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Empowering Healing: A Guide to Dos and Don'ts Post Breast Reconstruction

Breast reconstruction surgery can be a rewarding yet difficult journey, and the work is not done when you leave the hospital. The recovery process requires diligent care and attention to detail to support your healing and help you avoid complications. In this article, we offer essential tips on what to do and what to avoid after undergoing reconstructive breast surgery. With practical recommendations on wound care, activity restrictions, symptoms to watch for, nutrition strategies, and more, our goal is to give you the knowledge you need to set yourself up for the smoothest possible recovery. By adopting these dos and don'ts for self-care, you can be an empowered and proactive partner in your healing process. 

What to Expect After Breast Reconstruction Surgery 

The recovery process following breast reconstruction surgery is different for every patient, but the first week is typically the most difficult. Drainage tubes are often inserted around surgical sites, which will require careful management and recording of fluid output. Discomfort, tightness, fatigue, limitations in arm/upper body mobility, pain medication side effects, and frequent post-op appointments are also standard following the procedure. During this acute recovery phase, diligently following your breast surgeon’s guidelines on wound care, activity restrictions, and signs of potential complications is crucial.

Within 2-3 weeks, acute discomfort and drainage often gradually improve, and pain medication can be reduced. However, you will still need to avoid lifting, pulling, or pushing with your arms for at least 6 weeks post-surgery to protect the reconstruction site while it heals. Most patients will wear a supportive post-surgical bra to protect healing tissues for 6-8 weeks as well. Expect continued follow-up appointments with your care team to closely monitor for potential complications, ensure appropriate healing progression, and receive guidance on scar care. While the first phase of recovery can be challenging, you can expect improvements in pain, energy, mobility, and adjustment to your new chest contour over the first 2-3 months. Your commitment to recovery self-care choices and working with your surgical team greatly impact your healing and reconstruction success.

There is an emotional component following breast surgery, especially after a mastectomy, which can be significant, even in cases with immediate reconstruction. It is difficult to predict which patients will be affected. Since the breasts are part of a woman’s feminine identity, a mastectomy can be quite upsetting. Breast reconstruction not only restores the physical shape of the breast but also helps to restore the feminine identity.

What TO Do During Breast Reconstruction Recovery 

Remaining diligent in your recovery plan is critical for ensuring your body heals properly from breast reconstruction surgery. Here are some tips on what you should do during recovery to promote healthy healing:

  • Follow your surgeon's instructions on wound care, drainage tubes, medication, and activity restrictions closely.
  • Wear recommended compression garments or surgical bras to help control swelling and support healing tissues. 
  • Report any worrisome symptoms like fever, increasing pain, swelling, redness, or fluid leakage to your physician right away. 
  • Change dressings/bandages and monitor incision sites as directed for signs of infection like pus. Record amounts of drainage.
  • Use pillows to prop yourself in positions that protect the chest and minimize tension on incisions. Move carefully when getting in/out of bed. 
  • Focus on good nutrition and hydration - high protein foods, fruits/veggies, whole grains, and adequate water intake promote healing.
  • Do mobility exercises for arms and shoulders as directed to prevent stiffness, but avoid lifting or pushing/pulling.
  • Practice appropriate chest and incision site care techniques when bathing to avoid trauma. Ask for help washing hair or caring for drain bulbs.  
  • Get adequate rest. Nap and sleep as much as possible early in recovery since your body needs energy to heal. 
  • Ask for help with household tasks for at least 2 weeks initially. Do not over-exert yourself.

What NO TO Do During Breast Reconstruction Recovery 

It is important to rest and let your body heal after breast reconstruction surgery. Here is what you should avoid during the recovery period:

  • Do not lift anything heavier than 5 lbs for at least 6 weeks after surgery to avoid putting strain on incisions. 
  • Avoid repetitive shoulder motions or reaching overhead with surgical side arms early in recovery.
  • Do not sleep on your stomach or side initially or lie in ways that put pressure directly across healing breast areas. 
  • Avoid sun exposure on healing scars for at least 12 months and use SPF protection if unavoidable to minimize permanent darkening.
  • Do not take blood-thinning medications like aspirin without consulting your surgeon first, as this can increase post-surgical bleeding risks.
  • Do not drive or resume strenuous activity or exercise until approved by a plastic surgeon to prevent impacting or jarring the reconstruction site before sufficient internal healing.
  • Do not smoke during recovery. Smoking impairs circulation, making complications after surgery more likely and can lead to poor wound healing. 
  • Do not soak directly in baths for 4-6 weeks after surgery. Discuss proper hygiene with your surgical team to protect drainage tubes/incisions. 
  • Do not rely on drains, pain pumps, or implants to remain in place without medical management. Report any clinical concerns promptly if self-care devices are accidentally disrupted.

Recovering from Reconstructive Breast Surgery 

Everyone’s recovery process is different, so be sure to follow your surgeon’s specific aftercare instructions primarily.  Below are general guidelines for promoting a quicker recovery process.


  • No lifting over 5-10 lbs for 6 weeks
  • Avoid repetitive shoulder motion or reaching overhead
  • Walk short distances but avoid strenuous cardio exercise
  • Rest frequently and take naps; do not overexert


  • Focus on high-protein foods like meat, eggs, and dairy to heal tissue
  • Eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • Stay well-hydrated by drinking 8 cups of water a day minimum


  • Take all medications as prescribed by your surgical team
  • Do not take aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen without asking your physician first
  • Use alternate Tylenol if you need help managing discomfort

Incision Care

  • Clean incision sites gently as directed
  • Watch for signs of infection like redness/pus/fever
  • Avoid exposing scars to sunlight for 12 months

Drain Care

  • Record drainage amounts daily
  • Clean skin around exit sites and secure tubing
  • Notify your surgeon if a drain gets pulled out or clogged


  • Begin arm raises and shoulder rolls 2 weeks after surgery
  • No yoga, push-ups, or weightlifting for at least 6 weeks
  • Walk daily but get clearance for runs/cardio after 6 weeks


  • Sleep propped on your back using pillows under your knees/neck
  • Use a reclining chair and keep the surgical side arm supported

Plan Your Path to Recovery: Book Your Breast Reconstruction Consultation Now!

By following activity restrictions, wound care, and self-care protocols in the early weeks following your procedure, you play an essential role in your successful recovery. At The Institute, our highly qualified, double-board-certified reconstructive plastic surgeons are committed to providing exceptional care and support for your breast reconstruction from the initial consultation through recovery. 

Renowned as world-leading experts in numerous types of breast reconstruction surgery, our surgeons utilize cutting-edge procedures and technologies to prioritize your well-being and help you heal quickly. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and plan your path to recovery!