If you are considering breast reduction, it is important to understand that the recovery process can take several months and possibly even longer before you see the final results.
In the initial days following your procedure, it is important to follow the surgeon’s post-operative instructions. This will ensure a smooth healing process. Failure to follow these instructions could lead to an extended recovery period and potential complications.
What to expect after surgery
Upon waking up after surgery, patients can expect to feel tired, groggy, nauseous, and sore. Some of these symptoms are related to the anesthesia, while others are linked to the actual surgery itself. Additional side effects include discomfort, redness, bruising, reduced nipple sensitivity, and swelling. The breasts will likely be very tender and sore, especially in the first few days. Your surgeon will most likely prescribe pain medication to help with this. It is normal to experience dull pain for several weeks after surgery.
In most cases, a compression garment or surgical gauze will already be placed over the breasts before you wake up. You will probably have sutures and fluid drainage tubes, both of which will be removed in about a week. It is important not to disturb the incisions or sutures during this time.
Sleeping may be challenging following your surgery. Many patients also find it difficult to bathe, as they must wait until the sutures have been removed and cannot lift their arms above their heads. Because of this, you may want to arrange for a friend or hairstylist to help you wash your hair for the first few weeks.
Breast reduction is a surgical procedure, and because of this, patients should expect some scarring from the incisions, although the size, position, and appearance of scars may vary from patient to patient. The incisions required will depend on the amount of tissue being removed, among other factors. Over time, these incisions should fade into the surrounding skin.
Tips to reduce swelling
Many patients find that post-operative swelling obscures the results of their surgery for up to a month. This swelling may even cause the breasts to appear misshapen. Swelling will gradually subside as the breast tissue heals, although there are a few ways to expedite the breast reduction recovery process. Here are a few tips to reduce swelling after surgery:
- Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.
- Maintain a proper, low-sodium diet.
- Get plenty of rest and ease into daily activities gradually.
- Avoid medications that may interfere with the recovery process. Tell your doctor about any medications you are taking.
A compression garment must be worn over the breasts at all times for the first few weeks after breast reduction. This surgical garment is designed to reduce the recovery time by controlling swelling, bruising, and other side effects. It also holds the breast tissue in place, allowing it to adapt to the new contours. During recovery, it is important to avoid underwire bras or those that do not provide adequate breast support.
When to call your doctor
If any of the following symptoms occur, it could be a sign of a complication. In this case, it is recommended that you call your surgeon immediately and go to the nearest emergency room as soon as possible.
- Uncontrollable vomiting.
- Loss of consciousness.
- Temperature above 105 degrees F.
- Blood in urine.
- Severe swelling (aside from normal swelling).
- Blackening of the skin (not to be mistaken with bruising).
Getting back to your normal routine
Most patients plan to take one to two weeks away from work and other obligations to recover. For the first few days, you will need help completing your daily activities. Gradually, you may ease back into your normal routine, although actions such as lifting your arms above your head, heavy lifting, or bending over should be restricted. Strenuous exercise must be avoided for six weeks.
The amount of tissue removed and the length of incisions can affect the healing time. The breasts may not settle into their final shape, size, and position for up to six months, although the initial results of the procedure will be apparent within a week or two. Following breast reduction, the breasts will appear smaller, lighter, and less droopy than before surgery. However, weight gain, pregnancy, and aging can cause further changes in the size or appearance of the breasts.
• Krucoff, K., et al. (2019). Breast-Related Quality of Life in Young Reduction Mammaplasty Patients: A Long-Term Follow-Up Using the BREAST-Q. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, 144(5):743e–750e. Available from: https://insights.ovid.com/pubmed?pmid=31688748
• Clark, Kaitlin. Nine tips from a plastic surgeon and patient for a smoother recovery. (December, 27, 2021) Available from https://www.plasticsurgery.org/news/articles/nine-tips-from-a-plastic-surgeon-and-patient-for-a-smoother-recovery
• UCLA Health. Plastic Surgery Post-Operative Recovery. Available from https://www.uclahealth.org/medical-services/surgery/plastic-surgery/patient-resources/post-operative-recovery
• The Aesthetic Society. Preparing for your Aesthetic Procedure & Recovery Checklist. Available from https://www.theaestheticsociety.org/patient-resources/preparation/checklist