Breast Reduction Recovery

We know how life-changing the results of a breast reduction 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


We all know breast augmentation, but for many women breast reduction surgery is what is needed to create their ideal breast aesthetic. What does this plastic surgery procedure actually entail? Let’s run through some quick basics. A breast reduction, or reduction mammaplasty, is a procedure performed by a board certified plastic surgeon to alter the size, shape, and volume of the breasts. It may seem counterintuitive, but some patients combine breast reduction with a breast lift (a.k.a. mastopexy) to address skin concerns or breast augmentation with breast implants to create the perfect breast appearance.

The Specifics


What to Expect During Breast Reduction Recovery

So, what’s it actually like to create your ideal breast aesthetic? All candidates can expect pain, swelling, and bruising following this plastic cosmetic surgery. While actual recovery time will vary depending on how invasive your procedure is and your natural healing, one to two weeks is a safe amount of time to assume you’re going to feel significantly uncomfortable and not be up to going about your usual routine.

Another factor to consider is how you recover from general anesthesia, which will most likely be a component of your procedure. Many people experience nausea, drowsiness, and disorientation in the hours following anesthesia. These side effects resolve quickly, as the sedating medications wear off, but are a part of the immediate post-surgical recovery.

The Ultimate Breast Reduction Recovery Timeline

Ok, let’s get into the nitty gritty of breast reduction recovery. We’ll start with how to utilize your pre-op time to reduce the intensity of your post surgical experience 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

    • Stop smoking, drinking alcohol, taking certain supplements, and reduce caffeine intake a few days prior to surgery. This reduces inflammatory markers and promotes overall health optimizing you for a successful and speedy recovery.
    • Get your supplies together! Have the essentials like ice packs, pain and inflammation medications (like aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen), compression garments or a surgical bra, and any medications your doctor advises (like antibiotic ointments). Check out our complete guide to recovering from cosmetic procedures in comfort and style to learn more.

  • Immediately Post-Op

    • Depending on how you react to general anesthesia, you may be drowsy, disoriented, and nauseous. These immediate side effects of general anesthesia usually wear off within a few hours. Even those who tolerate anesthesia well should expect soreness and swelling.
    • Remember that part of general anesthesia is stronger pain medications given intravenously that will have you waking up with numbness instead of sharp pain. As these medicines get worked out of your body, you should expect to feel a more intense (although not severe) pain. Your doctor will tell you what pain medicines are most appropriate for you post-op.

  • Day 1

    • So, you hopefully got some sleep lying on your back (no pressure should be placed on the breasts for at least a few days). You ideally kept your ice pack and pain and inflammation meds close by. Medicines like ibuprofen or acetaminophen are important not only for pain control, but also inflammation control which promotes quicker recovery.
    • You’re probably feeling sore and uncomfortable in your chest, shoulders, and upper arms.
    • Hopefully you’re feeling ok now that the anesthesia has worn off and can tolerate some gentle meals. Make sure to drink plenty of water!
    • Also, it’s not unusual to have a small amount of discharge or bleeding from your wounds. Remember your body is working hard to recover and it’s sending a lot of blood with nutrients and infection-fighting cells to the area. This creates inflammation that you can control with meds and ice packs.

  • Day 2 to Day 7

    • Each day, the pain, swelling, and bruising will progressively improve.
    • If you suture were used during your procedure they are usually removed around days five to seven. If you only had steristrips placed, those will fall off naturally within a few weeks.
    • Make sure to keep wearing your compression garments as directed.
    • If any surgical drains were placed, they will be removed usually towards the end of the first week.
    • During this first week, don’t expect to go to work or be doing anything strenuous. This is the time to binge watch your favorite series, organize your inbox, or learn a new language… 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. It’s also usually safe to wear a bra with no underwire.
    • Also, keep wearing your compression garments as directed by your plastic surgeon.

  • Week 3 to Week 12

    • For most candidates, it’s now safe to get your blood pressure up again. Your doctor will give you specific instructions, but, generally by week three or four, you can resume more strenuous activities and exercise slowly ramping up the intensity over a few days as tolerated.
    • It’s worth repeating that during this entire time swelling will continue to go down and it is important to protect your chest from trauma.
    • By week six, most candidates can expect to have a pretty good idea of what their final results will be. Time to hit the stores and fill up your closet!

Tips to Improve Your Breast Reduction Recovery

Now that you know more about the recovery timeline associated with breast reduction plastic surgery, we’ve got some tips to help you progress along your recovery as efficiently and effortlessly as possible. Every individual body heals at its own pace, but there certainly are 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, Compress, and Ice

Cold compresses and a compression garment will lessen blood flow to the area and reduce the amount of fluid accumulation in and around your chest. 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 augmentation is not the time to begin your CrossFit training regimen. 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: chest presses and/or heavy lifting, sun bathing, and laying on your stomach.

Breast Reduction Side Effects & Complications

So now that we’ve thoroughly covered the days and weeks following a breast reduction procedure, let’s review what you can definitely expect versus what may or may not occur. Every breast reduction patient should expect at least one to two weeks of bruising and at least four to six weeks of swelling.

While rare, more serious complications are possible. Infections of the breast tissues are a possible complication of breast reduction and can be treated with antibiotics. Permanent numbness from nerve damage, intractable pain, asymmetry, capsular contracture, 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 cosmetic surgery like breast reduction can seem intimidating. And while we are not minimizing the fact that a breast reduction is a major surgery with considerable risks and side effects, thousands of breast reductions 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 breast reduction board certified plastic surgeon to more specifically determine what your unique breast reduction experience will entail.
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  1. American Society of Plastic Surgeons 2018 Plastic Surgery Statistics Report plasticsurgery.org; 2019-01-01
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