursue an approach that's right for each unique body and lifestyle.

Why Kids Use Chest Binders and Why It Matters

Many parents don't know what chest binders are or why access to them are critical to their child's mental health. Kids often become interested in binding during early stages of puberty when chest tissue begins to mound or change shape, explains Alo Johnston, LMFT. They might dress in baggy clothes, avoid wearing bras or bra shopping, or test how parents react during discussions about trans identity before feeling brave enough to share about themselves. "When your child brings you information about who they are, react with gratitude and thank them for sharing about their experiences," says Johnston.

A recent study showed that nearly half of youth who are interested in binding but don't do it attribute their avoidance to unsupportive parents, resulting in mental health struggles. "Some parents can be in a mindset that kids should wait until they're 18, but that's a really long time to put up with dysphoria and distress, depression, anxiety, or even suicidal ideation," says Johnston. "I think it's important to know what's at stake here."

Without support, young people could feel forced to pursue riskier choices, like binding their chests with DIY products, including plastic wrap, elastic bandages, duct tape, and other options that can tear skin, constrict tighter over time, and restrict breathing, explains Dr. AJ Eckert, DO, Medical Director of Gender and Life Affirming Medicine at Anchor Health Initiative. Teens also turn to over-the-counter hormones and supplements, which aren't FDA approved, but these home remedies don't work and can be dangerous for some users.

How Parents Can Support Kids Who Use Binders

If your child is wondering how to bind their chest, there are resources available to support them and you. Trans-competent medical professionals can help youth make good decisions for their individual bodies. Dr. Eckert said there isn't a minimum age or specific contraindications that automatically prevent someone from binding their chest. Instead of assuming that a medical condition or age restriction will make binding off limits, talk to a trans-affirming doctor about creating a plan that's individual to your child's health and needs.

Order the Right Fit

Because most shops are online, there usually isn't any way to try on binders before they're ordered. This makes sizing correctly especially important, and youth should have help taking measurements and using manufacturer's guides to make sure they get it right.

Dr. Eckert explains that when the binder arrives two fingers should fit in between the garment and the ribs to ensure there's space for comfortable breathing. Mishaps usually occur when garments are too tight or layered. This might be tempting for teens who misperceive that it will squeeze the chest flatter, but Dr. Eckert explains that the results aren't usually what's desired. It's also painful and unsafe. They underline, "This is going to pinch the skin, causing irritations, and make it harder to breathe."

Signs of an ill-fitting garment include labored breathing, discomfort when sitting still, difficulty during light movement, back pain, overheating and dehydration, rashes and skin irritations, nausea, acid reflux, or fatigue. Serious injuries, such as broken ribs, are rare and take longer to occur.

Binders come in a variety of colors, including skin tones and bright patterns, multiple lengths, and different fasteners. There are a dozen or so recommended brands, including gc2b and flavnt, which are known for reliable customer service. Underworks, a company that specializes in pre- and post-operative clothing, doesn't make clothes specifically for transgender customers but is another popular company and donates binders to youth who can't afford one. Dr. Eckert points to trans-led orgs, including Point of Pride, which also provides binders to people who can't obtain one on their own.

Customized garments are available through shops like Shapeshifters, which allow customers to select from a variety of features (such as buttons, zippers, and mesh or breathable fabrics) and input specific measurements for a one-of-a-kind piece. If that's not budget-friendly, consider using patterns to sew your own or seek help crafting a tailored option.

Find Safe Alternatives

Rory Juntti-Heese, a dancer who practices 20 hours per week, needed a lightweight, cotton fabric that isn't too tightly woven for training and performances. His mother, Mauve, bought a pack of inexpensive sports bras from Fruit of the Loom to alter for him. She says, "I did it by trial and error," adjusting the strap design, adding new seams, and reshaping the bust for a flattening effect. It doesn't trap sweat against his skin and is easy to wash.

A compression bra or other shapewear, including a minimizer bra, won't completely flatten and could cause body dysphoria, but different styles might help achieve multiple looks or offer options for youth who need to accommodate varying activities. Bras and binders shouldn't be worn more than eight hours at a time, so encourage young people to give their bodies a break from compression at home or at least overnight.

Although sport bras are safe for activities, binders should never be worn during gym class, active playtime, or exercise. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to quickly change in and out of traditional binders, so finding support at school or getting a doctor's note might be important.

TransTape might be perfect for kids who are active, have health conditions, or experience sensory processing differences. This option is applied directly to the skin, doesn't restrict movement or breathing, and tends to be less visible under clothes. Teens and tweens with larger chests might find TransTape more comfortable too. Instead of squishing down the rounder parts of the chest, users can easily move tissue out to the sides away from the sternum and won't need to readjust throughout the day.

For a cheaper option, Dr. Eckert recommends kinesiology tape, which is designed for use on the body, and is safe to apply in a similar manner. Plus it's widely available at pharmacies and big box stores.

Continue To Support Trans and Gender Nonconforming Kids

Some students have been accused of violating their school's dress code when binders peek out from under their shirt's neckline, but this isn't always something kids can avoid. It's important to advocate for policies that recognize binders as medical devices, not lingerie or underwear. They are intended to support a student's mental health while offering relief from body dysphoria.

Binding can help trans and gender nonconforming kids feel more like themselves, and this might be all it takes for a young person to feel affirmed. Others will need hormone replacement therapy or a mastectomy, but these options aren't always available for youth under 18 due to insurance restrictions and state laws. Teens and tweens will still need help navigating life's struggles and transgender kids would benefit from connecting with a specialized therapist who can support them through encounters with transphobia, systemic oppression, and other stressors.

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