If you had questions about surgery beforehand, you'll naturally have questions for recovery as well: How long does breast augmentation recovery take? How will I 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. You likely won't experience post-operative nausea and vomiting 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 medication 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. They can prescribe you Zofran, a very strong anti-emetic (anti-nausea) medication (this is the medication cancer patients receive in order to reduce or eliminate vomiting and nausea after chemotherapy). Your surgeon may also offer you 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 will very likely 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 tightness will gradually dissipate in 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 it feels 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, 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. You'll also feel great pressure on your breasts, and they may feel very heavy. Many women experience this same feeling after breast augmentation surgery, but it usually goes away within one week.
- Stiffness/Tightness in the Morning. You may notice that you feel extra stiff in the morning. This is normal, and it dissipates once you get up and start moving around. The morning stiffness can persist for several weeks, but it is increasingly manageable with each passing day.
- Sore Creases. This is yet another common feeling after breast augmentation surgery. In many cases, your surgeon must lower the crease in order to center the breast implant behind the nipple/areola. This causes the crease to be tender and sore after surgery.
- Post-op Depression or Post-op “Blues.” With any type of surgery, post-op depression is possible, and is not uncommon. Depression is attributable to pain, anesthesia, narcotics/pain medications, and various other things. Lack of sleep can exacerbate 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 stems from not getting instant gratification. Sometimes the breast implants appear really high on the chest, or have a torpedo-like look, which is 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. 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.
The pain medication you take after surgery can also upset your stomach. Some plastic surgeons prescribe anti-nausea medications to their patients in the event of vomiting, while others simply prescribe Mepergan, which has an anti-nausea drug built right in. Avoid upset stomach by eating before your take your pain meds (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 caused by 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 the pain medications wear off, your appetite will return to normal.
- Yeast Infections. Most plastic surgeons prescribe antibiotics for post-op care. 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. Be aware: the bruising can also move downward instead of just disappearing. Your cleavage area will also swell, which will feel mushy or spongy.
- Bloating/Fluid Retention. Chances are you will bloat, 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. Bear in mind that maintaining improper posture causes backaches. Remember, you will most likely not sleep in your normal position, so this change can further aggravate you. Also, when you get up from bed 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. As your skin stretches, your breasts may feel itchy, dry, and flaky. Using a lotion on your breasts helps make you more comfortable. Be very 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 you can't 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 especially 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 during recovery. This is mainly because of scar tissue buildup. The best advice, (which usually works for everyone), is to massage the incision, which helps break up some of that scar tissue. However, make sure your incisions are completely closed before you put your fingers on them. You don't want to introduce any bacteria to the incision.
- 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" is a phenomenon that 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 even look swollen, broad, and flat. The implants may ride high, and look like they are right up against your collar bone in the beginning. They may be bruised and swollen, or your nipples may be puffy and swollen. The good news is that things will get better, given some time and patience.
- Sharp/Stabbing Pains. These are sometimes known as "zingers," and are very common. These pains usually indicate nerve regeneration. So while they aren't the most pleasant things you'll experience, keep in mind that nerve regeneration is a good thing. Also remember that the further you are post-op, the less intense this 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. At the very least, they can offer you peace of mind. At the most, they can take care of any new issues.
- 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. This is also common after breast augmentation, 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 is a shock to the body, so it 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 are fatal.