Breast reduction surgery is a procedure many women (and men) with enlarged breasts decide on getting to reduce their pain levels from the strain enlarged breasts put on their necks, backs and shoulder areas. There are some who want the surgery simply for aesthetic purpose, but a combination of both comfort and appearance is usually what motivates a person to go under the knife.
If you decide to undergo the procedure — as is the case with every surgery — you'll have to go through a tough recovery period before you will be able to enjoy your newly enhanced quality of life. Although the surgery is quite safe and common, it's a stressful event for your body. It’s very important to take care of yourself and to give your body time and space to heal properly.
Here are seven tips on what you should do to make your recovery feel more pleasant and effective.
1. Take Time Off — and REST!
As you’re scheduling your surgery, keep in mind that you'll need to take time off from work or school for at least two weeks. (Learn more in "Your Guide to Breast Reduction Surgery".) After the surgery, you will be experiencing swelling and bloating, as well as some itching around the stitches and incision areas.
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Your breasts will be wrapped up in gauze and dressings, and you may be wearing a special surgical bra over the garments. You'll be drowsy and will feel a lot of discomfort and pain in your movements within the first 48 hours so you'll need to have someone around to help you out with your daily activities.
After the first several days, you might start feeling stronger and you'll want to get back to your productive ways. This could make you feel guilty about taking time off. It’s crucial that you put your health first and keep resting for at least two weeks following surgery. If you have an office job, returning to work after two weeks is fine, but you have to keep all physical activity to a minimum. Taking short walks is recommended, but any sort of exercise, such as fast-paced movement or lifting, is strictly off limits.
You should also avoid bending over or lifting your arms up. You can put a dangerous strain on your incisions and can severely damage your wounds if you move too much during the day or try lifting beyond the doctor's recommendations — even lifting bags of groceries can be harmful to your recovery.
2. Sleep in an Elevated Position
During the post-op period, you'll need to sleep exclusively on your back as any pressure applied to your breasts from rolling over can cause complications and damage to your wounds. This is why supporting yourself with pillows is recommended. You should sleep in an elevated position with additional pillows under your feet as support for your lower back for at least the first week.
The elevated position helps to reduce swelling. Using pillows as support for your arms and shoulders will prevent you from rolling around too.
3. Watch Your Nutrition
Obvious or not, it’s very important that you eat well and stay hydrated. You'll be sleeping most of the time and will possibly experience bloating, pain and nausea; all of which will very likely cause you to lose your appetite. Your body needs energy in order to heal, and you have to make sure you stay healthy. Try to eat three meals a day, even if they are in smaller portions than you’re normally used to.
You'll most likely be on pain-killers so make sure you stay well-fed as the drugs will make you feel ill if you take them on an empty stomach. You have to force yourself to drink a lot of fluids, not only to avoid dehydration, but also because the water you drink will help your body flush out the anesthesia and toxins from your body.
Pain medication can also leave you feeling constipated, and water helps food digestion and encourages bowel movements. While juice cannot hurt you, you should drink plenty of water instead.
Alcohol is off limits!
4. Stop Smoking
Smoking is a definite no-no too! Even before you undergo the procedure, you'll be asked to quit smoking for up to a month before your surgery. It’s very important to avoid smoking during the recovery period as well. Smoking one or two cigarettes per day is only recommended for heavy smokers to reduce the stress of going "cold turkey”, but it’s very important to remain disciplined until you are fully healed.
Smoking narrows the blood vessels and decreases the amount of hemoglobin to the wound, which can significantly affect the healing process, and prevent your wounds from closing properly.
5. Avoid Baths and Running Water
While your wounds are fresh and you still have your stitches in, you'll be advised to avoid showering. You should take this recommendation seriously. You can wash yourself with wet towels or with water from the sink, but putting your incisions in contact with flowing water will seriously affect the healing process and cause unnecessary complications. After you're allowed to shower again, you should use a hand-held shower head which will allow you to control the water flow and the direction in which it’s going.
Avoid direct contact with the wounds and make sure the water flow is low. Soaking in a bathtub should be avoided for at least a month after the surgery.
6. Refrain from Sexual Activity
If you’re “in the mood” during the first week of recovery, sex is, unfortunately, off-limits. The first month after the procedure, sexual intercourse is generally not recommended. Sex counts as a strenuous physical activity, one that causes too much movement and pressure on the breasts. Plus, sexual arousal can also cause inflammation of the incisions.
7. Take Care of Your Scars
Scarring is inevitable. To make matters worse, no one can really tell you how your scars will turn out. This depends solely on your skin type and how you've healed in the past. One thing that everyone has in common is the fact that scars look the scariest the first six months after the surgery.
The redness will slowly start to fade away and, if you’re lucky, the scars will eventually melt into your skin and be barely visible to an untrained eye. Still, no matter how your skin reacts to scarring, there are certain steps you can take to make sure the healing process is as fast and as pleasant as possible.
First and foremost, you have to be diligent with the ointment treatment. There are many ointments available, and you should consult your doctor about which one is recommended for your skin type and the severity of the scarring.
Secondly, you should avoid exposing the scars to direct sunlight. Direct exposure to the sun discolors the scars, and makes the tissue thicken. This means that sunbathing your scars will make them look more aggressive and visible.
Finally, you shouldn’t strain the incision. Don't raise your hands above your head, lift heavy things, or bend over. Straining the incision will greatly affect the severity of the permanent scarring.