Breast Reduction Recovery – What Can You Expect?

Reviewed by Walter Erhardt, MD

Breast reduction surgery can be life altering for many women, especially if their overly large breasts have caused persistent back and neck pain or extreme self-consciousness. While breast reduction may help you look and feel better, recovering from this procedure can involve significant downtime and some discomfort.

Knowing what to expect can help you better prepare for your breast reduction recovery.

Immediate Post-Surgery Period

General anesthesia is typically used for breast reduction, so you may feel groggy and nauseated immediately after your surgery.

Your breasts will be covered with gauze dressings and/or bandages following your surgery. You may also have drains inserted in the suture lines to get rid of any excess blood or fluid. These are typically removed during your first follow-up appointment. Your surgeon will provide instructions on how to care for these drains. He or she should also discuss proper incision care, including how and why you must keep your incision lines dry.

Pain and Swelling After Breast Reduction

You will be sore, swollen and bruised after your breast reduction procedure. Your plastic surgeon can prescribe pain medications to help with this discomfort. Some people need them, but others don't.

Certain over-the-counter pain medications are safe to take after your breast reduction surgery. Others, including aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, are not. Your surgeon should provide you with an extensive list of permissible medications.

Post-breast reduction swelling can last up to four months. This is normal. Your breasts will be smaller after surgery, so this swelling may not be very obvious. You will likely need to wear a compression garment or surgical bra to minimize swelling and support your breasts as they heal.

Get up and walk as soon as possible after your breast reduction surgery. Early ambulation will decrease your risk of developing a blood clot in your leg. This type of blood clot can travel to your lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism.

Exercise and other strenuous activities are not advisable during the month after your breast reduction. Don't do too much too quickly and risk jeopardizing the results of your surgery. This includes heavy lifting, bending or straining. Most women can go back to work within two to three weeks after their breast reduction.

At Home After Breast Reduction

Many women report that sleeping — or even getting comfortable — is difficult during breast reduction recovery. Place pillows under your upper back and head to keep the area elevated and relieve pressure. A pillow under your knees may prevent you from rolling over during the night. Getting proper rest will help you regain your strength faster after your breast reduction.

Ask your surgeon when you may shower or bathe after your breast reduction surgery. You may not be able to wash your hair because you won't be able to raise your hands over your head.

You will have scars following your surgery, but they will be easily hidden by clothing, including most bathing suits. You may experience loss of sensation in the nipples or areolas (the darker pigmented areas around the nipples), but this is usually transient.

Many plastic surgeons say breast reduction patients are among their happiest and most satisfied customers. The change is immediate and can be dramatic — it affects how you look, how you feel and how you feel about yourself. The results are permanent as long as your weight remains stable. That said, you are not immune to the effects of gravity, aging and pregnancy on your breasts. Other breast enhancement surgeries such as a breast lift (mastopexy) may be needed in the future.

Choosing a board-certified plastic surgeon to perform your breast reduction and following his or her instructions carefully both before and after your surgery will help pave the way toward a smoother breast reduction recovery. Start your search for the right surgeon now.