American Society of Plastic Surgeons
For Medical Professionals

What to expect after your breast reduction surgery

what to expect after your breast reduction surgery

So, you've decided to have a breast reduction. Congratulations! But now comes the real deal and you need to know what to expect after surgery.

First, if you already have surgery scheduled, talk with your board-certified plastic surgeon about the specific details of recovery. Some surgeons may use drains, others may not. Some surgeons may use sutures that need to be removed and others may not. Some surgeons may use tape or glue, others will use ointments on the incisions.

These details vary from surgeon to surgeon and no one technique used is better than the others; the goal of this article is to talk in general about recovery. The specifics of your care will come from your plastic surgeon.

The phases of recovery

Recovery from any surgery is going to have two phases, an early phase and a late phase. Short-term recovery from breast reduction typically lasts about three weeks. Long-term recovery lasts 3-6 months, sometimes longer. Each phase is unique, but some issues may come up at any time, no matter how long it has been since you had surgery.

The early phase

Let's start with the early phase. Right after surgery, you will wake up and there will be dressings on your chest. Oftentimes you will have something covering the stitches like tape or glue. There will be some gauze padding and a bra or an ACE wrap to support your breasts and provide a little compression. Your surgeon will tell you what to do with these dressings, like when to change them and when you can shower. In general, the first week after surgery you will have moderate pain in your breasts and around the sides of your chest. Some people mainly feel sore. This pain should be easily controlled by the medications your doctor prescribed and should get a little better every day.

Usually, there is drainage, like blood, or clear fluid, from the incision lines. This will lessen over the first few days. The drainage may leak outside of your dressings onto the sheets when you sleep or any place you sit or lean against. Do not use your best sheets! Plan to sleep on an old towel or blanket that you don't mind getting a little soiled.

Take it easy for one week. Take short walks, move slowly, take care of yourself, eat healthy foods and drink plenty of water. Do not try to exercise, diet or do anything more than rest and recover. You will need to sleep on your back for at least 2-3 weeks. If you are a stomach sleeper or side sleeper, this can be the most difficult part of your recovery, so consider purchasing a body pillow or sleeping in a recliner. If you are having trouble sleeping, talk to your physician if you think a mild sleep aid may help.

A lot of women feel a sense of relief that the surgery is over and even more relief that the weight is literally off of their shoulders! However, it is not uncommon to also feel low energy and a little blue after surgery as well. Give yourself time to process the emotions that come after such a big moment in your life.

At about three weeks you will notice almost all the bruising is gone and a lot of the swelling has subsided. Your incisions may look pink or brown and they might still feel tender and firm to touch. With your doctor's okay, you can start doing more activities at this point. Your physician may allow you to increase activities before this, but when planning your recovery, plan to give yourself three weeks off.

About one month after your surgery, you can be fairly confident in your new breast size and can measure yourself for new bras. While some residual swelling may still go away, you can buy new bras at this time. Talk to your surgeon about underwire bras; depending on your incisions and your specific healing, you may need to wait to buy underwire bra styles.

The later phase

In the later phase of recovery, you can start to get back to normal. As you restart activities, give yourself time to build up your stamina. Start with incline walking or low-impact biking as things that involve jogging or jumping may be very uncomfortable on your new chest. Listen to your body and build up slowly. Also, make sure you wear a supportive bra when you work out for the first time. Sexual activity can typically be resumed three weeks after surgery.

During this time you may notice some numbness along the sides of your chest or your nipples. This can be normal and will most likely get better over the next several months, although sometimes numbness can be permanent. Some women have short-lived, intermittent shooting pains or 'zings' in the area of their breast reduction or side of the chest. These are related to healing nerves and should be infrequent and go completely away after a few months.

Most women say that it takes 3-4 months for all of the swelling to go away and there may be some firm spots or bumps that you can feel. Usually, this is a normal part of healing. While swelling may go away after the first few months, scars from surgery can take almost a year to fade and soften completely. Talk to your surgeon about any scar treatment systems they may recommend and use these as instructed.

For many patients, the recovery time feels short when compared to other types of surgery. However, it is important to plan the time needed to recover. Make sure to follow the recommended instructions from your surgeon so that you can achieve your best outcome!

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.


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