Breast reduction recovery is a process that takes many months. The first few weeks after the surgery are typically the most challenging both physically and emotionally. During this time period, it’s especially important to follow all post-operative instructions from your plastic surgeon. Failure to do so may lengthen the amount of time it takes for you to heal. You will also be at higher risk for complications – some of which could require additional surgery to correct.
First Day of Breast Reduction Recovery
Many patients now return home the day of their breast reduction surgery. However, an overnight hospital stay is recommended for some patients. Either way, the first hours after the procedure can be disorienting. Coming out of anesthesia may leave you feeling dizzy, confused and nauseous. The oral medications you take to control pain after the surgery may cause these symptoms to continue or recur. Your chest will be bandaged and there may be drains in the incisions to limit fluid buildup under the skin. A compression garment or surgical bra may be applied to reduce swelling and provide support. As with most plastic surgeries, you will be expected to get up and walk around some within the first 24 hours to aid circulation and help lower your risk of blood clots. You will need a ride home from the hospital and someone to stay with you for the first 24-48 hours.
Initial Weeks of Breast Reduction Recovery
You will meet with your plastic surgeon to have the drains removed within the first few days. External, removable stitches are generally taken out within the first two weeks. Your surgeon will use these visits to check on how your incisions are healing and to spot any complications. You can also call your surgeon’s office at any time if you have questions or concerns. It’s important to watch for warning signs of complications such as infection, tissue necrosis (skin or fat tissue that dies instead of healing), blood or fluid-filled cysts.
There are many side effects (besides the initial pain) that are common during the first weeks of breast reduction recovery. These include swelling, bruising, soreness and tenderness. These symptoms are typically worst during the first few days and then get better gradually. You can manage discomfort by:
- Wearing your compression garment as directed (usually for several weeks)
- Taking pain medication before your level of discomfort becomes severe
- Using cold compresses if recommended by your surgeon
- Sitting and sleeping with your upper body elevated
Because nerve endings are severed during surgery, you will likely experience changes in sensation in the skin of your breasts. This could include numbness, tingling, burning, or itching. If your nipples were repositioned during the procedure, they may feel strange as well. These sensations may fade over time, or they could be long-lasting.
Activity During Breast Reduction Recovery
You will be encouraged to remain active by walking after your surgery. However, many other movements will be restricted. This includes lifting, pulling, pushing, stretching and any other activities that place strain on your upper body. You will be instructed not to lift even light objects (anything over 5 pounds). It might be one to two weeks before you are ready to return to work, depending on what type of job you have. You may need a doctor’s note so your employer can place you on light duty during your recovery.
If you have young children, you will need help with child care during your recovery. It may be two months or more before you can begin to gradually re-introduce regular exercise. Your arm and shoulder mobility may be affected by the breast reduction surgery. This problem may be temporary, but it can be a permanent complication in some cases.
Long Term Breast Reduction Recovery
Your scars will start out red or pink in color. They will continue to fade over the next 12-24 months. While they will always be visible, they should become less noticeable with time. As with many plastic surgeries, it can take as long as six months for swelling to fully resolve and the final results of your procedure to become apparent.
As you recover, you should begin experiencing relief from the ongoing back pain that used to be caused by your large breasts. However, stooping and slumping can continue out of habit even when the excess weight is gone. You may need physical therapy to help retrain your body in proper posture to prevent future back problems.
Your surgeon will let you know when it is safe to wear a regular bra, when you can wear an underwire bra and if it is OK to go without a bra. Once your breasts stabilize at their final shape and size, you will be ready to shop for a new wardrobe. It will probably be easier to find clothes that fit now!