Many women are unhappy with the size and shape of their breasts, so it’s no wonder that breast augmentation is the second most popular plastic surgical procedure performed in the United States, with more than 300,000 breast augmentation procedures performed each year, according to The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. Some women are hesitant about having breast augmentation surgery because they are worried about the recovery after surgery. Any plastic surgery procedure is going to require some recovery, however, the breast augmentation recovery process is actually fairly mild when compared to other procedures such as a face lift or tummy tuck. In this article, we will discuss the recovery from breast augmentation in detail, discussing each phase of the recovery process.
One Patient’s Breast Augmentation Recovery Journey
Recovery Immediately After Surgery-up to Four Weeks Post Op
Immediately following breast augmentation surgery, as you probably could have guessed, your breasts will feel “stretched”. This is because the skin is not used to having to accommodate the volume of the implant. Over time, the skin will stretch and grow to accommodate the size of your new breasts.
Post operative swelling is normal. To help with swelling, your doctor may instruct you to use a cold compress on the breasts for the first few days after surgery. You may also be required to wear a surgical bra or wrap that will compress the breasts and combat swelling even more. The breasts will be quite swollen right after the surgery, but this will subside quickly over the first four weeks.
You may experience bruising of the breasts in the early stages. This is normal and nothing to worry about, even if there is a lot of unsightly discoloration. The bruising will heal more quickly than the swelling, and should fade by about 90% over the first two to three weeks.
Discomfort and Soreness
Your breasts may be quite sore and tender for the first few days after surgery. You may take pain medication as prescribed by your surgeon. The pain shouldn’t last much longer than a week; if you experience severe pain that is not controlled by your pain medication, you should contact your plastic surgeon immediately.
During the first few days after surgery, you may have drains to help remove any excess fluid that may collect around the implants. The drains, if you need them at all, shouldn’t be required for more than a week at the most. In most cases, the drains will be removed within the first two to three days.
Care for Stitches/Sutures
Right after surgery, you will have to take care to keep the sutures/stitches clean and dry. You probably will not be permitted to shower for the first 24 hours after the surgery. Your surgeon will let you know when you can begin gently washing your incisions with soap and water; however, you should not soak your incisions for the first 8 weeks as this can cause softening and widening of the scars. You should not apply any creams, lotions, deodorants, etc. to the incisions, as they may cause inflammation, or worse, infection. After your sutures/stitches have been removed, you surgeon may recommend a topical scar treatment.
During the first one to three weeks after surgery, you may be required to sleep on your back with your head and shoulders elevated to help reduce swelling and speed up the healing process.
Immediately following surgery, breast augmentation scars will be bright pink and may even be slightly raised. A skilled board-certified plastic surgeon will have made very small and discreet scars. Over time, the scars will flatten and fade. Your surgeon may recommend silicone sheeting or silicone gel to help improve the appearance of the scars. Be sure to stay out of the sun as much as possible as tanning will darken the scars and make them more visible. Keeping them out of direct sun light will ensure that they fade well over time.
You should allow adequate time after surgery to rest, heal and recover from your procedure. If your job keeps you sedentary, you may be able to return to work within the first week after surgery. Discuss your job duties with your plastic surgeon to decide on an appropriate time before returning to work.
You will need to avoid straining or any aerobic activity for at least three weeks after surgery. This is to avoid bleeding, bruising, and swelling. You can typically return to your normal activities four weeks after surgery, however, do not resume strenuous exercise for four to six weeks. Your surgeon will give you clearance to increase your activities according to the progress of your recovery. You may resume driving when you feel you are able, generally in three to four days.
Sensory Nerve Healing
Regeneration of sensory nerves can be accompanied by symptoms of tingling, itching, burning, or shooting pains. These feelings are normal and are nothing to be alarmed about. This will gradually lessen and disappear with time. As the nerves regenerate, the nipples commonly become hypersensitive. This sensation will also subside with time. You may find that gentle massaging or ice packs at the sides of the ribs may help to alleviate the sensitivity.
Breast Augmentation Recovery – Weeks Two to Four
The first week is hardest part of the recovery, after that it gets much easier. A lot of the pain and soreness will have gone away, although you might still have some very slight soreness up to six months later. Most of the bruising will completely fade over the first three to four weeks, however, the swelling will still persist beyond this 2-4 week time frame. The amount of swelling one experiences after the initial breast augmentation surgery will vary from person to person, but it should go down by about 60-70% during weeks two through four.
You will be able to return to work in probably just a few days, and should certainly be able to return after a week. You may resume light exercise after two to three weeks. Exercise carefully, however, and use common sense. For example, doing chest exercises such as push ups is obviously not a good idea. Walking may be okay, but jogging, especially without a tight sports bra, may cause a lot of stress on the breasts as they will bounce up and down a lot, especially with their new size. It is best to stick to low impact exercises, such as riding a bike (regular bicycle or station bike at the gym) as an alternative to running.
The sensation in your nipples may be reduced during this time, but this perfectly normal. As your progress through the later stages of the recovery, you should eventually recovery all of your sensation back. Permanent loss of sensation in the nipple area is an extremely rare side effect, but if does happen in very rare occasions. Some women, instead of having desensitized nipples after their breast augmentation, actually have increased or hyper-sensitivity. This is normal as well, and should return to normal in time.
The Final Stages – 3 to 6 Month Post Op
During the final stages of the recovery, a number of things will happen. 3-6 months after the surgery, all of the pain, swelling, and bruising of the breasts should be gone. The breasts may still be very firm because the skin will still be slightly stretched, but by the six month mark, the skin should have gotten used to its new volume and the “tight skin” feeling should disappear.
As you heal over the next six months, you may experience a bit of breast asymmetry and other “odd” healing patterns. For example, as you recover, the breast implants that used to sit very high in the chest will drop. This is normal and expected, and will actually make your new breasts look more natural as they drop. However, the implant on your dominant side (depending on if you are right handed or left handed) may not drop as quickly as the other one. Therefore, there may be a period where one breast looks slight uneven from the other—however, not to worry, as this is normal and should correct itself over time, certainly by the six month mark.
The scars will also fade very nicely by the 3-6 months mark on the breast augmentation recovery timeline. A skilled surgeon using the latest breast augmentation techniques will leave scars so tiny and in such a discreet location that they will be nearly impossible to notice, especially if you take good care of yourself during the recovery. This means no smoking, no tanning, drinking plenty of fluids, and apply some kind of scar-fading cream regularly.
By six months after the initial surgery, you should have recovered from all aspects of the procedure: Swelling and bruising should have slowly subsided to almost nothing, your breasts should look even and symmetrical, you should have regained your normal nipple sensitivity back, and the scars should have faded quite nicely, although the scars will continue to fade even more over time. Six months is the minimum amount of time it takes to judge the final results of your breast augmentation. If after six months you are still unhappy with the way things look, it is still probably best to wait a full year before considering going in for a breast augmentation revision surgery.