Breast augmentations — whether implants or just “breast lifts” — have long been the bread and butter of plastic surgery. And yet, a rising number of patients often seek out the opposite procedure, known as breast reduction surgery.
If you’re considering breast reduction surgery, you’ll know that “before and after” pics only tell half the story. It’s natural to wonder, “do breast reductions hurt?” or to try to calculate if you have enough PTO left to recover fully. This is why we will focus on healing from breast reduction surgery — from dealing with the initial pain to transitioning back to your normal activity level.
When we talk about breast reduction procedures, we usually refer to one of two types of procedure.
The first is a “plain” breast reduction or reduction mammoplasty. This is similar to liposuction and focuses on taking out the extra breast tissue. To do this, we make a small incision on the top of the areola and then remove excess fat and tissue. This is sometimes followed by a “breast lift,” which will diminish any sagging skin and ensure the nipples and areolas are in a natural place.
This is an outpatient surgery, so you won’t have to stay overnight at a hospital. However, it does require general anesthesia.
The other type of “breast reduction” is a “breast augmentation reversal.” This is done for patients who had breast augmentation in the past and want to remove their breast implants completely or replace them with smaller ones.
This is a type of revision surgery; therefore, it is a bit more complicated than standard breast reduction. The exact incisions, recovery time, and procedures will depend on the following:
Although most people seeking breast surgeries are women, people from all genders can benefit from breast reduction. Some of the most common reasons for breast reduction include:
Whatever the reasons behind your breast reduction, statistics are on your side: studies show that up to 95% of people who undergo this procedure are satisfied with the results and experience a noticeable improvement to their quality of life.
And yet, between the operating room and a life free of shoulder pain or self-consciousness, there is one more obstacle to surpass: the recovery process.
Not everybody heals at the same rate – and besides, the time it takes to restart all your usual activities will depend on what you consider normal. With that said, provided everything goes well, your recovery will likely follow a predictable process.
Breast reduction recovery time is similar to that of a tummy tuck – and remarkably less than for a Brazilian butt lift, which usually requires about a month of downtime.
If you’re having a simple reduction mammoplasty, most of the healing will take place within the first two weeks post-op. However, you’ll probably need to steer clear of some activities for up to six weeks.
For a breast augmentation reversal, timelines may vary a bit more, depending on the extent of the revisions you’re seeking.
Everyone’s breast reduction surgery recovery time will be a bit different depending on your overall health and your body’s natural healing process. In general, recovery time for breast reduction surgery will follow a similar timeline.
The first few days are likely to be the most uncomfortable ones. Breast reductions don’t require hospitalization: a couple of hours after waking up from anesthesia, you will be ready to be driven back home and spend your first night there.
You can expect some nausea or dizziness during your first night. You will also wear a padded surgical bra, giving you extra support and preventing your bandages from rubbing against your bedsheets.
Sometimes, patients also need to have a small, thin plastic tube under the skin, close to the incisions. This is to help drain any excess blood or fluid that may accumulate in the area when the skin is swollen. This tube rarely stays there for more than three days.
Rest plenty during the first two to three days. Depending on what medication we prescribe and your own pain threshold, you may take some prescription painkillers or just over-the-counter ones.
The next important milestone comes approximately 1-week post-op. You’ll have your first check-up between 5 and 10 days after the procedure. At this point we will:
If you have a desk job, you should be ready to resume your duties – but don’t expect to see any final results yet. You’ll still have some swelling and redness, as your skin will still be restoring itself.
For weeks two through four, there will be little point in talking about breast reduction recovery day by day. Instead, you will see minor changes daily. Some limitations you can expect at this stage include the following:
Past the first month, most of the swelling will be gone, and you should be able to do pretty much anything bar heavy lifting. Between one month to six weeks post-op, you will finally be able to ditch the padded surgical bra. However, you may want to test the waters with a sports bra before returning to an underwire bra or “push-up” model.
After you leave the support bra behind, you should also be ready to resume strenuous activity. Make sure you tackle this final stage progressively — don’t head for the weights rack immediately.
So far, all our descriptions about the breast reduction recovery time have assumed no issues and pretty standard health status. Research tells us that barely 4% of women experience significant complications. But rare as it may be, what could go wrong?
For any surgery, the most important risk is usually an infection. This is why any surgeon will give you detailed instructions about bandage care before the procedure, and it is one of the main issues we check for during your check-ups. Still, if you notice:
Then call your plastic surgeon right away!
Other possible complications include scarring, which will progressively diminish over the months after the surgery, bruising, or slight asymmetries between your breasts – that is, one breast or nipple may look different than the other one.
In rare cases, you can develop a blood clot or “wound dehiscence” (when the wound reopens after the stitches are removed). These are extremely rare, however, and happen in less than 0.5% of all people who have breast reductions.
The best way to prevent any issues? It helps if you are generally healthy, don’t smoke, and are not overweight. But the key factor is choosing a board-certified surgeon with extensive experience and training with your specific type of surgery, who works with detail-oriented nurses and a competent anesthetist.
Any time we discuss surgeries, we risk giving our patients an “information overload.” To prevent you from missing the most salient details, I’ve compiled some of the most common questions patients ask when preparing for a breast reduction. If you need to revisit details later, you can head straight to these information nuggets.
This will depend on the type of work you do:
Remember that these are all averages, and you’ll need to be examined by a doctor after surgery to give you the all-clear.
In short – by following all our instructions to the letter. On your last appointment before the surgery, we will discuss the risks and precautions you’ll need to take. We will give you the instructions in writing for anything related to your bandages or incision.
Other tips that can help you speed up your recovery period include:
In most cases, we will provide you with some prescription pain medication before you go home. Past the first few days, there’s a good chance you won’t need anything beyond Advil or over-the-counter options. They also sell breast reduction recovery pillows to help reduce pain and discomfort while sleeping or lying down.
With that said, pain thresholds are very personal. If you know you are very sensitive, bring it up during the pre-surgical consultation.
In most cases, you should be able to drive after just one week. This may vary depending on your tolerance for pain meds or if you are experiencing any side effects, such as nausea.
It’s best to keep your drives short at the start. Even if you feel okay, the seatbelt can feel uncomfortable or even painful.
For the first few days, ensure you have a lot of bottled water or a rehydrating drink. You should also have some bland crackers or creamy soups at hand for the first day – some people feel very nauseous, so anything too heavily seasoned may feel unappetizing.
You should also consider getting a wedge pillow or donut, especially if you like to sleep on your side. This will help relieve the pressure on the incision area. Finally, button-down shirts and pajamas may be easier to deal with than regular over-the-head t-shirts, so have some ready for the first week.
Dr. Sepideh Saber, MD, FACS, is a talented, experienced, board-certified plastic surgeon. As a graduate of Stanford University and the University of Southern California, she is currently one of the rising stars within her field.
Her contributions are not limited to technical knowledge or familiarity with the American Society of Plastic Surgeons’ guidelines. She also offers a compassionate and caring female perspective to every procedure. She works with patients of all ages and genders and guides them through the deeply personal process of altering their appearance.
To request a consultation, call (877) 205-4100 or schedule a consultation online.
The practice of Dr. Saber is located in Encino, CA for patients throughout the Los Angeles area. We are also convenient to Encino, Woodland Hills, Sherman Oaks, Calabasas, Burbank, Glendale, Hidden Hills, Agoura Hills, Northridge, North Hollywood, Malibu, Topanga, Canoga Park, Reseda, Valley Glen, Chatsworth, West Hills, Winnetka, Universal City, Bel Air, Beverly Hills, Downtown Los Angeles, Silverlake, and Echo Park.