In cone beam computed tomography (CT), it is common practice to use the Defrise phantom for image quality assessment. The phantom consists of a stack of plastic plates with low frequency spacing. Because the x-ray beam may traverse multiple plates, the spacing between plates can appear blurry in the reconstruction, and hence modulation provides a measure of image quality. This study considers the potential merit of using the Defrise phantom in digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT), a modality with a smaller projection range than CT. To this end, a Defrise phantom was constructed and subsequently imaged with a commercial DBT system. It was demonstrated that modulation is dependent on position and orientation in the reconstruction. Modulation is preserved over a broad range of positions along the chest wall if the input frequency is oriented in the tube travel direction. By contrast, modulation is degraded with increasing distance from the chest wall if the input frequency is oriented in the posteroanterior (PA) direction. A theoretical framework was then developed to model these results. Reconstructions were calculated in an acquisition geometry designed to improve modulation. Unlike current geometries in which the x-ray tube motion is restricted to the plane of the chest wall, we consider a geometry with an additional component of tube motion along the PA direction. In simulations, it is shown that the newly proposed geometry improves modulation at positions distal to the chest wall. In conclusion, this study demonstrates that the Defrise phantom is a tool for optimizing DBT systems.