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What to Expect After Breast Reconstruction: A Timeline

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Page Updated on May 31, 2022 by Dr. Norman Rowe (Plastic Surgeon) of Rowe Plastic Surgery

What to Expect After Breast Reconstruction: A Timeline

Breast reconstruction is a surgical procedure to recreate one or both of your breasts after you’ve had a mastectomy or lumpectomy as a breast cancer treatment. Breast reconstruction surgery may involve a single procedure or multiple procedures, especially if you decide to enhance your unaffected breast with a breast augmentation, a breast lift or a breast lift with implants.

A board certified plastic surgeon can rebuild your damaged or removed breast, either immediately after your mastectomy or anytime later in a delayed procedure. The surgery delivers both physical and emotional benefits, such as:

  • A return of your natural figure
  • Reinforced feelings of femininity
  • Becoming whole and balanced once more
  • Not being afraid of intimate relationships

What Are the Phases of Recovery?

Your surgeon at Rowe Plastic Surgery   in New Jersey and New York City manages your expectations while planning the surgery. The seven stages of recovery include:

  1. Immediately after your breast reconstruction
  2. A short hospital stay
  3. Your first days at home
  4. A month after your breast reconstruction
  5. Six weeks after your surgery
  6. Three months after your breast reconstruction
  7. A year after your breast surgery

You must have a firm understanding of how your expectations align with the possibilities of the procedure before your breast reconstruction surgery. Knowing what to expect smooths your recovery period and prepares you to love your results.

  1. Immediately After Your Breast Reconstruction

At the end of your procedure, your plastic surgeon covers your breast in a surgical dressing, using sticky plastic strips that stay in place. The dressing keeps your breast dry and clean, while allowing the incisions to heal. Immediately after the surgery, you can expect to:

  • Wake up in a recovery room, watched by the staff
  • Feel groggy as the general anesthesia wears off
  • Experience some pain, bruising and swelling in and around your breast
  • Feel some tightness or pulling in your chest, which soon fades
  • Be tired and low on energy, which may continue for some days

To promote healing, the plastic surgeon may have inserted a tube in your reconstructed breast to drain away excess liquid. To protect your new breast, you need to wear support garments all the time.

  1. A Short Hospital Stay

While you may be released after you’ve rested for a while after surgery, your surgeon may request a short hospital stay for observation. Your stay in hospital depends on the extent and type of your breast reconstruction, such as:

  • Immediate breast reconstruction. If your surgical procedure was performed right after your mastectomy in a procedure called an immediate breast reconstruction, you can expect to be discharged in two days. Arrange for a friend or family member to drive you home.
  • Free flap reconstruction. A complex breast reconstruction procedure, this is also one of the newest breast reconstruction techniques. Your doctor uses tissue from another part of your body to reconstruct your breast. The surgery requires a longer hospital stay — as much as five days.

To minimize the length of your hospital stay, discuss your options with your plastic surgeon to understand the best surgical approach. Remember that your health insurance covers most if not all of your costs.

  1. Your First Days at Home

After you get home, your healing and recovery continues. Your doctors at Rowe Plastic Surgery have a comprehensive aftercare program that promotes faster healing and better results. The quality of care you give to yourself and your breast at this stage influences your results. The pain and swelling continue for several days around your breast. You can expect:

  • To continue wearing the surgical bra and other support garments
  • Your reconstructed breast not to look anything like you expected because of the bruising and swelling
  • To have to keep the dressing in place, clean and dry
  • Your other incision, if you had the flap reconstruction, to start healing faster, as long as you don’t overdo your exertion

During this period, avoid heavy lifting, excessive bending, strenuous activities and sexual activities. You may experience some emotional issues, since it takes time to adjust to your new look. It’s natural. Arrange for someone to be there with you, which is one of the tips your doctor may suggest during your consultation.

  1. A Month After Your Breast Reconstruction

As your breasts heal and the swelling gradually decreases, you may get impatient to see immediate results or to return to your normal life. Be patient. You’ve to follow the aftercare program strictly to get the best results. At this point, you can expect:

  • Your pain to have eased, but you may feel some occasional discomfort
  • To feel strange about your new body contours
  • Your doctor to recommend light physical exercise to regain strength and adjust to your new physique
  • To see some scarring on your breasts — and on your abdomen, if you got flap surgery

After a month, you’re anxious to see the results of your breast reconstruction. Take one day at a time and continue to be patient. If you notice anything unusual, you can reach your doctor through a virtual consultation.

  1. Six Weeks After Your Surgery

After a month and a half, you feel better and more confident about your breast reconstruction recovery. If you’ve followed the aftercare program properly, your incisions have healed, and you’ve avoided an infection and other complications. Now you can expect to:

  • Be able to resume light activities
  • Return to work if your job doesn’t strain your chest
  • Continue exercising physically to regain strength and fully adjust to your new breast

You may feel a mixture of emotions, including anxiety and depression, from the changes in your body. Counseling is available to help you get through this phase successfully. The breast reconstruction procedure should give you a sense of triumph from overcoming breast cancer and reclaiming your femininity.

  1. Three Months After Your Breast Reconstruction

With your breast completely healed, your surgeon can advise you to get nipple reconstruction. The procedure isn’t for everyone, but if you want to crown your new breast with a beautiful nipple, this is the time to do it. The options for nipple reconstruction include:

  • Nipple sharing
  • Skin graft
  • Skin flap
  • Medical tattooing

The second phase of your breast reconstruction fine-tunes the initial results. Your doctor adjusts your breast to make it look better and more natural. Nipple reconstruction also helps enhance the appearance of the breast. The doctor tailors this minor outpatient surgical procedure to suit your needs.

  1. A Year After Your Breast Surgery

This is the best time to review the results of your breast reconstruction. Up to this stage, you’ve worked extensively with your plastic surgeon. Your breast has changed tremendously and settled in to how it will look going forward. You can expect the scars to fade as you regain some sensation. You’ll also have more emotional control.

If you plan to have breast reconstruction after mastectomy, contact Rowe Plastic Surgery in Manhattan, Long Island, New Jersey and the Hamptons before your cancer treatment. The friendly, compassionate surgery team stays with you from the surgery to full recovery.

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