University of Virginia Plastic Surgery
1300 Jefferson Park Avenue 4th Floor
Charlottesville, VA 22908
Phone: (434) 924-1234
Location Hours: Monday–Friday | 8 a.m.–5 p.m.

Breast Reconstruction Recovery Time: What to Expect

Woman holding her hands on the bandages around her bust. (MODEL)

If you’ve been through a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, breast reconstruction may be the next life-changing step in your healing journey. As plastic and reconstructive surgeons, we’re here to help make the procedure and your recovery process as seamless as possible. This starts by empowering you with vital information about what breast reconstruction recovery time, healing, and aftercare are like.

We also hope to inspire and reassure you. Click through our gallery of breast reconstruction pictures that showcase the transformative possibilities of your “before-and-after” results.

Breast Reconstruction Overview

Women undergoing full or partial mastectomy may opt for a breast reconstruction to reshape or restore the breasts. This can be done using implants or tissue from another part of the body. Breast reconstruction can occur during a mastectomy, shortly after, or even years later.

Studies show that the decision to have reconstruction surgery can impact the quality of life among breast cancer survivors. Women who have this procedure share that they appreciate the self-confidence that comes with looking and feeling more balanced and in control of their bodies.

DIEP Flap Breast Reconstruction Case 226 Before & After Front | Richmond, Charlottesville & Roanoke, VA | University of Virginia Plastic Surgery
Before & After Nipple-Sparing Mastectomy (Prophylactic). 3 Weeks Post-Op

Breast Reconstruction Recovery

You have mentally and physically endured so much., from handling your diagnosis and treatment to undergoing surgery and reconstruction. It’s natural to wonder, will my breast reconstruction recovery be challenging? When will I feel “normal?”

While breast reconstruction recovery time can vary depending on whether you have implants or free flap (tissue) reconstruction, here’s a general idea of what to expect:

  • Those who have reconstruction with implants are generally released a few days earlier than free flap reconstruction patients.
  • Some pain following the procedure is normal. Our post-op pain management protocol is designed to help you manage pain and minimize discomfort as you heal.
  • You may be sent home with surgical drains in place to reduce fluid accumulation as you heal.
  • You can return to non-strenuous work in 3 to 4 weeks.
  • You can resume exercise (except high-impact and heavy lifting) within 4 to 6 weeks.
  • Minor swelling and bruising may occur for up to 8 weeks.
  • You may experience numbness and tightness following surgery, but this will subside over time.
  • You may experience some anxiety or depression as you heal and reflect on all your body has been through; talking to a counselor can be helpful.
  • Scars will continue to fade gradually over time.
  • Follow-up checks may continue for up to a year following your reconstruction surgery.
  • You can expect your breast reconstruction surgery results to last at least 10 years—or longer if you live a healthy lifestyle.

Breast Reconstruction Recovery Tips

The key to a smooth recovery is to follow our protocol to a tee! It’s designed to keep you as comfortable as possible and help ensure optimal results. The following pointers can also ease the recovery process:

Plan ahead. Make necessary arrangements before your surgery to ensure that all household tasks, work responsibilities, and family caregiving duties are handled so you can focus on R&R.

Get support … from family and friends, of course, but don’t forget your surgical bra. Wearing your surgical bra is a must following surgery to give your reshaped breasts the support needed to minimize swelling and reduce the risk of infection during the healing process.

Gradually get moving. While rest should remain at the forefront of your healing process, engaging in some light activity is essential to boost your circulation (and spirits) and prevent blood clots.

Protect your incisions. You must refrain from strenuous activities and excessive movements for roughly 4 to 6 weeks. Although you may feel limited or frustrated during this window, it is vital that you take it easy to protect your incisions and preserve your results.

Stay healthy. Practice healthy habits as you heal, including getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, and devoting time to self-care. The effort you put into your mental and physical well-being will fuel your recovery and contribute to a smoother healing process.

Be optimistic; stay patient. It is normal to experience a variety of emotions following a mastectomy and breast reconstruction procedure. You’ve had a lot to process during this life-changing journey. Try to stay as optimistic as possible while trusting the healing process. Waiting for results takes patience, but the outcome will be well worth the wait!

Our UVA Plastic Surgery Team Is Here To Help

We want to ensure you feel as comfortable and confident as possible before breast reconstruction surgery. Your mindset and understanding of the recovery process are two vital components that will help drive your well-being during recovery.

If you have more questions about breast reconstruction surgery and recovery, please request a consultation with one of our surgeons or call us at (434) 924-1234 to schedule an appointment.

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