What Is Breast Implant Recovery Time Like?

Every woman and every surgery is different. So what are the factors you need to consider when planning your recovery? Just how long will recovery take? Let's walk through the factors that can affect your recovery time and what you can expect immediately after surgery and through the lifetime of your breast implants.

Factors to Consider Before Your Breast Augmentation

After a breast augmentation, your body's recovery timeline will depend on several factors, including:

  • Your health - Your health and any medical conditions will be an important consideration in your recovery. Women who are more active and physically fit report faster recovery from surgery, as do those who eat a healthy, balanced diet. And because pain commonly influences how a person views their recovery, your pain tolerance is also important. Some women need pain medication longer or at different doses.
  • Previous pregnancy - Women who have experienced pregnancy may also recover faster. The natural hormone changes of pregnancy will have stretched their skin and breast tissue. This can decrease discomfort and allow them to have a larger implant and recover more quickly.
  • Breast lift - A breast lift in addition to implants will lengthen recovery time, change post-op complication risks and change some aftercare guidelines.
  • Implant size - Larger implants require more surgical time due to increased surgical dissection. This can increase discomfort and lengthen recovery time.
  • Implant placement - Because over the muscle implants do not require the pectoral muscle to be incised, patients experience a shorter recovery time and less postoperative pain. Final implant placement, softness, and shape will occur much faster also. Under the muscle implants, for obvious reasons, often lead to longer recovery time and more postoperative pain. Final shaping on the breast is slower while the muscle over the implant stretches to accommodate your new shape.
  • Implant displacement exercises (massage) - Surgical philosophy differs on the use of breast implant displacement exercises or massage. Your surgeon may instruct you to use these techniques to reduce pain, help the implants settle faster, soften the breasts and ultimately shorten the time required to see your final result.

Your Breast Augmentation Recovery Timeline

With these factors in mind, let's talk about your surgical recovery timeline and what you can expect.

Day of surgery

This is an exciting but anxious time. Many of your surgery day needs will be taken care of by the surgical and recovery staff, but you will also need to have a supportive family member or close friend since anesthesia will limit your ability to care for yourself. Also, you may experience post-op pain and nausea. Though your surgical team will provide many techniques to reduce your discomfort and prevent or limit any vomiting, plan for your "support person" to provide for much of your needs on this first day.

For instance, you will need help ensuring your medication is taken as prescribed, adhering to your surgeon’s post-op care directions, and may need assistance with some of your most basic needs. Some women feel able to relax with a good book, while others will need help walking to use the bathroom. Additionally, surgery day can be a blur for some and scary for others. You may wake up feeling regret, scared, or pain. You may say odd things under anesthesia. There is also the chance you may not even remember a thing. This is all normal and part of why you have a support person there with you.

Days 1-3

The numbing agents used during surgery will be wearing off at this time, so you may feel more pain. Your pain should be moderate and controlled with your prescribed medication. Take your medication as directed, for the pain will be easier to control if it is headed off before it becomes severe.

Your support person should be accessible, especially if you have children. You will need help caring for children and lifting objects or carrying out certain activities--no lifting or any vigorous activity. Activity should be limited to walking at a slow pace, and you will want to keep your heart rate low and steady.

Your implants may look high, distorted in shape, and more like a pectoral muscle than a breast. The nipple will likely point downward. Swelling is at it’s highest at this time, and it will slowly decrease. Your skin will feel firm and tight. Some bruising is possible. Should bruising become excessive, however, report to your surgeon. Postoperative garments vary; you may be in a light bra or surgical dressing.

Week 1

Most women no longer require pain mediation at this point in recovery. You will be slowly returning to normal daily activities, but will still need to keep your surgeon’s limitations in mind. You may be able to tolerate moderate paced walking, light desk work and small chores that do not require lifting. Sexual activity will be limited, as will any activity that may increase your heart rate. Some women with sedentary jobs may be able to return to work. Check with your surgeon.

Your implants will still look high and compressed, but as swelling decreases you will see shape changes. Your skin will still feel tight and as a result, you may feel itchy as it stretches. Bruises should be healing, and any new bruising should be reported to your surgeon.

Post-op depression or the "boobie blues" can be very real at this juncture. For the past seven days, your body has had to adjust to going through a significant surgery, and you have had to take several different medications and be limited when it comes to your daily activities, which can be frustrating when all you want to do is feel normal and get back to your day-to-day regime. Plus, you have to deal with the emotional and mental changes that come from seeing your body in a different light/fashion—you essentially have two foreign bodies on your chest and it's hard to soak it in when you've only seen your breasts a certain way for so long. Know you are not alone and that many women go through an emotional and mental transformation.

Weeks 2-3

Life will be slowly returning to normal. With the exception of extremely physical occupations, many women will be back at work. A slow increase in physical activity can begin—for some, this means lower body workouts. Upper body workouts and lifting will still be limited. Sexual activity may still be limited too, so check with your surgeon before resuming sex. These and other postoperative guidelines may continue to feel restrictive, but it is important to follow all instructions to ensure the best final outcome.

Your implants will continue to change; they may even be changing at very different rates. Implants may still be high, but slowly starting to change. Bruising should be healed. The nerves in your breasts are stretching, so you may experience shooting pains (zingers). Itching skin, firm implants, low nipples and awkward shape are the biggest complaints at this stage in healing.

Weeks 4-6

Each surgeon will have different limitations for lifting, sleeping positions and post-op garments. It is important to follow up with your surgeon as scheduled and keep up with their post-op recommendations.

Your implants will be starting to look like breasts, but not perfect yet. Women with overs will have a rounder and softer shape at this time, while women with unders may notice that the implant is dropping, the nipple is coming into position, but the sides of their breasts are still not rounded and feel firm. Your breasts can still look very different from each other and will be continuing to change. You may feel comfortable in more revealing clothing, but be sure to follow your surgeon’s bra recommendations. Incisions are often closed in this time frame, so scar care may be started with surgeon approval. Check with your surgeon for suggestions about swimming and hot tubs. With your incisions healing well, you may be able to enjoy activities where your breasts are submerged.

3 months

Any final restrictions to physical activity may be removed at this point. Upper body workouts and running are the last physical activities you will return to. A properly-fitted sports bra will be an investment to consider before returning to high impact activities.

Your implants will be continuing to change—shape and softness still modify over the next few months to one year post-op—but many women find that they are almost completely recovered. Scar care continues; the scar healing process continues up to the one year mark. Bra recommendations change, and you may be approved to purchase underwire bras.

6-12 months

The recommendations from three months continue as your implants make slow and noticeable changes. Many women notice an increase in softness or roundness. Some may find bras purchased early post-op no longer fit comfortably. Scar care continues on an individual basis.

Lifetime

Most women see their final results before the year mark, but changes can continue through a year. At this point in time women may find that their breast appearance changes as their natural breast tissue changes too. Hormonal variations due to pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause may alter your breast tissue, but will not cause the breast implant to variate. Through your lifetime, you may decide to switch size, shape or type of implant, or even have a breast lift. Continue to see your surgeon for routine follow up care, recommendations for rupture screening, or implant replacement.

Created August 2016

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