The recovery process from breast reconstruction surgery is both physical and emotional. The amount of time it takes to physically recover from surgery will depend heavily on the procedure technique used. Flap reconstruction requires more recovery time than implant reconstruction because healing must take place in two areas of the body. In general, patients can usually expect to reach full recovery about six weeks after surgery. However, recovery may be prolonged if there are complications or if a patient decides to have another procedure, such as nipple reconstruction. Below are some details of what to expect during breast reconstruction recovery.
Immediately After Surgery
Patients who undergo breast reconstruction should expect to feel tired and sore in the days after surgery. Typically, patients remain in the hospital to be cared for and monitored for two to five days. The surgeon will most likely insert drains in the breast area to remove excess fluid from the surgery site. These drains, along with any stitches, usually remain in place for one to two weeks. Some symptoms that patients can expect to encounter during their recovery period include:
- Soreness at surgical site(s)
- Numbness or loss of sensation at surgical site
A surgeon can prescribe patients medication to deal with mild to moderate discomfort during their breast reconstruction recovery. Following release from the hospital, it is important for patients to strictly follow their surgeon’s instructions for post-operative care. This will ensure a timely, complication-free recovery. Some things that a surgeon may recommend include:
- Avoiding strenuous activity such as lifting objects over the head, participating in sports, and engaging in sexual activity
- Clean all wounds thoroughly
- Change bandages frequently
- Massage the skin and scars after wounds have healed
- Wear a firm, supportive bra (avoid underwires)
Reconstructive Surgery Scars
Depending on which method of breast reconstruction is utilized, patients can expect to have scars in one, or several, of the following areas: breast, nipple, abdomen, navel, back, buttocks, or another area from where tissue was removed to fashion a breast mound. Flap reconstruction (DIEP, TRAM, latissimus dorsi, or gluteal) leaves more scarring than implant reconstruction, because there are two incision sites. Surgical scars will fade over time, but will never entirely disappear. Most patients find that the benefits of breast reconstruction outweigh drawbacks such as scarring, regardless of the technique used.
Returning to Normal Life
No two breast reconstruction recovery periods are exactly alike, and it is important that patients begin returning to regular activities at their own pace. Patients should consult with their breast surgeon often to determine when they can begin daily routines such as housework, shopping, or driving. Patients who receive flap reconstruction may find that they need more downtime since that technique can weaken the arm or abdominal muscles.
For many women, it may take time to adjust emotionally to having a reconstructed breast. While breast reconstruction can improve a patient’s appearance, the reconstructed breast will never look or feel exactly the same as the natural breast. Many patients find it beneficial to talk with other women who have had the procedure or to a mental health professional. There is no “normal” timeline for patients to come to terms with their breasts following mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. It is important to note, however, that feelings of self-consciousness or depression are not uncommon.
Many Patients Want to Know…
What Complications Should I Look Out For?
During breast reconstruction recovery it is important to pay attention to the affected area and consult a surgeon if your experience unusual symptoms. These can include excess bleeding, nausea, chest pains, or fever. Addressing surgery complications promptly is the best option for getting your recovery back on track. Learn more about possible breast reconstruction complications.
Contact a Plastic Surgeon
Contact a plastic surgeon to find out if breast reconstruction is right for you.