Expectation vs. Reality: Recovering From Breast Augmentation

You’ve asked questions, looked at pictures, and read stories, but what can you really expect from the breast augmentation recovery process? We’ve got you covered.
Written by India Bottomley
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Expectation vs. Reality: Recovering From Breast AugmentationJan Kopřiva/Unsplash

Questions and concerns over the realities of recovering from breast augmentation feature prominently into pre-operative conversations and research. From the celebrities and influencers who have publicly documented their recovery to friends or loved ones who may have had the procedure themselves, it’s easy to be overwhelmed with information. If you are considering having a breast surgery, chances are you will have been looking through stories of the recovery process, before and after photos, and will have been wondering what to expect.

To give you a clearer picture of what recovery is actually like, we’re breaking down what can be expected from the healing process. As with any procedure, recovery and results will look different for everyone and plastic surgeons have their own recommendations for giving patients the best possible outcome. Here, we offer some honest insight into what it’s really like to recover from breast augmentation.

The First 48 Hours After Breast Augmentation

Generally speaking, breast augmentation surgery takes two to three hours and surgeons allow patients to go home the same day. Because general anesthesia is involved, patients will need someone to transport them home after the procedure, and it can be helpful to have a caretaker around for the first few days. Providers may offer (for an additional fee) or be able to recommend at-home nursing services to help with post-op care.

As the grogginess from the anesthesia wears off, patients will likely experience some discomfort and start adjusting to their new body. “The first 48 hours after a breast augmentation, patients can expect swelling, soreness, and a feeling of ‘heaviness,’ as the weight of the implants on the chest is a new sensation,” explains Umbareen Mahmood, MD, a board certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon in New York City.

How the breast augmentation is performed will impact the recovery process.“The level of discomfort after breast augmentation depends largely on the surgical technique performed,” says Lauren Chmielewski, MD, a New York City-based board certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon. “The location of the scar, the method of dissecting the pocket, and where the implant is placed can all affect the level of soreness after surgery.” To better understand what you can expect, she recommends discussing it with your surgeon preoperatively.

Removing Sutures

The surgery technique will also play a role in the number of incisions, where they are located, and how they are closed. “I use surgical tape (steri-strips) and have patients wear a surgical bra or non-underwire sports bra,” Dr. Mahmood explains, adding she allows for showering within 24 hours after surgery. The steri-strips usually fall off by the time a patient reaches the one-month post-op mark, at which point Dr. Mahmood advises her patients to begin using scar cream to minimize any visible scarring in the long run.

Pain Management After Breast Augmentation

Your surgical team will do its best to make sure you are as comfortable as possible throughout the recovery process, and the work actually begins in the operating room. “Utilizing key steps during the surgery helps the patient to have a rapid recovery post-operatively,” Dr. Mahmood shares. “Techniques like meticulously controlling any bleeding in the OR, gentle handling of the tissue — especially the pectoralis muscle — and injecting local anesthetic set patients up for a smoother postoperative course.”

Similarly, Dr. Chmielewski says pain is generally managed by a “multi-modal” approach. “I typically use long-acting nerve blocks to decrease pain medication requirements immediately after surgery,” she shares. Oral pain medication is used as needed, and Dr. Mahmood says most patients don’t need it after the initial 48 hours.

While the amount of swelling and bruising depends on the patient and surgical technique, it is a natural part of the healing process. “The majority of the swelling and bruising should resolve in two weeks,” Dr. Chmielewski says. “Taking homeopathic supplements such as arnica and bromelain can reduce the amount and extent.” Residual swelling can linger for four to six weeks, she adds.

Resuming Normal Activities After Breast Augmentation

Patients who undergo breast augmentation surgery are usually women who are active, so the need to take things easy for a few weeks can be one of the more challenging parts of the post-op process. “Many of my patients are busy professional women and/or moms who have a lot on their plate,” Dr. Mahmood shares. “I advise them to get everything in order prior to their surgery so they don't have to worry about it post-op.”

Both experts emphasize the importance of keeping within the prescribed levels of activity after surgery to avoid having to endure a longer recovery. It’s important, for instance, to avoid movement that involves the chest or arms. “Patients are advised to refrain from heavy lifting and be aware of pushing or pulling maneuvers, which can make the pectoralis muscle feel sore,” Dr. Mahmood says. That is particularly pertinent if the implant is placed under the muscle. Stocking up on groceries prior to surgery (more on that below), so you don’t have to worry about carrying heavy milk cartons or water jugs can be beneficial in making the initial days of recovery more comfortable, she notes.

While it’s important to take it easy, don’t turn into a couch potato. “I encourage patients to practice a range of motion activities after surgery, which helps prevent tightness in the shoulders and arms,” Dr. Mahmood explains. Be sure to confirm with your provider what types of movements are safe to avoid any complications. In the first few days post-op, simply walking around your home a few times a day will help boost the healing process. Many patients are cleared to return to work within the first week, though it could be up to six weeks before you resume your normal exercise routine.

Final Results After Breast Augmentation

By six weeks post-op, you’ll likely be able to start shopping for your new wardrobe. Dr. Chmielewski says one of the most common questions she hears from patients is about when they can buy new bras and tops. “As the swelling subsides, the breasts will continue to change in shape and size,” she explains. “I have my patients wait six weeks (or when cleared by me) before purchasing new clothes.”

Seeing the true final result can take a bit more time though, particularly if the implants are placed behind the muscle. Most patients can expect the final results to show in three to six months time.

Preparing for Breast Augmentation Recovery

As you’ve probably gleaned at this point, taking the time to prepare for your recovery is crucial to making sure things go as smoothly as possible. “Pick up your supplements and prescriptions ahead of time and have them ready to go for the car ride home,” Dr. Chmielewski says. “Arrange for help if you have small children or pets that depend on you for the first week after surgery.”

A healthy, well-balanced diet is key to recovering well, and she recommends stocking up on low-sodium meals ahead of time. “You may not feel like cooking after surgery and having healthy, pre-made meals to eat will save you from salty takeout,” Dr. Chmielewski says. As she explains, salt causes fluid retention and can worsen and prolong post-operative swelling.

At the end of the day, any errands or chores you can take care of ahead of time will help you in the long run. “Things like cleaning the house, making sure you have groceries, and having comfortable clothes to wear — like zip-up tops — can be very beneficial in making the initial days of recovery comfortable,” Dr. Mahmood concludes.

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INDIA BOTTOMLEYis a contributing writer for AEDIT.

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