Recovering from breast reconstruction

Like with any surgery, recovery varies. Healing will continue for several weeks and you should follow your surgeon’s instructions during this time. Breast reconstructions using a tissue flap involve longer surgery and recovery times compared with breast reconstruction using implants.

IMMEDIATELY AFTER SURGERY

You’ll probably have to wear surgical stockings made of thick white elastic before and after surgery to reduce the risk of blood clots forming in your legs. You may also have temporary drainage tubes to remove excess fluids that collect in the surgical site. And you’ll have stitches after your surgery, but they’ll probably be absorbable, so you won’t need to have them removed. Alternatively, the wound may be held together with sticky plastic strips, which are left in place until the wound has healed. You’ll also be prescribed medication to help healing and reduce the risk of infection.

HOSPITAL STAY

How long you’re in the hospital after your operation depends on the type of surgery you have and whether you have an immediate or delayed reconstruction. You’ll probably stay in the hospital for up to two days after implant surgery, but this may be longer if you’re having an immediate reconstruction. After an operation using tissue from your back you may be in the hospital for about 4 to 7 days. If your reconstruction is done with tissue from your abdomen, your stay may a week or more.

THE NEXT MONTHS

Remember that it may take some time to see the full results of your reconstructed breast. At first, your reconstructed breast may be larger than your other breast due to swelling after surgery. Don’t worry, your breast will gradually get smaller. The bruising and swelling from the surgery can take about eight weeks to go away. Most of the scarring will fade over time, but some scars may never go away. And as you age and the opposite breast changes shape, the reconstructed breast may look or feel less natural.

Pain or Discomfort

After any type of operation you’ll likely experience some pain or discomfort. The level of pain women experience after breast reconstruction varies greatly. Many women need painkillers for a few weeks after surgery. Make sure you ask for them if you need them. In general, if your pain is well controlled you’ll recover more quickly after surgery.

Work and Everyday Activities

You’ll probably feel quite tired for the first week after you get home from the hospital. It’s a good idea to have someone around who can help you for the first few days. After this you can start looking after yourself and gradually increase your level of activity. Just do light work to begin with and slowly build up what you can do. Don’t do any strenuous housework, such as vacuuming, or move or lift anything heavy until your surgeon says it’s okay.

How soon you can return to work depends on the type of work you do and the type of operation you’ve had. In general, if your job doesn’t involve heavy manual labor you can go back to work sooner. But it’s important to remember that you’ll likely feel more tired than usual for a while. You may also find it difficult to concentrate fully at first.

Your Sex Life

It’s fine to have sex when you feel comfortable to do so. This will probably be a few weeks after your operation, but it may take longer. Just take things at your own pace and talk to your partner about any concerns you have.

Your Feelings

Most women have a period of emotional adjustment after breast reconstruction. Feeling anxious or depressed is common. It may help to talk with a counselor or to other women who’ve had breast reconstruction.

Wearing a Bra

There are no set rules about when you can begin wearing a bra following breast reconstruction. Some surgeons recommend that women wear a bra soon after reconstruction, but others advise women not to wear one to begin with. They believe this encourages a more natural shape in the reconstructed breast and that wearing a bra makes little difference to the cosmetic results of surgery. Your surgeon can advise you on what’s most appropriate for you.

If your surgeon advises you to wear a bra to support the newly reconstructed breast, a soft supportive bra without under wires (such as a sports bra) will be more comfortable.

Looking After Your Skin

Your wound may feel itchy as it heals, but it’s important not to scratch the healing skin. The itching will reduce as the wound heals. It usually takes about six weeks for the wounds to heal fully.

Once your wounds have healed, most surgeons recommend massaging the skin and scars over your reconstructed breast and at the donor site (if you have one) at least once a day with body oil or cream. Massaging the skin will help to keep it supple and in good condition. If you have a breast implant, massaging can also help reduce the risk of capsular contracture.

In general it can take from 18 months to two years for scars to fully settle and fade.