8 Tips for Recovering from Breast Reconstruction

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  • Breast reconstruction rebuilds the breast after mastectomy or lumpectomy. There are two main types of breast reconstruction surgery: Flap reconstruction uses your own tissue from another area of the body to rebuild the breast. Implant reconstruction uses either a saline or a silicone implant to form a breast. Reconstruction can take place at the same time as breast cancer surgery or later. It takes several weeks to recover from major breast surgery. Following these eight tips will help you get back to normal after breast reconstruction.

  • 1
    Wear your post-surgical bra.
    Doctor examining bandaged woman

    Your doctor will likely have you wear a wide elastic bandage or a special bra after breast reconstruction. The bra supports your new breast and minimizes swelling. Wearing your support bra will help you achieve the best result. Ask your doctor when you can start wearing regular bras and the best type of bra to wear after your incision heals. Keep in mind your cup size may change slightly as your new breast stabilizes and heals.

  • 2
    Care for your surgical drains.
    Surgical Drainage

    It is common to have a thin tube or surgical drain attached to the side of your breast. It allows excess fluid to drain into a small hollow ball at the end. This helps the tissues and muscles heal and minimizes swelling. The drain typically stays in place for several days, so you will likely go home with it. Your care team will teach you how to care for your drain and empty it. Be diligent about caring for your drain and your incision. Women who have flap reconstruction will have a second incision at the tissue donor site.

  • 3
    Follow your doctor’s instructions for pain management.
    Doctor Writing Medical Prescription

    Your doctor will likely prescribe narcotic pain relievers so you can cope with the pain after breast reconstruction. These medicines carry the risk of dependence, but they are an important part of your recovery. Take your pain medications as your doctor prescribes. Following your doctor’s instructions carefully will reduce the chances of becoming dependent. If your medicine is not controlling your pain, contact your doctor. It could be a sign of a complication, such as infection.

  • 4
    Be careful with your incision.
    woman-stretching-on-exercise-mat

    Your doctor may recommend gentle stretching exercises soon after surgery. However, you will need to protect your incision from excessive movement, force and rubbing while it heals. In general, you will need to avoid overhead lifting, strenuous exercise, and sex for up to six weeks. Women who have flap reconstruction may have additional limitations due to the second incision. Your doctor will let you know when your incision has healed enough to return to activities.

  • 5
    Go to physical therapy if your doctor recommends it.
    nurse helping patient workout

    Your doctor may prescribe physical therapy (PT) after breast reconstruction. PT can help you maintain strength and range of motion in your shoulder and arm on the reconstructed side. For women who have flap reconstruction, PT can rehabilitate the tissue donor site. For example, an abdominal flap reconstruction can result in weakness in your core. A physical therapist can show you how to regain strength in the area and help you adjust to physical limitations.

  • 6
    Be patient.
    Concerned Caucasian woman sitting on sofa

    The appearance of your reconstructed breast can be shocking right after surgery. Remember that any surgery is traumatic for your body and it will take time for your breast to heal and stabilize. Bruising and swelling can last up to eight weeks—the approximate recovery time for breast implant as well as flap reconstruction surgeries. During this time, your breast will continue to change. Talk with your doctor or your care team during recovery so you know what to expect.

  • 7
    Know what results to expect.
    Older woman with stomach pain

    Having realistic expectations about breast reconstruction is important. A reconstructed breast will not look or feel exactly like your natural breast. However, it can come close. The sensation in a reconstructed breast will also not be the same and it will age differently than your natural breast. Talk with your doctor before surgery so you know what results to expect with a reconstructed breast. Your results will depend on many factors, including your anatomy and your breast cancer treatment plan.

  • 8
    Be prepared for emotions.
    woman-comforting-friend

    Dealing with breast cancer in the first place is emotional. You might experience a range of emotions with breast reconstruction as well. Some women go through a period of adjustment and have difficulty accepting their reconstructed breasts. It may be helpful to connect with other women who have already gone through breast reconstruction. If you struggle for several weeks, talk with your doctor. It may be time to seek professional help to work through your feelings.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Jul 31
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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  5. Emotional Aspects of Breast Cancer. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/detailedguide/breast-cancer-after-emotional-aspects

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