Breast Lift Recovery

We know how life-changing the results of a breast lift procedure can be, but what does it take to get there? From the moment the surgeon closes the last incision to the day you’re finally healed, we’ve got all the details on the recovery process.

The Skinny

You can’t talk about plastic surgery without mentioning some kind of breast procedure. We’ve all heard of them and know a friend or celebrity who has had one, but what does this classic plastic surgery actually entail? Let’s run through some quick basics. A breast lift, or mastopexy, is a surgical procedure performed by a board certified plastic surgeon to alter the shape, volume, and positioning of the breasts.

There are two types of breast lift surgeries: surgical and non-surgical. The non-surgical breast lift option involves the use of radiofrequency (RF) energy and has just a few days (usually two to three) of recovery with minimal side effects. On this page, we are going to cover a breast lift. Another note, a breast lift to address excess skin can be a common addition to a breast augmentation with breast implants or a breast reduction.

The Specifics

What to Expect During Breast Lift Recovery

So, what’s it actually like to create your dream breast aesthetic? All candidates can expect pain, swelling, and bruising following this cosmetic surgery. While actual recovery time will vary depending on how invasive your procedure is and how your body naturally heals, one to two weeks is a safe amount of time to assume you’re going to feel significantly uncomfortable and not be looking your best.

Another factor to consider is how you recover from general anesthesia. Many people feel nauseous, drowsy, and disoriented immediately following anesthesia. These side effects generally resolve quickly as the sedating medications wear off.

The Ultimate Breast Lift Recovery Timeline

Ok, let’s get into the nitty gritty of breast lift recovery. We’ll start with how to utilize your pre-op time to minimize the intensity of your post-op time and then we’ll look at what you can expect from the first few days, weeks, and months.

It should also be noted that your surgeon should provide comprehensive pre- and post-op instructions, and you should always defer to the advice of your medical team. This is simply meant to serve as a guide.

  • Pre-Op

  • Immediately Post-Op

    • Depending on how you react to anesthesia, you may feel drowsy, disoriented, and nauseous. These immediate side effects should wear off within a few hours. Even those of us who tolerate anesthesia well should expect to feel sore and swollen.
    • Remember that part of your general anesthesia is stronger intravenous pain medicine that will have you waking up numb but not with sharp pain. As these medications get worked out of your system, you should expect to feel a more intense (not severe) pain. Your doctor will tell you what pain medications are most appropriate for you following your procedure.

  • Day 1

    • So, you hopefully got some sleep lying on your back-no pressure on the chest for a while. Ideally, you kept an ice pack and your pain or inflammation meds not too far away. Medicines like ibuprofen or acetaminophen are important not only for pain control, but also for keeping inflammation down and promoting faster recovery.
    • Also, you should be wearing your compression garments as directed. The hours and first day or two following the procedure are an important time!
    • You’re probably feeling soreness and discomfort in your chest, shoulders, and upper arms. You’ll probably be sporting some bruises, too.
    • Some people have a poor appetite following anesthesia, but hopefully today you're ready to eat some meals and get the nutrients you need for healing. Make sure to drink plenty of water!
    • Also, it’s not unusual to have some minimal bleeding or discharge from your wounds. Remember that your body is working hard to heal your wounds and it’s sending a lot of blood with nutrients and infection-fighting cells to the area. This creates a lot of inflammation that you can control with meds and ice packs.

  • Day 2 - Day 7

    • Each day, the pain, swelling, and bruising will progressively improve.
    • If you had sutures placed during the procedure, they will usually get removed somewhere between day five and seven.
    • During this first week, don’t expect to go to work or be doing anything strenuous. This is the time to binge watch TV, (try to) organize your inbox, or learn a new skill like meditating quietly... whatever works for you.

  • Week 2

    • Ok, so now you can probably start thinking about getting back to most aspects of your life. If you need to travel home from your procedure, it’s now safe to get on a plane. You can also think about heading out for some errands or back to the office.

  • Week 3 to Week 12

    • For most candidates, it’s safe to get your blood pumping again. Your doctor will give you specific instructions, but, by week three or four, you can generally resume more strenuous activities (sex included) and slowly ramp up the intensity over a few days as tolerated. Keep in mind, exercise at this time may temporarily increase swelling, but this should go down within a few hours.
    • It’s worth repeating that during this entire time swelling will continue to go down slowly and it is important to protect your chest from trauma or excessive movement. No chest presses, heavy lifting, or picking up toddlers.

  • 6 months to 1 Year

    • Swelling will become considerably less noticeable and there’s not much to do during this time other than be mindful and continue to take general precautions to minimize swelling. Results will finalize during this time.

Tips to Improve Your Breast Lift Recovery

Now that you know more about the recovery timeline associated with breast lift plastic surgery, we’ve got some tips to help you progress along your recovery as effortlessly as possible. Like we mentioned, every individual body heals at its own pace, but there are definitely some universal truths that augment healing.

1. Be Mindful & Be Patient

We’re not being deliberately vague here. Your body will let you know what it needs. If you feel like taking it slow one day, do it! If you suddenly have the desire to get some fresh air, go for it (albeit you are medically cleared for it)! The mind-body connection exists and the more you respect it the easier your recovery will be. Patience rules the day, so be kind to your body and slowly ease yourself back into your routine without forcing things like your return to work or working out.

2. Eat well, sleep well, & stay hydrated

This is just good life advice, but, especially during times of increased stress on the body (think: following a major plastic surgery), the more you nourish yourself and properly rest the better. Some of the best repair hormones only get cycled through your blood while you sleep, so be like a pro athlete during the months following your surgery and get those eight hours. Your chest (and your entire being) will thank you for it.

Additionally, eating a balanced diet free from processed foods in combination with plenty of water and taking it easy on caffeine and alcohol will naturally reduce inflammation and help lessen swelling more quickly (check out our guide to what to eat before and after cosmetic procedures). Oh, and don’t smoke. Our advice is to never smoke, but it’s particularly vital to lay off after a major surgery.

3. Elevate & Ice

Cold compresses and using your compression garments appropriately will lessen blood flow to the chest and reduce the amount of fluid accumulation in and around your breasts. While blood does bring all the good nutrients and healing cells, it can also leave large deposits of infection-fighting cells and other materials you don’t really need hanging around. This is why icing for periods of time (i.e. not continuously) creates the best balance of blood flow.

4. Moderate Your Activities

This probably doesn’t need to be said, but, just in case, three weeks after your breast lift is not the time to begin your CrossFit training regimen or suddenly develop a passion for chest presses. Vigorous exercise makes blood pressure increase. Increased blood pressure means increased swelling. Intense exercise also naturally increases the stress hormone cortisol. While it’s great in moderation when you're healthy, it’s not ideal in the months following a major surgery.

Other activities to avoid or limit: laying on your stomach, sun bathing, and heavy lifting.

Breast Lift Side Effects & Complications

So now that we’ve thoroughly covered the days and weeks following a breast lift procedure, let’s review what you can definitely expect versus is only a possibility. Every breast lift patient should expect at least one to two weeks of bruising and at least four to six weeks of swelling. Chest tightness, heaviness, and soreness are all common side effects that will resolve within a week or two and can be mitigated with medications.

While rare, more serious complications are possible. Infections of the breast tissues are a possible complication of a breast lift and can be treated with antibiotics. Permanent numbness from nerve damage, intractable pain, asymmetry, loss of the nipple and areolar tissue, and scarring are more significant complications that may require further surgical revision or be unable to be fixed.

The Takeaway

The healing process following a plastic surgery like a breast lift can seem intimidating. And while we are not minimizing the fact that a breast lift is a major surgery with considerable risks and side effects, thousands of breast lifts are safely performed successfully in the United States each year with patients enjoying life-changing results. Never underestimate the value of a consultation with a board certified plastic surgeon to more specifically determine what your unique breast lift experience will entail.
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  1. American Society of Plastic Surgeons 2018 Plastic Surgery Statistics Report; 2019-01-01

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