After Breast Reduction Surgery: What To Expect

Breast reduction surgery can have many benefits and a few side effects. Here are some things to expect after the procedure. 

Many people know their larger breasts can bring on some health problems, like back, shoulder, and neck pain. According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, doctors performed 82,643 breast reduction surgeries in 2021 alone. While the procedure has some potential drawbacks, the results are often positive.

A 2021 study in the Medical Journal of Australia showed that in people with very large breasts, having breast reduction surgery can save money over their lifetime due to costs related to the physical and psycho-social issues they often endure.

If you're thinking of having your breasts reduced, here's what you can expect post-surgery.

What to Expect Soon After Recovery

Initially, after a breast reduction, there's a recovery period. Some pain and soreness is to be expected. However, once the first few weeks go by, you'll likely start noticing benefits such as clothes fitting better and less back pain.

Initial Recovery After a Breast Reduction

Since breast reduction is a surgical procedure, a number of side effects can be expected during the recovery process. Side effects may include nerve pain, rashes, and general discomfort initially.

A type of pain known as post-breast surgery pain syndrome (PBSPS) occurs in approximately 20-60% of people after breast surgery. While this may resolve on its own after a period of time, sometimes it requires an additional procedure to fix. During healing, nerves may become trapped in scar tissue, causing pain. So if you're still experiencing pain after a few months, let a healthcare provider know.

While rashes aren't frequent, surgeons use various supplies and equipment during procedures you may not be exposed to in day-to-day life. This can lead to allergic reactions to things you didn't know you were allergic to. Common culprits include surgical glue or other adhesives.

One case study examined an itchy rash and redness that a patient experienced post breast reduction. Surgical glue was determined to be the cause, and the individual was treated and recovered.

There may also be some itchiness as the incisions heal. Other discomforts include swelling and bruising near the incision sites. You may also have a temporary decrease in sensations in your breasts. This should decrease and go away within a matter of weeks.

To aid recovery, you will also likely have a special bandage or bra. Your surgeon will let you know how long you need to wear any special bras—typically a few weeks.

Exercising May Feel Easier

The logistics of working out can be tricky for people with larger breasts. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport showed that people with large or hypertrophic (excessively large) breasts don't exercise as much or with as much intensity as people with small- and medium-sized breasts due to the size of their breasts.

Heavy breasts can also put increased stress on your neck, back, and shoulders, which can make it hard to walk for long periods, let alone run on a treadmill. But there is good news for those who have their breasts reduced and want to work out.

Research published in 2019 in the journal ePlasty suggests that exercise tolerance—how much and how hard you can work out—increases in those who exercise following breast reduction surgery. And this effect lasted at least 15 years (the length of time the study measured).

Clothes May Fit You Better

Andrea Moreira, MD, co-director of the Microsurgery and Breast Reconstruction Program at Allegheny Health Network, often sees patients with large breasts and small hips.

These people 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," explained Dr. Moreira.

Larger breasts can sometimes make finding bras a difficult task as well. "Bras for women with large breasts can be hard to find," said Dr. Moreira. "If you have to buy custom bras for sizes like G through M, those can cost around $80 to $100."

Post-surgery, finding better-fitting shirts, dresses, bras, and other clothing items can be much easier and less costly.

Say Goodbye to Shoulder Grooves

Another problem with ill-fitting bras: According to 2015 research published in Sports Medicine Open, under the bra straps, the upper ridge of the shoulders carries much of the breasts' weight.

After years of wearing a tight bra, a groove or indentation in the tissue under the straps can develop, and the pressure from the straps may even lead to neurological (nerve) issues, according to a 2014 case study published in Annals of Vascular Diseases.

Your Body Image May Change

According to research published in 2018 in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal, body image dissatisfaction is a major reason people opt for breast reduction surgery. Researchers also stated that body image was improved with breast reduction.

And it's not just your body image that may improve with breast reduction. One 2020 study published in BMJ Open found that participants who had their breasts surgically reduced reported a significant improvement in overall quality of life.

Your Sex Life May Change

When you don't like how your body looks, it can impact your sex life. Research published in a 2019 edition of the journal Annals of Plastic Surgery found that breast reduction surgery in females positively impacted female sexual function, sexual quality of life, and sexual well-being.

Neck and Back Pain May Lessen

Back, neck, and shoulder pain can be a given in people with larger breasts—one reason why so many decide to get surgery.

In a 2019 study published in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, researchers found that "women with hypertrophic breasts reported significantly higher total upper torso musculoskeletal pain scores compared with women who had small, medium, and large breasts, and this was significant for the upper back, shoulders, neck, and breasts."

A 2019 review of the literature published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery—Global Open affirmed these results and added that breast reduction surgery "produces an unmistakable improvement" in these signs and symptoms.

Breast Changes After Reduction

While there are several health-related or personal reasons individuals choose to have a breast reduction done, it's important to acknowledge the changes to your breasts that may happen after this procedure. For example, keep in mind that breast size and shape may still fluctuate with your weight and age. Here are some breast changes to be aware of if you're considering this procedure.

Expect Some Scarring

There's no getting around the "knife" part of "under the knife." Since breast reduction surgery involves cutting and removing excess skin, permanent scarring is inevitable. But scars should start fading several months after surgery.

Everyone's scars look different and fade at different rates, said 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.

Your Breast Size Might Fluctuate Some

It takes about three months for your breasts to "settle" into their new shape, said Liza Wu, MD, plastic surgery private practice owner in Florida and former professor at Penn Medicine. Since your breasts may swell and shrink, Dr. Wu recommended you hold off on purchasing any new bras during that time.

Breasts 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 at some point, you'll see an increase in your bra size, said Dr. Moreira. (We should also point out that one's bra size often isn't consistent with their weight.)

If you plan on undergoing the procedure and losing weight, it's a good idea to tell your healthcare provider, suggested Dr. Moreira. If you want to lose a significant amount of weight, the surgeon may delay surgery so you can get closer to your desired weight before the procedure.

Breasts Still Change Shape With Age

Here's something else to keep in mind: According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, don't expect your breasts to stay the same, even after they settle into their new size. They can change due to aging, gravity, hormones, and weight fluctuations.

"Just because you have this surgery doesn't mean your breasts will remain like that forever," said Dr. Wu, who added that hormonal changes—not to mention gravity—can cause your breasts to sag or grow bigger.

Your Nipple Sensitivity May Change

It's possible that after you undergo the procedure, you'll feel some change in nipple sensation. Some people actually feel more sensation, but a fair number of individuals experience a decrease in feeling.

In a 2022 review of the literature published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery—Global Open, researchers found that the type of technique the surgeon uses can affect whether and how much sensation is changed due to breast reduction surgery.

On average, 19% of patients experienced a reduction in sensation, and 7.3% experienced an increase in sensation. These researchers also state that having minor surgical complications can also decrease sensation. However, that increased sensation seems to correlate with a longer time in surgery.

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, said Dr. Wu. But if you keep the nipple intact, the odds might be higher than you'd think.

In a 2017 review of the literature published in PLoS One, researchers found that when the column of subareolar parenchyma (the part of the breast that has to do with breastfeeding) is left intact and fully preserved, the median success rate for breastfeeding was 100%, compared to when it was partially preserved or not preserved at all (75% and 4% respectively).

If you plan or hope to breastfeed someday, it's important to discuss this with a healthcare provider so they can use an appropriate technique—or put breast reduction surgery off until after you are done lactating.

A Quick Review

Breast reduction is a significant procedure, and you should talk to your healthcare provider before making any decisions—especially those involving surgery. But if you're wavering, keep this in mind: Despite the drawbacks, most people who opt for the procedure believe they made the right decision. One study found nearly 85% of individuals who had breast reduction surgery were satisfied with their surgical outcomes.

Just be aware that while there are many health, personal, and cosmetic reasons to get a breast reduction, there are also several things to be aware of post-surgery. Make sure that if you are considering breast reduction surgery, you address any concerns or questions with a healthcare provider ahead of time so you can feel well-prepared.

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