Breast Reduction: Types, Procedures, Recovery, and More

Medically Reviewed By Catherine Hannan, M.D.

A breast reduction is the surgical reshaping of the breast to make it smaller. Breast reduction, also called reduction mammoplasty, involves removing excess fat, glandular tissue, and skin to reduce breast size. Some people get breast reduction for cosmetic or aesthetic reasons.

Your doctor may also recommend it if large breasts cause discomfort, back pain, or other health issues.

Keep reading to learn about breast reduction surgery, including how doctors perform it, its potential benefits and risks, costs, and recovery.

Why is a breast reduction performed?

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Your doctor might suggest Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source breast reduction surgery if you want smaller breasts for cosmetic reasons. Your doctor may also suggest it if large breasts cause pain or medical issues.

Not everyone is a candidate for breast reduction surgery. A candidate for this surgery is usually physically healthy, does not smoke, has fully developed breasts, and has realistic expectations of improvement, not perfection.

Ask your doctor about all your treatment options and consider getting a second opinion before deciding on breast reduction surgery.  

Your doctor may recommend breast reduction surgery if you are a surgical candidate and have:

  • differences in the size or shape of one breast from the other one
  • atypical development of one or both breasts
  • self-consciousness about your breasts or feel that your breasts are disproportionate to your body size
  • breasts that cause sleep difficulties and interfere with your participation in sports or other physical activities
  • a slouched posture or numbness and tingling in your arms due to the weight of your breasts
  • headaches or back, neck, or shoulder pain due to the weight of your breasts
  • permanent grooves in your shoulders from your bra strap holding the weight of your breasts
  • skin irritation, rashes, sores, or infections under the breast creases
  • stretched breast skin, areolas, or nipples that hang below your breast creases
  • gynecomastia, a breast enlargement that occurs in males

How is a breast reduction performed?

A healthcare professional will perform your breast reduction in a hospital or outpatient surgery setting. Your surgeon will decide which scar type might work for your procedure. They will use one of the following approaches:

  • Minimally invasive surgery involves inserting special instruments and an endoscope through small incisions in your underarm or around the base of your breasts. An endoscope is a thin, lighted instrument with a small camera. The camera sends pictures of the inside of your body to a video screen your surgeon views while performing surgery. Minimally invasive surgery generally involves a faster recovery and less pain than open surgery. This is because it causes less injury to tissues and organs. Your surgeon will make a small incision(s) instead of a larger one in open surgery. Your surgeon threads surgical tools around muscles and tissues instead of cutting through or displacing them as in open surgery.
  • Open surgery involves making a large incision around your areola and under your breast. Open surgery incision allows your surgeon to directly view and access the surgical area. The surgery generally involves a longer recovery and more pain than minimally invasive surgery. It requires a larger incision and more cutting and displacement of muscle and other tissues than minimally invasive surgery. Despite this, open surgery may be a safer or more effective method for certain people.

How much does a breast reduction cost?

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the average cost of breast reduction for people having the surgery for aesthetic reasons is $5,913.

Costs for the procedure involve:

  • anesthetic costs
  • hospital or clinic costs
  • medical tests
  • postsurgical clothing and bandages
  • medication prescriptions
  • surgeon’s time and skill

Learn more about the cost of a breast reduction here.

What are the risks and potential complications of a breast reduction?  

As with all surgeries, a breast reduction involves risks and possible complications. Complications may become serious and life threatening in some cases. Complications can develop during surgery or recovery.

General risks of surgery 

The general risks of surgery include: 

Potential complications of a breast reduction

Complications of a breast reduction include:

  • color changes and a change or loss of sensation in the nipples and areolas, which may be permanent
  • differences in breast sizes
  • difficulty with chestfeeding or inability to chestfeed
  • large scars that may remain visible
  • loss of nipples and areola
  • uneven position of nipples or contours of your breasts

Reducing your risk of complications

You can reduce the risk of some complications by following the treatment plan and:

  • sticking to activity, dietary, and lifestyle restrictions and recommendations for surgery and recovery
  • notifying your doctor right away of bleeding, fever, pain increase, or wound discoloration, swelling, or drainage
  • informing your doctor or radiologist if you chestfeed or if there is any possibility of pregnancy
  • taking your medications exactly as your doctor directs
  • telling your doctor if you smoke, use tobacco products, or have any allergies 
  • wearing a postsurgical support bra

How do I prepare for my breast reduction?

Facing surgery can be stressful. Contact your doctor with concerns and questions before surgery and between appointments.

It is a good idea to bring a list of questions to your appointments. Questions can include:

  • Am I a candidate for breast reduction surgery? Are there any other options for me?
  • Which type of breast reduction surgery procedure will I need?
  • What results can I expect?
  • Can I eat and drink before the procedure?
  • What options do I have if I am unsatisfied with the results?
  • What other breast-related or revision surgery should I expect to have over my lifetime?
  • How long will the surgery take? When can I go home?
  • What restrictions will I have after the surgery? When can I return to work and other activities?
  • What kind of assistance will I need at home?
  • How should I take my medications? 
  • How will you treat my pain?
  • When should I follow up with you?
  • How should I contact you? Which numbers should I call during and after regular hours?

What can I expect after my breast reduction?

Knowing what to expect can help make your road to recovery after breast reduction surgery as smooth as possible.

Q:

How long will it take to recover from breast reduction surgery?

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A:

In most cases, you can shower within 2 days. You will likely need to take 1–2 weeks off from school or work if you work at a desk. This may be longer if you have a more active job.

You will need to avoid heavy lifting and any activity like push-ups for 4–6 weeks to lessen bleeding and swelling. Most swelling will take 2–3 months to fully resolve, so do not plan for shopping for new bras or new clothes until at least then.

Your doctor will prescribe pain medications and possibly antibiotics to reduce pain at home.

Catherine Hannan, MD Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.

Will I feel pain?

Pain management is important for healing and a smooth recovery. There will be discomfort after your surgery. Your doctor can treat your pain so you feel comfortable and can get the rest you need. Call your doctor if your pain worsens or changes because it may be a symptom of a complication.

Summary

Breast reduction surgery is a common but major surgery with significant risks and potential complications. Consider getting a second opinion about all your choices before having breast reduction surgery.

It is important to keep your follow-up appointments after breast reduction surgery. Contact your doctor for questions and concerns between appointments. Call your doctor right away or get immediate medical care if you have bleeding, pus, fever, or concerns about any other symptoms.

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  4. Crittenden, T., et al. (2020). Does breast reduction surgery improve health-related quality of life? A prospective cohort study in Australian women. https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/10/2/e031804
  5. How much does a breast reduction cost? (n.d.). https://www.plasticsurgery.org/reconstructive-procedures/breast-reduction/costs
  6. Sachs, D., et al. (2022). Breast reduction. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441974/
  7. Vazquez, O. A., et al. (2022). Free nipple graft breast reduction without a vertical incision. https://journals.lww.com/prsgo/Fulltext/2022/03000/Free_Nipple_Graft_Breast_Reduction_without_a.1.aspx
  8. What are the steps of a breast reduction procedure? (n.d.). https://www.plasticsurgery.org/reconstructive-procedures/breast-reduction/procedure
  9. Widmark-Jensen, E., et al. (2021). A systematic review and meta-analysis of risks and benefits with breast reduction in the public healthcare system: Priorities for further research. https://bmcsurg.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12893-021-01336-7

Medical Reviewer: Catherine Hannan, M.D.
Last Review Date: 2022 Jul 26
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