Your breast care nurse will give you advice and support before and after surgery to help with your recovery.
When you wake up, you will have a drip (infusion) into a vein in the back of your hand or in your arm. It will be removed when you are able to drink enough.
If you are having reconstructive surgery using tissue flaps, you will also have a catheter to drain urine from your bladder. This will be taken out once you are able to get up and move around.
Immediately after surgery, your wound may be covered with dressings or sticky plastic strips. These are left in place until the wound has healed.
Your reconstructed breast will be swollen to begin with. The swelling gradually gets better over a few weeks.
If you have breast reconstruction using your own tissue, the reconstructed breast will need to be kept warm for the first few hours after the operation. Warmth improves blood flow to the tissue. You may have a special blanket called a Bair Hugger™, which circulates warm air over you. Or you may have thick gauze pads over the breasts.
There will be drainage tube(s) coming out of the wound(s). These will be attached to a small container to collect any excess blood or body fluid. A nurse will remove them a few days after the operation.
Once you are up and moving, your surgeon or nurse will tell you whether you should keep the area dry or if you can gently shower the wound with clean water.
Pain or discomfort
After any type of operation, you will have some pain or discomfort. Some women need painkillers for a few weeks after surgery. Make sure you ask for pain-relieving medicines if you need them. This will help you recover more quickly.
You will usually have some numbness or pins and needles across your chest or reconstructed breast. You may also have numbness under your upper arms.
These symptoms improve over months to years, but it is common to have some permanent numbness. Most people adjust to this over time.
Constipation is common after surgery. Here are some tips that can help:
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Increase the amount of fibre in your diet.
- Eat fruit and vegetables.
Some painkillers can cause constipation. You may need to take laxatives while you are on these. Your doctor can prescribe these for you or you can get them from your local chemist.
Wearing a bra
You may be advised to wear a bra to support your newly reconstructed breast. A soft, supportive bra without underwires will be more comfortable to begin with. Ask your breast care nurse for advice.
If you have reconstruction with an implant, you may be given a Velcro® band to wear for several weeks. This sits on top of the implant and helps make sure they stay in the correct position. You should wear this during the day and at night.
Your physiotherapist or breast care nurse will show you exercises to do. At first, you may have some discomfort when you move your arm. But it is important to continue to use your arm and to do the exercises suggested. You will also be given specific exercises to do if you have had surgery to another part of your body, such as your tummy.
Your surgical team will let you know how long you can expect to be in hospital for after your operation. This will depend on:
- the type of surgery you have
- whether you have had immediate or delayed reconstruction.
If you have a breast implant, you may be in hospital for up to 3 days. After an operation using a tissue flap you may be in hospital for up to 7 days.
When you first get home, it is a good idea to have someone around who can help you. You will probably feel tired for the first 1 to 2 weeks at home. After this, you can start doing more and gradually increase your level of activity. Avoid strenuous housework such as vacuuming. Just do light tasks to begin with and slowly build up from there. Don’t move or lift anything heavy for a few weeks until your surgeon says it is okay to do so. This includes lifting babies or children.