Breast augmentation is an exciting opportunity for many women to regain their pre-pregnancy figure or enhance their confidence and appearance in swimwear and clothing. A 2016 study published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery reviewing satisfaction rates in 17,899 breast implant patients concluded that breast implants produce significant and sustained improvements in psychosocial well-being and body image.
Each year, over 300,000 patients undergo breast augmentation surgery in the U.S., making it the second most common cosmetic procedure performed after liposuction, according to American Society of Plastic Surgeons statistics. While considering this procedure, it’s natural to have some concerns about the recovery process. Patients often want to know about what level of discomfort to expect, recovery duration, implant longevity, and potential scarring. Your plastic surgeon will address these questions during your breast augmentation consultation and provide personalized expectations.
In the meantime, I’ve compiled this overview to give you a general idea of what to expect and how to prepare for your breast augmentation surgery.
Preparations Before Breast Augmentation Surgery
Before undergoing breast augmentation surgery, there are several steps you should take to ensure a smooth procedure and recovery.
- Read and Understand Instructions: Your plastic surgeon will provide written information about postoperative care and general expectations after the surgery. Read this information well before the procedure to allow time for any necessary clarifications or questions. Here are the general aftercare instructions we provide our breast augmentation patients at Plastic Surgeons of Northern Arizona.
- Obtain Prescriptions: Pick up any prescribed medications in advance. Depending on the procedure and medical factors, your physician may prescribe pain management drugs or antibiotics.
- Quit Smoking and Vaping: Nicotine can hinder healing and increase the risk of complications. We advise patients to abstain from smoking or vaping for 6 to 12 weeks before and after the surgery to promote recovery.
- Arrange for Support: Ensure someone can drive you home after the surgery and stay with you for 24 hours. Ideally, this person can assist you with daily activities and provide support for a day or two following the procedure. Share the postoperative instructions with your support person.
- Stock Up On Supplies: Prepare for your recovery by shopping for things you’ll need after surgery, including healthy foods, snacks, water, and over-the-counter pain relievers like Tylenol and Ibuprofen.
Breast Augmentation Recovery Guidelines
Here are some essential guidelines I tell patients to follow immediately after their procedure:
Plan to rest and avoid strenuous or stressful activities during the first week of recovery. Allow yourself time to heal and regain energy.
Avoid Activities Raising Blood Pressure
For the first two to three days after surgery, refrain from strenuous activities that raise your blood pressure, which could lead to bleeding and potential complications.
Have a Support Person
Continue to have a support person with you for at least 24 hours after the surgery, especially if you have young children. It’s a good idea to have somebody with you to lend a hand with household tasks and childcare so that you can dedicate your full attention to resting and healing.
Manage Pain and Discomfort
It’s normal to experience tightness, soreness, or pain in your chest for several days. Take your prescribed or over-the-counter pain medication as directed by your plastic surgeon.
Follow Showering Restrictions
Avoid showering for the first 24 hours after surgery, and refrain from immersing yourself in still water like bathtubs or swimming pools for six weeks. This helps prevent infections.
We advise patients not to travel for at least the first week or two after surgery to prioritize healing and minimize the risk of complications.
Watch for Infection Signs
Look for signs of infection: warmth, worsening redness/swelling, and fever. If you experience these symptoms, contact your plastic surgeon’s office immediately.
Wear Supportive Bras
For the first six weeks, wear your post-surgical bra, designed to deliver gentle pressure and compression to the breasts. This garment helps promote healing and reduces swelling. A well-fitting sports bra without an underwire also works if you don’t want to wear your compression garment.
Refrain from bending over, reaching across your body, or lifting anything over 5 pounds for two weeks after surgery.
Due to medications and anesthesia, constipation may occur during the initial recovery period. Be prepared with over-the-counter constipation remedies like Dulcolax, Senokot, or fiber supplements.
Sleep on your back with your head slightly elevated. Avoid sleeping on your stomach.
Breast Augmentation Recovery Week By Week
Recovery varies among patients depending on their implant type, procedural technique, and individual healing. Here is a general timeline to give you an idea of what to expect:
First 24 Hours
The surgery usually takes less than one hour. After monitoring your condition for another hour, you will be discharged to go home with a caregiver. You won’t be able to drive yourself home. Expect pain, soreness, limited movement, and some fatigue. Rest as instructed by your surgeon and use prescribed painkillers.
First 48 Hours
Pain medication may be necessary for the first 2 to 3 days. You may experience pain, swelling, and bruising – typical side effects and part of the healing process. Follow your surgeon’s directions and maintain antibiotic use if prescribed. Mild fever can occur during the initial days but monitor for any persistent or worsening fever.
Stay home from work for 4 to 7 days and focus on resting. During the first week, it’s crucial to avoid strenuous activities. You’ll notice improved energy levels and reduced pain and soreness each day. Follow your surgeon’s dressing change instructions to keep your incision areas clean. Your implants may appear high initially, but they will settle over several weeks to months. After one week, we’ll typically see you for a post-op appointment and evaluate your healing.
By now, your pain, discomfort, and soreness should significantly diminish. You can resume most regular physical activities except for high-impact or upper-body exercises unless cleared by your surgeon. Continue wearing your support bra around the clock, including when you sleep. Your surgeon will likely recommend scar massage once the incisions have fully healed. Consistent scar massage and laser skin resurfacing are both excellent ways to reduce the appearance of scars.
First Two Months
After two months, most patients can return to normal activities, including vigorous workouts and physically demanding tasks. Most patients can stop wearing their compressive bra after six weeks.
When to Expect Results
Immediate results don’t typically reflect what your breasts and incisions will look like over time. Swelling, bruising, and changes in cleavage appearance due to swelling near the sternum are expected during the first couple of months. Most patients see full results between two to six months. Your scars will continue to fade over 12 to 18 months.
Managing Potential Breast Augmentation Side Effects
Expected Side Effects of Healing
During recovery, you may experience discomfort, swelling, bruising, and fatigue. Patients typically report a tight, swollen, or pressurized feeling in the chest, which can be alleviated using painkillers and over-the-counter medications.
Initially, your incision will undergo an inflammatory stage for a few days after surgery, resulting in swelling, redness, and bruising. Bleeding should stop, and your body sends white blood cells to the incision sites to ward off infections. After the inflammatory stage, proliferation begins. Fibroblast cells rapidly grow and divide, providing collagen protein for the skin’s extracellular matrix. This process pulls the wound’s edges together while new capillaries form to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the surgical site. The third phase of wound healing is the remodeling stage, which starts about a month after your surgery. During this stage, your scar will slowly change from a thicker, pink, raised scar into a thin, flat, white scar. By 18 months, most breast augmentation scars are faint and barely noticeable.
Uncommon Side Effects to Watch For
- Hematoma / Bleeding: Bruising is common, but bleeding is not. Excessive swelling or bleeding, or if one breast appears significantly larger, could indicate a hematoma. If you notice this, please immediately call your plastic surgeon’s office.
- Infections: Although rare, infections are also a concern. Let your surgeon know if you suspect you have an infection, and follow your antibiotic courses as prescribed. Remember, signs of infection include: a high fever, increasing breast pain, heat, redness, swelling, new pus-like drainage from the incision, and feeling cold or shivery.
- Abnormal Scarring: Some patients develop keloids, which are raised scar mounds. These occur when fibroblast cells continue producing collagen even after closing your wound. Hypertrophic scars look similar to a keloid but aren’t quite as noticeable. Laser skin resurfacing treatments and consistent scar massage will help reduce the appearance of your breast surgery scars. In rare cases, patients will return for scar revision surgery.
- Capsular Contracture: The most common breast augmentation complication. Capsular contracture happens when scar tissue forms around the implant, causing the breasts to look misshapen or asymmetrical and feel firm to the touch. Patients with capsular contracture may also report skin dimpling or a tight feeling in their chest. Capsular contracture can be treated in various ways, including a capsulotomy, capsulectomy, implant replacement, or explant and autologous reconstruction.
- Implant Rupture: Implants are not lifelong devices, and rupture can happen over time. Your surgeon will discuss the risks associated with different types of implants. Ruptured implants require removal and possible replacement. I prefer smooth, round silicone implants when indicated by my patient’s anatomy and goals.
- Breast Implant Illness: While breast implant illness-related explants have received increasing public interest lately, breast implant illness is an uncommon complication, according to a 2022 cohort study of more than 37,600 breast implant patients. Common symptoms include fatigue, chronic pain, anxiety, and nervous system dysfunction.
Considering Breast Augmentation?
Book a consultation with one of our board-certified plastic surgeons to talk about your desired outcomes and treatment options.