Like surgery, each woman is different. So what are the factors you must consider when planning your recovery? Just how long will recovery take? Let's walk through the factors that 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. The surgical and recovery staff will address your needs, but you will also need a supportive family member or close friend to handle the rest, since anesthesia limits your mobility and self-care. You may also experience post-op pain and nausea. Though your surgical team will use many techniques to reduce your discomfort, plan for your "support person" to provide for much of your needs on this first day.
For instance, your designated support needs to ensure you take your medicine as prescribed, that you follow your surgeon’s post-op care directions, and assist you with some of your most basic needs. Some women can 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, fear, or pain. You may say odd things under anesthesia. You may also have memory lapses. This is all normal and part of why you have a support person there with you.
The First Three Days
The numbing agents used during surgery will wear off by this time, so you may feel more pain. Control this with your prescribed medication and take it as directed, for the pain will be easier to moderate 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, and more like a pectoral muscle than a breast. Your nipples 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. If it becomes excessive, however, report this to your surgeon. Your post-operative garments may be a light bra or surgical dressing.
Most women no longer require pain mediation at this point in recovery. You will slowly return to your normal daily activities, but keep your surgeon’s directives in mind. You may be able to tolerate moderate paced walking, light desk work and small chores sans lifting. Sexual activity will be limited, as will any activity that increases your heart rate. Some women with desk 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 are healing at this point, but report any new bruising to your surgeon.
Post-op depression or the "boobie blues" are very real at this juncture. For the past seven days, your body has had to adjust to a significant surgery, and you have had to take several medications and limit yourself when it comes to your daily activities, which is 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 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.
Life slowly returns to normal. Except for extremely physical occupations, many women go back to work. You can slowly increase your physical activity—for some, this means lower body workouts. Upper body workouts and lifting are still limited. Sexual activity is still restricted too, so check with your surgeon before resuming sex. These and other post-operative guidelines feel ever-restrictive, but it is important to follow all instructions to ensure the best final outcome.
Your implants will continue to change; they may even change at very different rates. Implants may still be high, but they are slowly changing. All bruising should be healed. The nerves in your breasts are stretching, so you may experience shooting pains (zingers). The biggest complaints women have at this healing stage are itchy skin, firm implants, low nipples and awkward shape.
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 all post-op recommendations.
Your implants start to look like breasts, but they are not perfect yet. Women with overs have a rounder and softer shape at this time, while women with unders may notice that the implant drops, the nipple is comes 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 continue 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 start scar care with surgeon approval. Check with your surgeon concerning swimming and hot tubs. With your incisions healing well, you may be able to enjoy aquatic activities where your breasts are submerged.
Your surgeon will likely lift any remaining physical activity restrictions at this point. Upper body workouts and running are the last physical activities you will return to. Consider purchasing a properly-fitted sports bra before returning to high impact activities.
Your implants will continue to change—shape and softness still change during 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 able to purchase underwire bras.
Your surgeon's recommendations from three-month mark are still applicable 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. Continue scar care on an individual basis.
Most women see their final results before the year mark, but changes can continue through a year. At this point, 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 do not cause the breast implant to vary. Through your lifetime, you may decide to switch size, shape or type of implant, or even have a breast lift. Continue seeing your surgeon for routine follow-up care, rupture screening, or implant replacement.
Updated May 2017