Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Briefing

Breast ironing

BMJ 2019; 365 doi: (Published 23 April 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;365:l1790
  1. Francesca Robinson, freelance journalist
  1. Hampshire, UK
  1. fran.robinson8{at}

Recent media reports allege under-reported physical abuse of UK girls to flatten their breasts, writes Francesca Robinson. What should doctors do if they suspect this?

What is breast ironing?

Breast ironing, or breast flattening, is a practice traditional to some parts of Africa, considered by the United Nations to be gender based violence. Young girls’ breasts are ironed, massaged, flattened, or pounded down over a period of sometimes years, to reduce their size or delay their development.

Relatives aiming to protect young women from unwanted sexual attention or rape, and to delay sexual activity and potential pregnancy, may use large heated stones or implements such as hammers or spatulas to compress breast tissue. Others may use belts or binding. This abuse often begins at the first signs of puberty.

The practice can persist in emigrant populations, and the Conservative MP Jake Berry raised the matter in the UK parliament in 2016.1 And recent campaigning by the health charity CAME Women and …

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