Breast Implant Recovery: What To Expect and How To Avoid Regrets

Are you worried about the recovery period? Knowing how to plan for it and what to expect will help ease your concerns.

That said, I usually tells patients that the recovery is not as bad as they think. In this detailed description of the recovery period, you will see why that is the case.

This answer will cover practical planning for your procedure and what
the whole recovery experience will be like. Also, I will talk about how to avoid second-guessing or feeling regret about your implant choice during recovery.

For different phases in the recovery period, I will describe: pain and medication, sleeping, daily living activities, scarring, exercise, and changes in your breasts.

Please note that these are general guidelines. Every patient is different. every surgeon has different post operative instructions, or preferences regarding postoperative care. Always consult your own doctor and follow their instructions.

Planning For Your Recovery Period

Plan to take one week off your main vocation, whether that is work, school, parenting, or caring for the household. And plan on not fulfilling any obligations for the first 3-5 days. You should rest to allow a good recovery.

After one week you can return to your regular responsibilities, as long as they do not involve lifting anything over about 15 lb.

Have someone drive you or use a driving service for your first few days. You can drive once you stop taking pain medication. This is typically about 3-5 days but could be up to one week.

Any strenuous exercise, sports, or heavy breast contact should be postponed for at least 4 weeks.

What To Expect During The Recovery Period

 

Pain & Medication

(In terms of medication, these are my guidelines and what I do in my practice, but you should consult with and follow your own physician's instructions.)

You will be sore the first couple of days. The primary reason for the pain is the muscle being elevated from the procedure.

It is very likely that you will be taking narcotic medication for the pain in the first two days.

Typically, by days 3-5, patients wean themselves off of narcotics and feel much better. There is a lot of variation from patient to patient. Some may be done with narcotics by day 3, others continue on.

After a week, there should be no major pain. If you experience any discomfort after one week, Tylenol should be sufficient to manage it.

(Note, this is for breast implants placed under the muscle. The only difference is that the duration of healing and pain lasts slightly longer since muscle is being elevated. Along with many other doctors, I believe that implants should always be placed under the muscle because it minimizes the risk of certain complications and improves the results.)

I also prescribe my patients 3 days’ worth of antibiotics for the first few days following surgery.

 

Daily Living Activities

Your daily living activities include basic functioning like brushing your teeth, combing your hair, opening doors, making a meal.

Technically, by day 1 you should be able to do daily living activities. However, you will feel less energetic than usual so you may opt to be less active. This is normal.

After surgery, you will feel slight pain when you lift your elbows away from your sides. The average time of when you will be able to lift your arms completely above your head is somewhere between 48 hours and one week after surgery.

If you have a newborn, be sure to lift your baby with your elbows pegged to your body. This technique will minimize the strain of lifting.

Do not drive while you are taking narcotics. Once you have completely weaned yourself off of pain medication, you can resume driving.

Days 3-5 you will have the energy to move around the house and do basic things. There is a one-week follow up at the office to make sure everything is OK and that you are feeling well. In the weeks that follow, you can gradually introduce more activity to your body.

There should be ABSOLUTELY no smoking or drinking for at least two weeks after surgery. Smoking interferes with the healing process and alcohol may cause increased bleeding.

 

Sleep

Try to sleep on your back with your head slightly elevated after surgery [for how long?]. This will help with the swelling.

But, if you really want to sleep on your side and feel comfortable doing so, it’s ok.

I do NOT prescribe sleep medication because it is not needed. Especially if you are taking narcotics for pain, I do not suggest mixing both.

The only reason you would have problems sleeping is because you are in pain. There are three things to do to manage the pain properly.

1. Do not wait to be in pain until taking medication. Instead, stay ahead of it, otherwise you will be suffering until the medication kicks in.
2.You may be taking less than the recommended dosage of medication. For example, if your prescription says to take 1 to 2 pills and you are only taking 1.
3.If you wake up in pain, consider taking your pain medication right before going to sleep at night.

Following this protocol, a patient without pre-existing problems sleeping should be able to sleep comfortably, even in the first few days.

 

Showering & Bathing

You may begin showering on the second day following surgery after taking sponge baths the day after surgery.

Do not submerge yourself under water (e.g., bath, pool, ocean) for the first three weeks after surgery.

 

Scars

Your first week out of surgery, you will have medical grade tape over the scar.

After the tape is removed in your one-week, post-op visit you can expect the scar to be a little red, raised, and hard.

Over a week to 1 month, the scar will be softer, will flatten out, and won’t be red but the pigmentation may be darker.

In 1-6 months everything improves but it takes up to a year for the scar to “mature”. The last thing to resolve is the dark pigmentation. It takes up to a year for the scar to lighten up and camouflage better with your skin.

I recommend to patients certain skin creams to help with this process.

 

Bruising

In your first week expect minor bruising. Note that the healing process is asymmetric. That means it is possible that one breast may look more swollen, be more bruised, or be slightly higher than the other. This is completely normal and will go away with time.

 

Exercise / Activity

You may walk around after surgery, but you will find that you do not have the same energy level that you had prior to surgery. This is absolutely normal and disappears somewhere between the first and second week.

In the first week following surgery, you can do light activity. This includes walking on a treadmill or elliptical with low intensity.

For for at least two weeks following surgery, avoid any strenuous physical activity or heavy lifting.

After the first or second week, you can add lower body resistance. And in the third week, low intensity upper body exercise can be added to your routine.

After week 4 you may be totally healed.

But again, everyone’s body is different. Listen to yours. If something doesn’t feel right, stop and give it a few more days. Do not push yourself to the point of discomfort.

 

Surgical Bras

Post-op, a surgical bra will be provided to you. Wear your surgical bra during the day for the first three weeks following surgery.

Immediately after surgery, a the patient is placed in a surgical bra that is given to them. the surgical bra will provide support and be snug but not tight or compressive. Additionally, the surgical bra will not have an underwire.

At the one week follow up, I instruct my patients to continue wearing the surgical bra if they like it or are comfortable with it. That said, they can wear any sports bra they like as long as it is snug, provides support for the breast, but not be too tight or compressive, and does not have any underwire.

The reason you don't want an underwire is because the underwire can dig into the incision while it is still healing.

The patient can return to a wired bra once the incision has healed. This is typically at 4 to 6 weeks. By this time, the patient will have had their one month follow up.

 

Breasts

Starting on the 7th day after surgery, you will also want to perform breast massages as directed, two times a day. Breast massaging may prevent scar formation, assists the skin in accommodating the implant and helps you get used to the feel of your new breasts.

In the first week, your breasts will be swollen and sit high on your chest. This gives some patients the impression that they are “bigger” prior to dropping.

From the first week to one month, the skin will relax and there is less swelling, so the implant begins to drop. Usually by your third month, you will have the final result.

You will spend a lot of time looking at your breasts. Many thoughts can come to your mind, but regret should never be one. I have made a special note on this . . .

A Note On Regrets And Second-guessing Throughout Recovery

If you read patient stories, you’ll see things like:

“If you’re happy with the size immediately after the surgery, you may be unhappy when the implants drop, because they will be smaller.”

“At this stage in recovery, some patients feel regret and wish they went bigger.”

Behind these statements is an idea that a patient’s thoughts and feelings about their decision change as they recover, and that this is normal.

I believe this is an out-of-date way of thinking about breast augmentation. Sure, people may have alternating feelings about this big life decision, but regret should NEVER be a part of it.

A patient needs to be educated the right way, they need to have all the right expectations set up front. When this is done right, you should be happy about your breast augmentation and implant choice, from beginning to end. It’s what I expect from all my patients, that they come out of surgery happy, and they stay happy.

Now here’s a fact about describing your breast implant goals: words can only take us so far. Very often, what a patient thinks, says, and truly wants are all different. You need to SEE what your implant will look like, on your unique body, to confidently say, “This is the perfect implant for me!”

When I opened my private practice, the first thing I did was invest in a device called the Vectra 3D. It is a must-have tool for getting patients ideal results.

The Vectra takes a 3D photograph of your torso and breasts. Then, the 3D photo appears on a computer screen. On the screen, we can create accurate simulations of what your breasts will look like with different implant shapes and sizes. This will give you a realistic image of what you’ll look like after breast augmentation surgery.

You can experiment with the different implant options until you find the one you are happy with. Being able to see the results with your own eyes, beforehand, is the best way to communicate your desired look with your doctor. It takes out so much guesswork, especially about breast implant shapes, sizes, and volume (cc).

That’s the beauty of the Vectra. It is a visual tool that creates accurate expectations and ensures the best communication. It will cast away your doubts and fears about choosing the right implant.

When patients don’t see their results ahead of time, you can imagine the doubts they have. And since what they think they want and what they actually want end up being different so often, of course many of them may find themselves unhappy with their results. The key to patient satisfaction happens in the preoperative planning, not in the operating room.

That’s why the Vectra is a critical investment for any practice. It is so important for giving patients results they are happy with, and why, post-op, I often hear patients say, “They’re perfect. This is exactly what I wanted.”

With preoperative planning, you understand that your breasts will look a little high and swollen in the first week. And you know what your breasts are going to look like when they drop in a few months. With this knowledge and visual pictures, you will not be having second thoughts and regrets that are mentioned in the recovery period of other women who have undergone breast augmentation surgery.

Keep doing the research that you are doing. Getting your doubts addressed and your questions answered will help you come to a decision. The best patients are informed patients.

Now that you have learned about breast implant recovery, you may want to read more about how the right shape and sizes are chosen. Another common question has to do with how planning for pregnancy affects the timing of your procedure.

Be sure to go to many consultations. Doing so will actually save you time overall. A consultation is where you will get the best quality information directly from a plastic surgeon.

Good luck on your journey!