3 days ago, I had a long-awaited breast reduction surgery. It is hands down one of the best things that I have ever done and I am absolutely overjoyed with the results!
As surgery day approached, I did find myself googling what the surgery was like, and recovery would actually be like, and I questioned friends who had breast surgery.
In the spirit of allaying fears of surgery, I wanted to share with you what the recovery is actually like. By contributing my story, I hope to reassure you that if you are considering the surgery, it is the best thing you’ll ever do and way, way less painful and much easier than you think it is.
The Fear of Surgery:
Undergoing a surgery with general anaesthetic is not an easy decision. Regardless of how gritty, mentally strong, or courageous you are, the idea of being put to sleep and sliced open does awaken a primordial fear, and I definitely felt it when I was wheeled into the operating room. Watching everyone waiting to be wheeled into their surgeries on Thursday morning, you could tell that everybody gets nervous. It’s soothing knowing you are not alone and the staff are so empathic and aware of it.
Being wheeled into the operating room did make me nervous, but the staff were so friendly and immediately put me at ease with introductions and a description of what the anaesthetic would feel like.
On the operating table, the iv was started which was probably the most uncomfortable part of the whole procedure, this was only because the iv was fresh out of the fridge and the cold liquid going into my hand made it ache. It was just like running your hand under a cold tap for too long. That only lasted for about a minute, because once the anaesthetic started, I was out and off into a nice sleep. I don’t remember anything.
I woke up in the recovery room quite dozy and relaxed, it did feel like a great nap. I was gently eased into the environment by a lovely nurse putting a warm blanket on me and telling me I was in the recovery room and everything went great. I had been worried about being nauseous and I expressed these concerns to the anesthetist, so he was generous with administering anti nauseants. They had also recommended wearing warm socks in surgery to keep my body warm, and I can confirm these did the trick! I wore my ski socks and wasn’t shaking or cold when I woke up.
The difference between expectations and reality is funny. I totally thought I’d wake up with blazing pain across my chest. Reality? I felt nothing. Seriously, nothing!
In a pleasant haze, I was wheeled back to the day surgery area (I stayed for 24 hours after surgery) and the nurses were diligent with administering pain meds, providing water and checking vitals. They let me cautiously try some food to see if my stomach was up to digesting anything. I was glad they encouraged me to take it slowly and carefully, as I was surprised by how ginger my stomach was – I did feel overly full just trying a bit of apple sauce, so I laid off and sipped on ginger ale instead.
You may be asking, how did the boobs feel? I felt nothing in the first few hours after surgery! I honestly was expecting to wake up feeling that hot knife burn of freshly cut skin, but I didn’t feel any of that thanks to pain meds. I was in a comfortable front-fasten “granny bra” and the incisions had self-dissolving tape, with a layer of soft gauze on top.
Get used to sleeping upright!
I was very dozy after surgery, which is also influenced by the medicine, so the last three days have mostly been chilling in bed, drifting in and out of naps and getting up occasionally for a snack, to see the kids or make some tea.
The sitting up part is pretty important – you will be propped up with pillows and cannot lie down, or on your side. It will hurt too much if you try anyways, so you won’t 🙂
My husband bought a pillow from home which was fantastic . I highly recommend bringing a squishy pillow that you can manipulate to find a comfortable resting spot. I also couldn’t help but think that a travel neck pillow would work really well as well. I’ve lived in my house coat or kimono the last few days which has been great, too. They recommend a button up shirt but tbh, fiddling with buttons and lifting my arms at the elbows was too sore. A housecoat tie has been way easier.
A big piece of recovering after surgery is staying in an upright position, even when you sleep. It doesn’t make for the best night time sleeps, which is why you should really take some downtime the first 3-4 days after surgery, because you’ll want to sleep in the daytime. Ironically on day three here, the source of most of my discomfort is my neck, which is seized up on one side from sleeping upright in awkward positions. It’s bothering me quite a lot and giving me a headache! Make sure you do some gentle neck stretching after surgery and while you recoup, I wish someone had told me that!
I did have drains under either breast in the hospital, which they took out on the day of discharge. I was super nervous for this, because I remember having a drain removed after my emergency appendectomy a few years ago, and it was excruciating – I remember yelling as they pulled it out. The nurse reassured me it was a painless and very quick removal and she was right. She pulled the thin drain tube out and I didn’t even realize it was out. I was lying there, bracing myself, and there was nothing to brace for.
Appetite & Food:
I slowly got a bit of an appetite back about 8 hours after surgery, but not much of one, so I’ve focused on drinking lots of water, healthy fruits and vegetables and fibrous food. The pain medication does constipate you, so I’ve been drinking 2L + a day along with restoralax. It’s been 3 days since surgery and I haven’t had a bowel movement yet which is not ideal, but this is the norm for me without even taking pain meds, lol. So definitely go with your own bowel movement benchmark for what constitutes constipation.
Other things I’ve been taking to help with healing are fish oil, vitamin c, collagen protein smoothies with lots of greens, and a good multivitamin and a fibre supplement.
What is the incision pain like?
I know that pain is very subjective and really depends on the person, so I’ll start with saying my pain tolerance is quite low. For example, I completely tapped out at 3cm dilation in all three of my labours. I turned into a grey, puking mess and then it was epidural time, lol. I’m not a pain hero and I don’t pretend to be. I don’t see the point in suffering and am in favour of pain meds. They offered me percocet in the hospital and aside from being curious having never taken it before, I was also like, why not?
The doctor will prescribe you a pain medication that will keep your pain very low, and you can certainly discuss opiate versus non-opiate painkillers. I am currently on a medication that is an opiate, so it leaves me feeling a bit spaced out, very chilled out and pain-free. I’ve never been on them before, so I started out just taking one and playing it very cautious, but two seems to make a real difference and give me a good stretch of no discomfort.
Right now, on the pain medication prescription, I do not feel any pain if I stay still. If I move, I feel discomfort on the incision spots that is very similar to a grazed knee. I did accidentally move too much last night in my sleep and I woke up to hot burning, which was unpleasant but not worse than a bad cut.
In the interest of reporting for this blog, yesterday evening I did not take any pain meds in the evening to see how it naturally felt. I can say that the pain was probably up at like a 6/10, 10/10 being the worst I’ve experienced (labour!) The medicine does make a different and if you are prescribed it, just take it. Why suffer? However, I believe that with breast reduction surgery, if you have high pain tolerance, you can get by simply taking tylenol or advil.
The pain of breast reduction surgery is more of a skin/ tissue pain. It is a grazed / hot / cut / knife feeling. Personally I find that kind of pain much more manageable than deeper muscle or joint pain. It is very different for example, from the labour pain which I describe as a deep, aching, body turning inside out type of pain that overwhelms your senses, lol.
Asking for Help:
I am a mom of three children four and under, including a 20lb baby, which is problematic. After breast reduction surgery you definitely cannot pick things up or move with the same freedom. You’ll want to move in a configuration that is not unlike a T-Rex when you are up and about.
A, You are sore , B You will risk all of that beautiful work your surgeon has just done.
Just because you want to feel useful and contribute to your family does not mean you should risk the $10,000 worth of surgery you just had. You can afford to take a week off of parenting. You’ve got the rest of your life to be a parent.
It’s time for a Pep Talk. I know I am struggling a bit with this, so it’s partially a pep talk for me, but I hope you find it useful too!:
Please note you just had reconstructive surgery. Don’t deconstruct it. I don’t care if your toddlers are melting down and you are slightly dying inside because you can hear your husband getting frustrated with them. Let him struggle. You have your own work to do. Don’t throw a life ring and in the process put your own recovery on the back burner. If you are with someone who needs, wants and relies on your help (plenty of couples have this dynamic when it comes to kids) this is your time to test out a different dynamic and really advocate for yourself and stepping back for a few days. I am feeling pretty lucky that my confident husband has been a rock star with the kids and we have a totally shared responsibility with the kids, but it is still hard when I hear the usual toddler meltdowns and him getting frustrated as he tries to wrangle everyone, especially while I lie here sipping a smoothie.
My 12 month old is crawling, but he needs a lot of picking up, dressing, helping and I have basically planned for not being able to do that for at least 4-5 days. My mother in law has come to stay and is for the most part taking care of him, while my husband wrangles the toddlers.
My four year old can mostly dress and manage herself but the issue comes with preparing meals – I can’t get up to the cupboards or lift my arms. So as much as I thought “yeah, she’ll be ok to deal with” the reality is you do need help for small children as well, even if they are independent.
If you have toddlers or a baby, make sure you have help with you for the first five days at least, and that the help is staying with you.
My husband and mother in law have totally taken over parenting duties from me and I truly, truly appreciate it. I’ve set up camp in our bedroom.
The eternal joy of being a mom is that even if you are incapacitated, your children will still want to be all over you. I’ve been knocked and bumped and that has been unpleasant so we’ve had to have a few chats and I do have a few defensive pillows around my fort in bed. 🙂 I felt terrible doing this but I have also locked the door if I am feeling sleepy so that I can have some sacred space. The toddlers are particularly clingy as well because mum’s just gone through surgery and has a big owwie. Rather than them backing off, your children will be curious kittens and ever so sweet in their desire to help you in every way, right down to the hello kitty bandaids proferred with a sweet little smile “for your owwie boobies mommy.”
I’m really having to work at not jumping in and helping. It’s amusing to observe the typical mom dialogue in my brain that is feeling a bit bad for lazing around in the bedroom. It really kicks up when I hear my husband dealing with melting down toddlers, but you know what? I deserve this, I deserve to heal and take this downtime.
I often play the game of “what would my husband do” to shift my mindset and disempower these unhelpful thoughts, it helps me gain some much-needed perspective. If he’d had a surgery, he’d take it easy and recouperate while I jumped into action and made sure he was taken care of. So, I will let him do this for me.
Don’t play the mummy martyr game. REST and ENJOY the downtime. Go to chapters, get a nice book, read some gossip mags. Line up snacks on the bedside table, lock your door and let your help deal with the children. Ask someone to bring you something. Nap if you need to, get up only if you want to.
When You Are Feeling Ready to Get up and About:
If you feel like you are ready to do something, take the following approach: You as a mom will push your body further than it should go, all in the name of “momming” so whatever you *think* you can do, reduce that by half.
Think you can go to stampede with your toddlers for 3 hours in a couple of days? (I genuinely considered this, this morning) – NO. Instead, attempt a 10-minute walk around the block.
By the way, 3 days after surgery I’ve been attempting getting up and pottering around the house but I find after 30 minutes I”m ready to go back to the room and snooze or chill. Also, listen to your pain. If it starts increasing, it’s time to retire to your place of recouping and take ‘er easy. Pain is such a good internal barometer of whether we are doing too much.
I prepared dinner plates for the kids last night and kind of regretted it afterward, as my incisions were burning (this was also when I had decided not to take any painkillers as I wrote about above, so I was already uncomfortable at that point.) Today, I’m not going to bother that again. It was a good little warning for me not to push it.
Time Off of Work:
Talk to your surgeon and take into account your own pain tolerance, energy levels, work requirements and healing tendencies, and err on the generous side when it comes to taking time off of work. Personally, I have opted to take two weeks off from work, and I’m really glad I did, as I have a long commute, 15 minute walk and usually have to carry a few bags to and from the office. I’ve been waiting 15 years for this surgery and it’s a huge, momentous event in my life, so I want to honour it and give my body the time that it needs to heal. Everyone’s healing time can vary from person to person depending on their general health and even how much tissue they have taken out. It’s an individual story and an individual journey. We can’t perfectly predict the body, we can only use general assumptions and categories which no one person ever fits perfectly into, so when you decide on time off, I’d say, give your body the time it needs.
I hope this write up is helpful to you, whether you are considering breast reduction surgery, are awaiting the big day, or are fresh out of surgery. Connect with me in the comments and please, offer any healing tips below! I am told that the self-dissolving tape will do a great job of healing the incisions but I am definitely open to any scar healing advice you may have! And if you’ve had the surgery, tell me what your own healing was like? We are all so different! 🙂 I enjoy the diversity of stories and experiences.