Breast Surgery Recovery

Breast Surgery Recovery

Breast surgery is a cosmetic procedure that alters the shape and size of the breasts. It can be an ideal solution for countless women who are troubled by various concerns or circumstances. Surgery to alter the breasts can give a sense of femininity, add self-confidence and boost self-esteem. However, breast surgery requires a certain amount of recovery and downtime. Women considering breast augmentation, breast reconstruction or breast reduction should know what to expect during the recovery period.

Recovery after Breast Enhancement

Breast enhancement recovery is fairly brief but is certainly important in achieving optimal results. Patients need to minimize their physical activity for approximately 3 to 7 days and then gradually build up to more strenuous activities. However, the full recovery time depends on several aspects including the implant size, where the incision was made and whether the implant was positioned above or below the pectoral muscle.

Since implants are available in a variety of sizes, it is important to understand that a larger implant can place more pressure under the pectoral muscle and cause more stretching of the overlying tissue. Therefore, the recovery time for large implants may be a bit longer than smaller implants. In addition, there are 4 incision methods a surgeon may use to place the implants:

  1. Inframammary – Located in the crease where the lower part of the breast meets the chest wall
  2. Periareolar – The incision is made at the edge of the areola so that the scar will better blend in since it is the area where the darker tissue meets the lighter breast tissue
  3. Transumbilical (TUBA) – The incision is made around the rim of the navel and goes under the skin through fatty tissue
  4. Transaxillary – The incision is made in the natural fold of the armpit

The location of the incision can also make a difference in the recovery time for breast implant patients. An inframammary incision is often the preferred technique but requires the longest downtime due to the patient’s inability to lift their arms above their head. In addition, the patient will not be permitted to do any upper body exercises for about 2 to 4 weeks in order to relieve straining on the incision. Implants placed submuscular, or below the pectoral muscle, can take longer to recover from since this method requires dissecting a portion of the muscle to insert the implant.

Downtime can include approximately 1 week off work and about 2 to 4 weeks of no lifting. However, submuscular implants provide a more natural appearance than subglandular. Subglandular placement involves the implant being placed above the muscle. With this method, patients are generally able to return to work within 2 to 3 days.

During the recovery period, it is important for patients to follow all post-surgical recommendations to reduce the possibility of complications and to help achieve the best results. Patients are advised to take all medications as prescribed. They should expect a significant amount of swelling, some bruising and soreness on the breasts. The surgeon usually places a compression bandage around the breasts just after the surgery to control the amount of swelling and to support the new breasts. Prior to the procedure, patients should purchase some shirts that button up since lifting the arms above the shoulders is not permitted.

Avoid smoking since it interferes with circulation and can hinder the healing process. During recovery, patients should not take blood thinners or herbal supplements which may obstruct the body’s ability to properly heal. Patients should rest on their backs while elevated to lessen the amount of pressure on the chest. A massage regimen should be performed to help with proper positioning of the breast implants and to prevent complications.

Recovery after Breast Reconstruction

Women who have undergone a mastectomy due to breast cancer or women who have had an injury which caused breast disfigurement may require breast reconstruction. Reconstructive surgery can help restore the appearance of a missing breast via implants or reshape the breast tissue using the flap method. Although reconstructive surgery may not leave the patient with a completely natural look, it can certainly benefit a woman both physically and emotionally.

Breast reconstruction can begin at the same time as a mastectomy or it can transpire after the patient has already healed. Implant reconstruction is less invasive and is generally recommended for older patients. Implants are also recommended for patients who are thin since the flap method involves taking tissue from other regions of the body. Thin patients do not usually have excess skin for removal. However, flap reconstruction is frequently preferred by patients requiring a unilateral breast reconstruction because it is easier to match the shape, size and feel of the corresponding breast.

Recovery time from the flap method generally takes about six weeks and additional downtime may be required due to weakness in the arms or abdomen.  Although breast reconstruction via implants is less invasive, the entire process may be more extensive than traditional breast implants.

Patients without sufficient skin in the breast area to support an implant may need a balloon-like tissue expander placed under the chest muscle. Weekly injections of saline into the tissue expander by the doctor will gradually stretch the skin and make room for the implant. This process continues for 6 to 8 weeks or until the tissue is stretched enough for the tissue expander to be replaced by the implant. After the implant is placed, the patient can expect several weeks of recovery time.

Patients who undergo breast reconstructive surgery will be monitored in the hospital for 2 to 5 days. Drains will be placed in the breast area to remove excess fluid for one to two weeks. Patients can expect swelling, bruising and soreness at the surgical site(s). They will also need to strictly follow the surgeon’s post-op recommendations which are similar to traditional breast enhancement surgery.

Recovery after Breast Reduction

Breast reduction can transform heavy breasts into smaller, lighter breasts. Patients with large breasts may have pain associated with the neck and back, skin irritations from indentations left by the bra and health issues related to poor posture. Breast reduction can alter the size and shape of the breast as well as alleviate these symptoms.

After breast reduction surgery, the patient will wear a compression bandage for the first 2 to 3 days over the surgical dressing. After the dressing is removed, a surgical bra will be worn for several weeks. The breasts may feel dry and itchy during the recovery period. Patients can expect to be sore with swelling and bruising that will decrease over the first few weeks. The stitches are removed approximately 7 to 14 days after breast reduction surgery.

Heavy lifting and strenuous activity should be avoided for several weeks after surgery. However, some women can return to work within 10 to 14 days depending on their profession. Tenderness is likely to occur during the first menstrual period after the surgery. Changes in sensation including hypersensitivity and numbness in the breast tissue and nipple are common side effects. Although these symptoms are generally temporary, they can be permanent in rare cases. Since the breast tissue is significantly disrupted, it can take 6 months to a year for all of the swelling from a breast reduction to diminish.