15 Things That Happen After a Breast Reduction
The truth about breast reductions
Back in your training bra days, you may have wished for larger breasts—but busty women know that big boobs can bring on big health problems, like back injuries, shoulder and neck pain, and nerve compression. According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, doctors performed 114,470 breast reduction surgeries in women in 2014 alone. While there are some potential drawbacks to the procedure, the results are often positive. Women who opt for a breast reduction may end up feeling more confident, sexy, and attractive post-surgery than they do before the operation, according to one 2013 review by researchers from Ohio State University. Another study found that more than 80% of patients say the final results are either "good" or "very good," which might explain why it's the eighth most popular cosmetic procedure in the United States. Here's what you can expect post-surgery.
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Exercising gets easier
Even the logistics of working out can be tricky for women with large chests. "Before my surgery, I was wearing three bras to go the gym," says Cassandra, 32, of Arizona. (She had grown out of a G cup and decided to undergo the procedure in March of 2015.) "And boob sweat is a thing, people!" she says. Second, heavy breasts can put increased stress on your neck, back, and shoulders, which can make it hard to even walk for long periods of time, let alone run on a treadmill. But one 2012 study in the journal Annals of Plastic Surgery found that when people who are motivated to work out get a breast reduction, they see an increase in their physical activity levels after the operation.
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Clothes will fit you better
Andrea Moreira, MD, a plastic surgeon who specializes in breast reduction at Cleveland Clinic, says she sees many women who have large chests but smaller bottom halves. These patients often have difficulty finding shirts and dresses that fit them correctly. "They have to make alterations to their clothing so that it will fit the rest of their bodies," Dr. Moreira explains. Post-surgery, it's a different story: All those previously off-limits outfits are now fair game, says Sandy, 36, a member of the RealSelf community who lives in California. (She had the surgery in March 2015, and went from a 36G to a 36D.) "There was no way I could wear a button-down shirt," she says. "And I couldn't wear strapless bras or shirts. Now I can even go braless, which is amazing."
You'll be able to buy a bra at the mall again
Oh hey Victoria's Secret. Haven't seen you since seventh grade. "Bras for women with large breasts can be hard to find," says Dr. Moreira. "If you have to buy custom bras for sizes like G through M, those can cost around $80 to $100." (Or, in Sandy's case, over $100.) Not fair.
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You can say goodbye to shoulder grooves
Another problem with ill-fitting bras: The weight of a woman's breasts rests almost entirely on the upper ridge of the shoulders, under the straps. After years of inadequate support, women can develop a groove or indentation in the tissue under that fabric. (In some women, this can look almost as if it were a rut in a road.) Naturally, that groove can be cosmetically unappealing to some patients; if that's the case, they can undergo a fat transplantation procedure to smooth out the tissue.
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Expect some scarring
There's no getting around the "knife" part of "under the knife." Trouble is, the skin near the sternum and under the folds of your breasts can be sensitive. Everyone's scars look different and fade at different rates, says Dr. Moreira, but if you've had previous ones—say, for example, you've gotten a C-section—you'll have a good idea of what to expect after this surgery too.
Your breast size might fluctuate for a little while
It takes about 3 months for you breasts to "settle" into their new shape, says Liza Wu, MD, an associate professor of surgery at the University of Pennsylvania. Since your breasts may swell and shrink, Dr. Wu recommends that patients hold off on purchasing any new bras during that time. But here's something else to keep in mind: Once your bra size does stabilize, there's a chance that you breasts might be slightly bigger or smaller than you were expecting. "I wanted to be between a B and a C," says Sandy. "My surgeon told me that I'd probably be a full C, but I ended up being more like a D."
They can "grow back" if you gain weight
Since your breasts are partly made up of fat tissue, it makes sense that if you have the surgery and then gain weight, you'll see an increase in your bra size, says Dr. Moreira. (We should also point out that many times, a woman's bra size isn't consistent with her weight.) If you plan on undergoing the procedure and slimming down, it's a good idea to tell your doctor, she says. If you want to drop a lot of weight, the surgeon might want to hold off for a period of time so you can get closer to your desired body shape.
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They'll still change shape with age
"Just because you have this surgery doesn't mean your breasts will remain like that forever," says Dr. Wu. She reminds her patients that over a woman's lifetime, hormonal changes—not to mention gravity—can cause your breasts to sag or grow bigger. Alas, we're all mortal.
Your nipples might be extra sensitive…or kind of numb
It's possible that after you undergo the procedure, you'll feel some kind of change in nipple sensation. Some women actually feel more sensation, but there are also a fair number of women who experience a decrease in feeling. That said, one 2012 study found that, while there might be a loss of sensation at first, most women will regain all that feeling after 12 months.
You'll have more confidence
Bigger doesn't always mean better. In fact, one 1998 study titled just that found that compared to those waiting for a breast augmentation procedure, women who were going to get a breast reduction felt worse about their bodies—sadly, even to the point where they would avoid public places and social gatherings. "I always felt very defined by being a large chested woman," says Cassandra. "Before my surgery, I dressed very carefully so you couldn't see any cleavage. But now I don't have to worry about my boobs falling out every time I bend over to pick something up."
You might not be able to breastfeed
If you undergo a procedure that removes the nipple from the breast, you won't be able to breastfeed, says Dr. Wu. But if you're keeping the nipple intact, the odds might be higher than you'd think. In fact, one 2010 study by researchers at McGill University found that the chances of women being able to breastfeed after a breast reduction were about equal to those of every other female in North America. Another study found that while about 50% of women didn't attempt to breast feed, 20% did so successfully, while another 10% breast fed and supplemented with formula.
There's something called "ghost boobs"…
This one's kind of a stretch, but since it's out there, let's discuss: The rumor is that when some women undergo a breast reduction, they can still "feel" their former, larger breasts—yep, even though they're gone. Dr. Moreira, however, isn't totally convinced. "If you've lost a lot of weight—all over, not just in your chest—you might remember the sensation of being heavier," she explains. "But it's not a true 'phantom pain,' like in people with an amputated limb."
Sex can get better
When you don't like the way your body looks, the last thing you want to do is jump between the sheets with someone. ("You don't mind if I keep this Mumu on, do you?") That's why many women who have a breast reduction feel better about their sexual healthpost-surgery, according to the 2013 study by OSU researchers. In fact, they often report feeling more attractive, confident, and sexy sans clothing, too.
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You'll be able to put down the Tylenol
Back, neck, and shoulder pain can be a given in women with larger chests—which is one reason why so many women finally decide to go under the knife. "I was basically in pain every day from my shoulder to my wrist," says Cassandra. In 2007, one group of researchers set out to show just how much breast reduction surgery can help some women; sure enough, they found that the procedure can reduce pressure on the lower back by 35%. What's more, patients also experienced a 76% reduction in immobility. Or, as Cassandra says of her post-surgery days: "I just felt normal. I was able to stand in line at the grocery store and go shopping at the mall—which I should be doing in my early 30s! I just wasn't aware of how much pain I was in before. I didn't realize how abnormal I felt."
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You'll probably love the results
It goes without saying that you should talk to your doctor before making any decisions—especially ones that involve surgery. But if you're wavering, keep this in mind: Despite the drawbacks, most women who opt for the procedure believe they made the right decision. According to one 2012 study, researchers found that 95% of patients said they were satisfied with their procedures and would do it again. In fact, research suggests that many markers of a woman's health—physical, psychological, sexual—improve post-surgery. Farewell, lovelies!