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American Family Children's Hospital

Breast Reconstruction FAQs: After Surgery

Whether you are in recovery or are considering your options, UW Health Breast Center experts are here to answer your questions about breast care after breast reconstruction surgery.


Visit our Breast Reconstruction FAQs for more general information.


What should I expect following breast reconstruction?


Depending on the procedure, you will be in the hospital for one to five days. You could experience soreness and fatigue for up to two months after breast reconstruction. You should be up and about within four to eight weeks. Recovery for implant reconstruction is typically shorter than for flap reconstruction. Scarring will fade substantially over time (between one and two years), but will never go away entirely. Your breast reconstruction process could require additional surgery, such as nipple reconstruction, depending on what type of procedure you and your doctor agree is most appropriate for you.


Will I be on pain medication after breast reconstruction surgery?


Yes. We will work with you to prevent and relieve pain. Pain medicine might not entirely relieve your pain, but should make it more tolerable. You will be asked to rate your pain on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being in no pain and 10 being the most severe pain. Your pain medication can be taken every four to six hours, taking it on a schedule will make you more comfortable. If you have nausea, a rash or itching, please contact us.


Pain medicine will make you sleepy. Be sure to allow for rest and frequent naps.


Will I have drains after breast reconstruction surgery?


After surgery, drains will be in place near your incisions to collect blood and other fluids. They will remain in place for 7-10 days. While in the hospital, our nurses will help you and your family understand how to empty and record their output.


There may also be a catheter in place, which can usually be removed within one day.


May I bathe or shower after breast reconstruction surgery?


Once home, you can shower daily. When showering, it is helpful to drape a hand towel around your neck and safety pin your drains to either end. This will keep them from pulling or falling. If you choose not to shower daily, you will need to wash the incisions and drain sites once a day with soap and water. Please refrain from soaking in a bathtub, hot tub or swimming pool until your incisions are healed.


When can I resume wearing a bra?


You may wear a bra as soon as your drains are removed. A front-closing bra is most comfortable and you may be given one after surgery. Also, wearing loose fitting clothing or tops that button or zip will be easier when dressing and undressing. Avoid putting your hands above your head as it may be painful and is not advised within the first week.


When can I return to work?


Your return to work could vary due to the type of reconstructive surgery. A breast reconstruction that utilizes the natural tissue, such as a TRAM Flap where we take muscle and move it into a new position, takes time to recover from. Typically, natural tissue reconstruction takes one month of recovery time before a patient can return to work. It also depends on your occupation. If you are in a position where you are lifting or moving around a great deal, you could need more time. If you are in a less active position, it might be a matter of weeks. For example, most expander patients who receive an expander placed under the pectoralis muscle can return to work in two weeks.  There is a good deal of variation among patients. In general, two weeks to one month is the timeframe.


When can I resume normal activity and exercise?


A return to normal activity can be different for each individual. During the first week, we advise you to take things very slowly. You might find a gallon of milk difficult to carry, depending on the type of reconstruction. By the second week, you should not be lifting anything heavier then 10 pounds or a moderate size bag of groceries. This will continue for the next week or so. If you have had a TRAM Flap, you should not lift more than 25 pounds for the first six weeks.


Avoid vacuuming, doing heavy laundry or activities that stress your chest and abdominal muscles during the first few weeks. You should not drive until your doctor approves. Usually this is not until after the first two weeks; or when you can lift your arms above your head comfortably, and are not taking pain medicine. As far as exercise, you may start doing shoulder shrugs, shoulder circles and arm curls the second or third day after surgery. During the second week, you may start light stretches. As you begin to feel better and resume activity, this will improve.


How often will I need to return for follow-up care?


At first, we would like to see you every week for the first month. After that, your clinic visits will likely be less often, at one month, six weeks and then in six-month intervals.