What To Expect After Breast Reduction Surgery

Let's be real, having large breasts isn't always fun, even if the media says otherwise. Breasts that are larger can cause neck and back pain, migraines and severe headaches, and numbness in the hands and fingers (per WebMD). Very large breasts can also prevent women from participating in exercise and physical activity, as well as daily actions like picking up children and sitting at a desk or table. Large breasts can also lead to shortness of breath after minimal exertion. Sometimes breast reduction surgery is a good option to alleviate pain and prevent future health issues.

Breast reduction surgery can be performed in a variety of ways, but always requires general anesthesia and takes up to three hours (per WebMD). The goal of most breast reduction procedures is to remove at least a pound of tissue, fat cells, and excess skin. The surgery is typically recommended after non-invasive treatments like physical therapy and pain medication have failed to remedy the health issues presented by very large breasts.

Breast reduction surgeries aren't just performed on women. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons released their 2020 annual report that documented 18,575 breast reductions performed on men diagnosed with gynecomastia, a condition that results in the enlargement of breast tissue (via Endocrine Society). Here's what you can expect after undergoing breast reduction surgery.

Immediate post-operative experience

Since breast reduction surgeries require general anesthesia, patients are usually placed in post-operative rooms immediately after surgery until they wake up, notes Verywell Health. When your procedure is finished, the incision sites will be covered with bandages and dressings like gauze, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS).

The ASPS notes that your doctor may advise that you wear a support bra or elastic bandage to reduce swelling and support healing. Additionally, there may be a small, thin tube that is placed temporarily under your skin to drain excess fluid and blood from the area operated on. Your doctor will provide post-op instructions, and discuss with you details for any follow-up appointments. 

You will likely be able to go home the same day, says Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Just make sure you have someone to drive you. If you have steri-strips, or surgical tape on your incision site, let it fall off naturally and don't try to force it off. Avoid showering for at least 48 hours. After your healthcare provider says you can resume showering, you should aim to shower every day to keep the incision clean. Although it may be tempting, stay away from hot showers and other sources of heat that could irritate your incision. Getting into a bathtub isn't recommended for at least six weeks after surgery.

Take it easy and practice self-care

Following breast reduction surgery, you'll likely feel sore for two to three weeks, and may become easily tired for several weeks (via Alberta). As the incision site heals, you might feel pulling or stretching sensations as you begin to move around. You may feel like fluid is moving in your breasts, which is a normal sensation that will go away over time, as will any swelling around your breasts.

You'll want to avoid lifting anything heavy or straining actions, including during bowel movements. If prescribed pain medication, adhere to your doctor's instructions. In addition to the physical feelings, be mindful that you'll probably experience an adjustment period to your new breasts. Be gentle with yourself and take your recovery at your own speed, even if you feel antsy to get back to your regular routine.

Recovering from breast reduction surgery is a good opportunity to practice self-care. Because of the fatigue that accompanies the recovery period, you may be advised to take about two weeks off of work to focus on healing (per Alberta). Drink plenty of fluids throughout your recovery and try eating yogurt, rice, toast, and other low-fat bland foods if you experience stomach upset.

As you recover, lean on your support network to help you with household chores, errands, and anything else you may need (via Healthgrades). Rest whenever you feel tired, and try to enjoy calm activities like reading, watching television, or simply relaxing.