What to Expect After Breast Augmentation Surgery

How long is breast augmentation recovery time? How will you feel post-op? Here's what you can expect.

When You Wake Up From Your Breast Augmentation

Upon waking from surgery, you will probably feel somewhat groggy, especially if you’ve had general anesthesia. If you’ve had twilight anesthesia (not unconscious, but sedated), you may still experience grogginess but, generally speaking, you will wake up faster. Postoperative nausea and vomiting are less of a risk with twilight sedation, as well.

Will You Feel Sick Post-Op?

You may or may not experience nausea and/or vomiting after surgery. If you had intravenous anti-nausea medications during surgery, you have a better chance of avoiding an upset stomach. However, if this isn't the case, inform your plastic surgeon, anesthesiologist, or attending nurse. Zofran, a very strong anti-emetic (anti-nausea) medication, can be given. (This is the medication given to cancer patients to reduce or eliminate vomiting and nausea after chemotherapy.) You may also be offered a pain pill, as well as soda and crackers.

What to Expect After Breast Augmentation Surgery

Recovery from breast augmentation surgery is different for everyone. You may have a very easy time of it, while a friend may experience more difficulty. Below is a list of what to expect during recovery. However, don't let anything on the list discourage you. Many of the experiences, such as tiredness, constipation, and fluid retention, can occur after ANY type of surgery. Talk to your doctor and share your personal medical history to find out what your individual recovery might include.

  • Tightness/Pressure in the Chest - If your implants were placed under the muscle, you are pretty much guaranteed to experience tightness and pressure. Your pectoral muscles now have breast implants underneath them, and they need time to stretch out over the implants. As these muscles gradually stretch, the feeling of tightness will gradually dissipate over the course of two weeks. Some women, and plastic surgeons as well, describe this feeling as an elephant being on your chest. Others describe it as badly pulled muscles, or how one might feel one day after doing a lot of push-ups.
  • Feelings of Engorgement – If you have had children, you know exactly what engorgement feels like. If you haven’t had children, here is an explanation: A few days after giving birth, your milk begins to come in. If you do not breastfeed, or if your baby isn't feeding enough, your breasts will swell. They will become warm, tender, and painful. There is also a feeling of great pressure on the breasts, and they may feel very heavy. Many women experience this same feeling after breast augmentation surgery. It usually goes away within one week after surgery.
  • Stiffness/Tightness in the Morning - You may notice upon waking up in the morning that you feel extra stiff. This is normal, and the feeling does dissipate once you get up and start moving around. The morning stiffness can persist for several weeks, but should become more and more manageable with each passing day.
  • Sore Creases - This is yet another common feeling after breast augmentation surgery. Many times, the crease has to be lowered for the breast implant to be centered behind the nipple/areola. This can cause the creases to be tender and sore after surgery.
  • Post-op Depression or Post-op “Blues” - With any type of surgery, post-op depression is a possibility, and is not uncommon. Depression can be attributed to pain, anesthesia, narcotics/pain medications, and various other things. Lack of sleep can exaggerate these emotions.

Many women who experience post-op blues/depression after surgery have said that they did question if they made the right decision. Some of this doubt may be attributed to not getting instant gratification. Sometimes the breast implants may initially be really high on the chest, or have a torpedo-like look, which can be alarming to those who aren't prepared for this. The good news is that your breasts will change; it just takes a little time and a lot of patience.

  • Nausea and/or Vomiting - It's not uncommon to feel nauseous soon after waking up from surgery. The anesthesia can really wreak havoc on your stomach. Usually, the anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist will give you anti-nausea drugs via IV drip during surgery. This helps to limit, if not completely alleviate, nausea and vomiting after surgery. If you wake up nauseous, tell your surgeon or nurse so that they can give you something to help alleviate it.

Pain medications taken after surgery can also upset your stomach. Some plastic surgeons will prescribe anti-nausea medications for you to take in the event that you experience nausea or vomiting, while some pain medications, such as Mepergan, have an anti-nausea drug built right in. Most of the time, upset stomach can be avoided if you eat something prior to taking your medications. (Sometimes, eating a cracker or two with your pain medications is not enough. Some people require more sustenance, such as half a peanut butter sandwich.)

  • Constipation - Constipation is usually a result of the pain medications. If you experience constipation, you might want to try a mild laxative or drink prune juice for relief. Ask your plastic surgeon about this at your consult, just to make sure they have no objections.
  • Loss of Appetite - Since pain medications can cause nausea and vomiting, it's no surprise that some women have a decreased appetite after surgery. Once you are off of the pain medications, your appetite should return to normal.
  • Yeast Infections - Most plastic surgeons prescribe antibiotics to be taken after surgery. As most women know, antibiotics put you at a higher risk for yeast infection. You most likely won't get an infection, but know that any time you do take them, you're at a higher risk.
  • Bruising and Swelling - Bruising and swelling are common after most major surgeries, and you’ll most likely experience both of them. It’s possible for bruising to move downward, instead of just disappear. Swelling may be present in the cleavage area, which will feel mushy or spongy.
  • Bloating/Fluid Retention – Chances are you will experience bloating, especially in the stomach. This is normal, and will dissipate on its own under normal circumstances, and usually doesn't require diuretics. (Do not take diuretics without your surgeon's approval.)
  • Muscle Spasms - Spasms are common in women with breast implants placed under the muscle. Some surgeons prescribe muscle relaxants to help with this.
  • Back Pain - After breast augmentation surgery, it's normal to walk with your shoulders hunched forward, as if you're trying to protect your chest. However, not maintaining proper posture can cause you to have backaches. Remember that you will most likely not be sleeping in your normal position, so the change can cause further aggravation. Additionally, when you get up from be or change positions, you will use other muscles to compensate for your chest muscles, which can make you sore.
  • Itching and Dry/Flaky Skin on Breasts - Sometimes, the stretching of the skin causes it to become itchy, dry, and flaky. Using a lotion on your breasts will help make you more comfortable. You should always be careful not to get any lotion on your incisions until you are sure that they are completely closed, or until your surgeon tells you that it’s okay to apply it to those areas.
  • Limited Mobility - In the very early post-op stage, you may notice that it’s difficult to perform certain tasks, or move in certain ways. For example, you may have trouble opening medications (depending on the type of cap they have on them), opening drinks, washing your hair, or driving a car. This is more true for those with under the muscle implants than for women with over the muscle implants, which don’t involve stretching the muscle.
  • Hard/Lumpy Incisions - It's not uncommon for your incision to feel hard or lumpy at some point in your recovery after a breast augmentation. This is mainly due to the buildup of scar tissue. The best advice, which usually works for everyone, is to massage the incision, which should help break up some of that scar tissue. However, make sure your incisions are completely closed before you put your fingers on them. You wouldn't want to introduce any bacteria to the incision, as it could cause an infection.
  • UBS ("Ugly Breasts Syndrome") - You've finally had your surgery, and the results you're seeing aren't what you paid for. "Ugly Breast Syndrome" happens to many women who have breast augmentation surgery. Most women aren't going to have gorgeous breasts as soon as they roll out of the operating room. They may appear oblong in shape, or torpedo-like, or they may look swollen, broad, and flat. The implants may ride high, and be literally right up against your collar bone in the beginning. They may be bruised and swollen, or your nipples may be puffy and swollen. They may look huge, or flat. For women who do not realize that this is completely normal, it can be a terrifying experience. The good news is that things will get better, given some time and patience.
  • Sharp/Stabbing Pains - These are sometimes referred to by breast augmentation patients as "zingers," and are very common. These pains usually indicate nerve regeneration. So, while they may not be something you enjoy experiencing, keep in mind that nerve regeneration is a good thing. Also remember that the further you are post-op, the less intense the feeling becomes. The pains are very short-lived. However, if you are worried about a particular type of pain you're having, consult with your surgeon; that's what they're there for. At the very least, they can offer you peace of mind. At the most, they can take care of any problem that may arise.
  • Extreme Sensitivity and/or Numbness - Your breasts will probably feel somewhat numb early on, and at the same time they may be extremely sensitive. It sounds strange, but it happens. The good news is that it's temporary. It's to be expected after this type of surgery, and the sensitivity issues resolve on their own. Most plastic surgeons will tell you that it may be up to a year before normal sensitivity returns.
  • Lack of Energy - Surgery, although a planned trauma, is still a shock to the body, which requires energy to heal. You will not have the endurance you normally have, at least not for a few weeks. You'll notice that you tire much quicker. Listen to your body. If you are tired, rest. (Most surgeons don't recommend complete bed rest, as you need to get up and move around to keep from becoming sore.) Also, keep in mind that not moving around can cause blood clots, which can travel from the legs to the lungs or brain, and be fatal.
Updated July 2016

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