Breast Lift Risks & Recovery – What Should You Expect?

Reviewed by Grant Stevens, MD, FACS

Your breast lift (mastopexy) recovery is just that — your recovery. This means that your experience will depend on many personal factors, including how resilient you are and whether your breast lift was done as a standalone procedure or in conjunction with another procedure such as breast augmentation with implants, laser bra surgery, breast auto augmentation or tuberous breasts correction surgery.

Your surgeon should discuss the ins and outs of your breast lift recovery with you during your initial consultation.

Breast Lift Recovery Basics

If general anesthesia is used, you may feel groggy and nauseated after your breast lift. Expect some mild to moderate discomfort immediately following your surgery as well. Taking prescription pain medication for up to a week after the surgery can help with pain. Your surgeon may also prescribe antibiotics to reduce your risk of developing an infection after your breast lift. Take these as directed.

Many women experience a brief bout of the post-breast-lift blues. Feelings of sadness and depression can follow any surgery. These may be related to anesthesia, pain, sleep loss, other medications and restrictions put on your life during recovery. You may also begin to second-guess your decision. These feelings are all normal and should begin to subside as you start to heal.

Your breasts will be swollen, sore and bruised after a breast lift. These symptoms typically improve within three to 10 days. You may experience a loss of sensation in your nipples and areolas (the darker skin around your nipples). This is usually temporary. While infrequent, permanent loss of sensation is a breast lift risk.

Simple ways to help reduce post-breast-lift swelling include drinking more water and cutting back on salt. Engaging in regular exercise such as walking can also help reduce swelling, provided your doctor gives you the OK.

Breast Lift Recovery: Dos and Don'ts

You will likely need to wear bandages or a surgical bra for several days after your breast lift. These can usually be replaced with an athletic bra after your first postoperative appointment. Your surgeon will provide detailed instruction on how to care for any dressings or bandages. For example, dressings should be kept dry until the incision lines have closed. This means sponge baths instead of showers for the first few days.

Your surgeon will tell you to avoid heavy lifting or straining because this type of activity can cause your breasts to swell. Most people can return to work within a week, but this depends on your profession. Walking soon after your breast lift surgery is important. This early mobility can decrease your risk of developing a potentially fatal blood clot. Avoiding sex for one or two weeks is also advisable.

Understanding the Risks

Like all surgeries, breast lift (mastopexy) confers risks and complications. Breast lift risks can be minimized by carefully following your plastic surgeon's pre- and post-op instructions and taking certain precautions. Your surgeon will alert you to any red flags to watch for and will instruct you on what to do in the event that signs of trouble occur during your breast lift recovery.

In general, breast lift risks include:

  • Anesthesia complications
  • Infection
  • Hematoma (collection of blood that pools outside of the blood vessel)
  • Seroma (collection of fluid underneath the skin)
  • Skin or fat death (necrosis)
  • Bleeding or blood loss
  • Temporary or permanent loss of sensation in the nipple or areola (the pigmented area around the nipple)
  • Depression or emotional changes
  • Unfavorable scarring
  • Breast asymmetry
  • Excessive breast firmness
  • Trouble breast-feeding
  • Dissatisfaction with the cosmetic results of your breast lift
  • Pulmonary embolism (This occurs when a blood clot in your leg travels to your lungs, and can be fatal.)
  • Death

Minimizing Your Breast Lift Risks

Your breast lift risk profile is based on your personal health history, the details of your operation, your surgeon's skill set and how well you adhere to your pre- and post-op instructions.

Many of these factors are in your control. For example, you can choose the most highly skilled surgeon you can find to perform your breast lift.

You can also help ensure a risk-free procedure by being honest about your health status. Tell your surgeon whether or not you smoke, drink alcohol or take any medications — even herbal ones — on a regular basis. Some risks, such as skin necrosis, are elevated if you smoke, and certain medications may increase your risk of bleeding.

Serious complications after breast lift surgery are rare, and many, such as pulmonary embolism, are preventable. Your surgeon will likely suggest that you get up and move about as soon as possible following surgery to boost circulation and prevent the development of a blood clot.

Steps for Preventing Infection After Breast Lift

Another breast lift risk, postsurgical infection, can be prevented by taking antibiotics as prescribed for as long as prescribed. Using an anti-bacterial soap for a few days before your surgery can also help prevent infection.

If an infection does occur, catching it early can improve your prognosis. Know what to look out for, including:

  • Redness, discharge and/or foul smell at the incision sites
  • Severe swelling
  • Severe pain that develops after your surgery and does not improve
  • Intense heat in the treated area
  • Fever higher than 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit

If any of these symptoms occur, call your surgeon immediately.

Choose a Board-Certified Plastic Surgeon for Your Breast Lift

Choosing a qualified board-certified plastic surgeon will help minimize your risk of complications and maximize your satisfaction with the cosmetic results of your breast lift. At your initial consultation, be sure to ask your surgeon for a personalized risk profile and make sure you are informed about all aspects of surgery, including the breast lift cost. Start your search for a qualified surgeon now.

About the Reviewer of This Article

Grant Stevens, MD, FACS, is the medical director of Marina Plastic Surgery Associates in Marina del Rey, CA. He is a board certified Diplomate of the American Board of Plastic Surgery and a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons and the International College of Surgeons. Dr. Stevens is the director of the USC Aesthetic Surgery Fellowship and Aesthetic Surgery Division. He is on the editorial board of Aesthetic Surgery Journal and is on the board of directors of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery . He is past chairman of the California Medical Association Advisory Panel on Plastic Surgery and has received the Special Congressional Certificate of Recognition and the Distinguished Service Citation from the Medical Board of California.