Breast Reduction: My Story (+Tips)
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This won’t be one of my regular blog posts, just a few notes on my recent breast reduction surgery for those of you who were interested in hearing about it.
So, I’m just going to jot down everything I can think of to tell you – if you have questions, let me know in the comments below and I’ll answer them to the best of my ability.
Disclaimer: Everything written or suggested here is based on my own personal experience. I am not a medical professional, so if you have any medical questions, please consult your doctor.
I was a 32DD when I got married in 1993, but my breasts were not super large or heavy; they were fairly lightweight and didn’t give me any trouble.
But after two kids, breastfeeding, menopause, etc., my breast tissue became super dense. The tissue was so dense that regular mammograms couldn’t “see” through it and I had to get either 3D mammograms or ultrasounds every year.
What a pain!
My breasts also became bigger (34G) and heavier. I developed divots on my shoulders from my bra straps, and I suffered from neck pain. I had to wear an underwire bra at all times for support – it was painful NOT to wear it.
In 2021, I developed adhesive capsulitis in both of my shoulders (apparently, a common side effect of menopause – who knew?) and suddenly it became too painful to wear a bra.
I had to see a physical therapist, and he pointed out to me that my pectoral muscles were over-developed. He assumed this was because they had to work very hard to hold up my heavy breasts on my small frame.
We discussed breast reduction surgery as a possible cure for my chronic neck and shoulder pain, and he promised to give me a note for my insurance as proof that this would be a medically necessary surgery.
Once my PT put the idea into my head, I started seriously thinking about surgery.
I grew up in a natural health family and the idea of surgery was off-putting but I needed some relief.
I started trying to find an-network doctor in my area, but I didn’t want to just pick someone without a personal referral.
I discreetly asked around in my local neighborhood Facebook group, but had a really hard time finding a doctor who was not only great at breast reduction but was also covered by my insurance.
Just by sheer chance, I mentioned my search to a friend of mine and she told me that she’d recently had a great breast reduction surgery experience with a local plastic surgeon that was in my network.
She gave me the plastic surgeon’s number and I made an appointment for a consultation.
At the consultation, my surgeon showed me before and after pictures of various breast reduction surgeries she had performed.
She indicated that there were minimum amounts of tissue that had to be removed in order for insurance to cover the surgery. She thought I had enough tissue to take out the minimum but it might leave me smaller than I wanted.
I told her that was fine with me!
The whole point of the surgery (for me) was to get smaller breasts to relieve my neck pain. If I ended up too small, I was fine with that.
If you are trying to get insurance to cover your reduction as “medically necessary”, not just cosmetic, most insurance companies require the following:
- A history of visits to a PT, chiropractor, massage therapist, etc. for neck/back pain.
- Visible divots on your shoulders from bra straps
- A history of rashes under your breasts.
(The rashes usually occur from your breasts rubbing against your skin, but if you wear a bra all the time, you might not get rashes. You can discuss with your surgeon)
To make a long story short, my surgeon submitted all the paperwork to my insurance company (including photos of my breasts), and I got approved for a medically necessary breast reduction surgery 2 weeks later!
DAY OF SURGERY
On the day of my surgery, I met the surgeon at the hospital and she marked up my breasts with a Sharpie. I reiterated to her that I was OK with going as small as possible.
** This is important: Some of the women I’ve met in the Facebook Breast Reduction Support Group felt like their surgeon left their breasts too big.
A lot of surgeons will try hard to make sure your breasts are proportional to your hip size, etc., and therefore might keep your breasts bigger than you’d like.
But if you don’t care about proportion, and just want your breasts as small as possible, stress that to your surgeon so they can make you as small as safely possible.
The surgery went well and I was sent home the same day.
When I woke up, my breasts were covered in steri-strips (along the incisions), gauze, and they’d put me in a surgical bra. They gave me an extra bra, some gauze, and some plastic cups for the drains.
HOT TIP: Make sure your partner or whoever accompanies you to the hospital double-checks that you have received written instructions for wound care and phone numbers for who to reach if anything goes wrong.
RECOVERY: WHAT TO EXPECT
I warned my surgeon in advance that I get nauseated from anesthesia, so they put something (can’t remember what) in my IV to help with that.
But it didn’t help! I almost threw up in the car on the way home from surgery. Blech!
The doctor sent me home with Norco, a prescription painkiller. I will never take that again – I took it for 2 days and it made me so nauseated that I could barely stand it.
My pain was minimal. I stopped taking painkillers by Day 2. But some people experience more pain – it really is individual.
Sleeping was very difficult once the anesthesia and Norco wore off. My surgeon told me to sleep on my back (because I had drains) and I’m usually a side-sleeper.
I bought a pregnancy pillow to help force me to sleep on my back. But I woke up several times a night with low back pain, so then I ordered a wedge pillow in the hopes that would work even better for me.
It was even worse! My back was killing me and I couldn’t get any rest. Some women rent or buy a recliner and sleep in that, but we live in a tiny house with no room for a recliner.
Luckily, someone in the FB Support Group suggested I ask my doctor for Flexeril, a muscle relaxant. It worked!
I took it before bedtime every night and it helped me sleep through the night on my back (with the pregnancy pillow) with no pain.
After my drains were removed (week 3), I was able to start sleeping on my side again.
If your doctor prescribes drains, here’s what to expect:
We were told to empty the drains twice a day and to record the amount of blood (blech) that came out of each drain. My husband did this for me, thank God! It wasn’t difficult.
My post-surgery bra had little loops on it to hold up the drains, but I also used diaper pins to secure them.
My drains were removed two weeks after surgery, and it was not painful to have them removed. And I felt so much better once they were gone!
Although my surgery went well, I had one minor complication – the drain opening on my right side continue to gush out old blood for over a week after I had the drains removed.
It finally stopped when (following doctor’s orders) we put gauze on top of the wound, and stretched a Tegaderm over it. Then, after I put on my surgical bra, we wrapped my breasts up tightly in an Ace bandage to provide some compression. After a couple days. of doing this, the bleeding stopped.
I didn’t know this, but when you have surgery, blood pools inside of you and, if it doesn’t all get removed by the drains, it starts to harden into a gel-like consistency. When that happens, it’s not a problem – it eventually gets reabsorbed back into your body.
I don’t want to upload photos, as you might throw up (!), but if you bruise easily like I do, expect your breast bruising to run the gamut from blue/purple to green/yellow and even red!
It took almost 4 weeks for my bruising to get better. But I’m also anemic, so maybe that’s why?
My breasts were so swollen the first 3-4 weeks! They felt hard and unreal, more like breast implants than real breasts.
Apparently, it can take 6-12 months for your breasts to settle into their less swollen and more normal shape.
I’m at week 8 now and still have some swelling.
Most of us find that we lose our appetites after surgery. Mine didn’t really come back until about week 3.
It’s a good idea to keep protein bars or shakes around, so you can at least get some protein while you recover.
Drinking a lot of water is important, too! Keep a squeezable sports bottle full of water near your bed (or on your bed), so you can grab it throughout the night as needed.
The first 2 weeks: I could barely do anything except lie in bed. I was super fatigued and a little weepy. I was pretty fatigued for the entire 6 week recovery period, although it got much better around week 3.
I tried walking in my neighborhood the second week, but I became very fatigued and had to sit down after only a couple of blocks. It took a few weeks for me to get back to my usual 3-4 mile walks.
At 6 weeks, I was told I could resume all normal activities. Once I could start lifting dumbbells and doing other exercises, the fatigue went away.
I was told I could take a shower 48 hours after surgery, but I waited 72 hours due to the fatigue.
My doctor told me to keep my back to the water and to pat my incisions dry. They suggested I use anti-bacterial body wash, which I did.
Washing my hair was impossible for the first two weeks as I couldn’t lift my arms up to do it, and my neck is too painful for me to bend over a sink, so I used dry shampoo for the most part, and finally went to the hairdresser to get my hair shampooed and blow-dried.
Hot Tip: Wash your hair the night before surgery. If you have long hair, have a friend French braid your hair to keep it out of your way while you recover. I did not do that, and ended up with horrible tangles as my husband and sons could not help put my hair up.
If your shower can accommodate a bath chair, you might want to do it – I had a couple of days that first week where I felt faint during my shower and a chair would have helped!
My surgeon used anchor incisions, so I have scars under my breasts, around my nipples, and there’s a line from my nipple to underneath the center of my breast.
Once my steri-strips came off (about 3? weeks after surgery), I was able to start scar care.
My friend recommended Dermasof Silk, and it seems to be working well. I had to start treatment on my right breast a week later than the left, and the left breast looks much better.
GOING BACK TO WORK
I figured I’d be back to work by the end of week 2, but I ended up taking the full 6 weeks off as recommended by my doctor. I was super wiped out!
But many women go back to work sooner than that – it really is a personal decision.
It’s been 8 weeks since I had the surgery and I’m very happy with the results so far.
As stated above, I won’t know my final size for a while (your breasts take a while to settle due to the tissue damage caused by the surgery), but my breasts feel lighter and my neck pain seems better.
I was wearing a 34F/34G (depending on the manufacturer) bra before the surgery, and now I’m able to wear a 34B/34C bra.
The best part? They’re not underwire! AND, they’re cheap!
Pre-surgery, I had to pay about $75/bra to get a decent bra with support. And it was almost impossible to find a pretty bra in that size.
My new bras are only $7 each (!!) and I can even go out without a bra if I feel like it. Most reductions include a lift, so I’m no longer concerned about support.
Every so often, I feel worried that my breasts as small as I’d hoped and/or I worry that they will get bigger, but I’m trying to be patient for the next 6-12 months and then I’ll see how I feel.
TIPS & RECOMMENDED SUPPLIES
I highly recommend you join this Facebook group to get tips & advice.
And it’s a good idea to set up a table next to your bed to hold your supplies. Make sure it’s within arm’s reach as you will have limited mobility the first couple of weeks.
You might not need all of these supplies but these are the ones I used:
- Amazon Smart Plug – this was invaluable! I plugged my bedside lamp into it and could just tell my Alexa Echo Dot to turn my lamp on or off, instead of reaching my arm over to turn it on (and thus imperiling my stitches!)
- Gauze Pads in various sizes
- Tegaderm – this was helpful to have, but you might not need it.
- Ibuprofen and/or Acetaminophen
- Protein Bars
- Cough Drops – my throat was very sore from being intubated during surgery.
- Ace Bandage – when my breasts were super swollen, the bandage wrapped tightly over my bra provided relief and helped to reduce swelling.
- Water bottle
- Books, Magazines, etc.
- iPad or laptop to watch movies/TV in bed
- Pregnancy Pillow – for sleeping on back
- A prescription muscle-relaxant if you have back pain
- Post-Surgical Sports Bra with Front Closure – the front closure is super important! Most bras will hit your incisions, but my surgeon wanted me to wear. a bra 24/7 for 6 weeks, so I used these and put gauze over my incisions to keep them from getting irritated by the bra.
- Button-Top Pajamas – you’ll need these at first, especially if you have drains!
- Loose elastic waistband pants – pulling on tight leggings or jeans is difficult the first few weeks
Since you won’t know your correct bra size for a while, don’t spend too much on them. Now that I’m recovered, I bought some of these cheap bras and they’re totally comfy and fit nicely.
They say breast reduction is the surgery with the highest rate of customer satisfaction. I personally feel like my quality of life has already improved.
Aside from the physical benefits, I’m also looking forward to finally being able to buy cute tops and swimsuits. I’m 54 now, but better late than never!
Do you have any questions? Let me know!
I found you through Silver Revolution which was so supportive and helpful.
I read your BR journey which, I too, have been through.
My husband passed 11 years ago. As a single widowed mom of 3 kids in college, I could not begin to think of it. I could not bring myself to go under anesthesia as I was concerned if things could go wrong, my kids would suffer.
After an accident which had me under anesthesia twice in 30 days, due to surgery. With no side effects, I made my plan.
I had been thinking about it a long time. I had done research and knew my surgeon had done BRs on my friends daughter and others.
I was a 36GG and reduced to a 36DD. He said I would be a D but I ended up a DD.
I also had my daughter, 27 at that time, come home to take care of me and see the process. She was the same size as me but a few inches shorter with back and neck pain. I wanted her to see the process so she would feel comfortable moving forward with her own surgery. She had hers done in DC and insurance paid for it with no prerequisite but a note from her doctor! In NJ, would have had to go through a year to prove the need. I was not willing to do that so I paid out out of pocket.
I had no drains as my Dr. said I did not need them . Every Dr is different. My daughter’s Dr. puts in drains for all his patients.
I should have done this years ago but I am happy I did not wait any longer.
Enjoy your new found freedom!
Thanks, Carol! I am SO happy and, like you, wish I had done this years earlier. But better late than never! Glad it worked out so well for you and your daughter!
Oh my goodness! Thank you for writing this. I found a properly fitting bra in England when I was 20. It was 30F (UK sizing). In my late 20s I had my babies and have been a 30k since. I’ve spent my entire adult life special ordering bras from overseas. I am now 41 and my doctor recommended reduction. I have the divots and lifetime of terrible posture. BUT I AM SO SCARED OF SURGERY! Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m going to join that facebook group and learn from others.
Hi, Melissa! I’m scared of surgery, too (I have anxiety so always think “what if…?”) but I finally decided to trust the process and it worked out so well! I hope the FB group helps you – it was a lifeline for me!
Thank you for sharing your experience with us. Your info has given me a lot to think about. I’m sorry your had some complications but glad that is behind you now. Wish you could suggest a surgeon in my area but I know that is not possible. The info on what you need for insurance to cover the surgery is very helpful. I thought just telling my doctor was enough. I have never gone to PT for neck/back pain – just dealt with it. Maybe I need to consider that. Definitely have the shoulder divots. And the rash, doctor said use Lamisal or powder. I use powder – cheaper and easier to apply. Not perfect but it helps. My niece had a friend that had the surgery a few years back. Doctor said no exercise for at least 4 weeks. She exercised sooner and kept busting her stitches. After about the 3rd time, the doctor told her that if she wasn’t going to follow instructions, then she needed to find another doctor. Keep getting better.
Thanks, Tam. I saw a lot of women in my BR Facebook group who refused to follow their doctor’s instructions re: exercise, cleaning house, etc. I followed the instructions to a T and only ended up with one spitting stitch. My scars are healing beautifully. I think you’ll find PT helps the shoulder and neck pain but it was the Breast Reduction that made the most difference! Good luck to you.