“Breast ironing hurts girls and won’t make them less attracted to men.”


Medical professionals have denounced the damaging practice of parents and other family members ironing girls’ breasts, stating that it not only violates their rights but also puts their health in jeopardy.

In addition to traumatising the girls, the doctors claimed that the damaging practice, which is primarily practiced in the north, exposes the girls to infection, damages to their breast tissue, and poor milk production after childbirth.

The African Health Organisation defines breast ironing as the practice of using hard or heated objects to iron, massage and pound down the breasts of young girls in an attempt to either completely prevent or delay the development of breasts.

According to the AHO, this cultural custom, which is common in regions where child marriage is common, has an impact on 3.8 million women across Africa, noting that the practice is one of the five under-reported crimes relating to gender-based violence.


The practice can include the use of a variety of objects, such as heated grinding stones, cast-iron pans, ladles, hammers, wooden pestles or spatulas, spoons, brooms, or electric irons.

Experts say the callous practice is to stop or delay the breasts from growing or developing or make them flatter with the aim of making the girls unattractive to men.

They noted that breast ironing, like female genital mutilation, was a harmful cultural practice carried out on young girls between the ages nine and 15, which leaves them with complication of breastfeeding in adulthood.

Recall that the Minister of Women Affairs, Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye, recently issued a stern warning that the Federal Government would stamp out the harmful practice during her advocacy visit to Garki Chiefdom, Abuja Municipal Council.

Kennedy-Ohanenye, who also warned that the perpetrators would be severely punished , expressed worry over such practice in Kpaduma and Pygba communities in Abuja, insisting that the practice is harmful to women’s health.

Speaking exclusively with PUNCH Healthwise in different interviews, the medical experts said the practice was totally acceptable, citing the short-term and long term health risks.

They noted that breast ironing was a harmful cultural practice and abuse which could lead to breast cancer, urging health workers working with children and young people to watch out for girls who may be at risk.

A Consultant Radiation Oncologist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi-Ara, Dr Adedayo Joseph, said, “Though there have not been medical studies on the effects of breast ironing, the practice can cause breast cancer, cysts, depression and perhaps interfere with breastfeeding in later life.

“There are currently 10 cases of diagnosed breast cancer reported from women who were identified as victims of breast ironing. In addition to this, breast ironing puts the girl child at risk of abscesses, infections and permanent tissue damage, resulting in breast pimples, imbalance in breast size, and milk infection.”

Related News
“Other possible side effects include malformed breasts. The practice ranges in its severity, from using heated leaves to press and massage the breasts, to using a grinding stone to crush the budding gland. The health consequences vary from benign to acute.

“Also, there might be a delay of breast milk development after giving birth, endangering the life of newborns. Many women also suffer mental trauma after undergoing breast ironing. They see it as a punishment and often internalise blame.”

Corroborating her views, a Consultant Gynaecologist and Obstetrician, Dr Babatunde Rosiji said that the practice thrives in the less informed environment where people do not have access to right information.

He said, “This practice is born out of the decision to suppress the breasts to protect the girls from rape and other sexual abuses without knowing that the practice is more harmful itself. You can imagine using a wooden pestle or heated iron sheet to massage the young girls’ breasts and pound it down. In some cases, you see pus in the young girls’ breasts as a result of the practice.”

Speaking on its consequences, he said, “Due to the instruments being used in the process combined with insufficient aftercare, young girls are exposed to significant health risks. This violates the young girl’s physical integrity. It exposes them to abscesses, infection, dissymmetry of the breasts, and tissue damage.

“This does not only damage a child’s physical integrity, but it also affects their social and psychological well-being. Over 50 per cent of this action is carried out on the children by their mothers and sometimes, without the knowledge of their fathers.

“Yes, some people hypothesise that it could cause breast cancers, but it is yet to be proven by studies. However, it does great damage to a girl child. They find it difficult to lactate or breastfeed their babies after childbirth. It affects glandular tissue, the part of the breasts that makes milk.”

On the solution, he added, “We need a legal framework to fight this just like the genital mutilation in the country. We also need the education of these young girls because the practice thrives in ignorance.

“Normally, a girl beginning to grow breasts all of sudden would wonder what is happening to her chest. She would run to her mother and you can imagine what the mother will tell her if such a mother is bent on doing this. But when such a child is taught about her body parts and development, she would know it’s a process of development and can’t be deceived.”

Clinical Oncologist and Chief Clinical Coordinator of NSIA-LUTH Cancer Centre, Dr Habeebu Muhammad, however, said though there are other harmful impacts of this practice, no studies have documented it as one of the causes of cancers.

A recent study by Mela Fotabong et al, on the “Prevalence, Awareness and Adverse Outcomes of Breast Ironing among Cameroonian Women in Buea Health District” revealed that victims of breast ironing experienced adverse breast outcomes.

The researchers advocated health education and the introduction of legislation against breast ironing to eliminate the harmful traditional practice.

They recommended further research to understand the drivers of breast ironing in other regions where it is practised. ( Story culled from The Punch)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *