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Breast Implant Surgery (Augmentation)

Three-quarters view of female chest showing breast implant incisions on right and cross section of left breast showing implant in place.
Possible incisions and placement of the implant. Talk to your surgeon about your options.

Breast implant surgery (also called breast augmentation) is a cosmetic procedure that changes the size of your breasts. Breast implants are put in above or below the chest muscle, to make the breasts larger.

Different kinds of implants

Breast implants are made of a silicone shell. The shell may be filled with saline (saltwater) or silicone (gel). Different implant sizes, shapes, and textures are available. There are benefits and drawbacks to each type of implant. You and your doctor will discuss which type is best for you.

Preparing for surgery

Prepare for the surgery as you have been told. In addition:

  • Tell your doctor about all medicines you take. This includes herbs and other supplements. It also includes any blood thinners, such as Coumadin, Plavix, or daily aspirin. You may need to stop taking some or all of them before surgery.

  • Follow any directions you are given for not eating or drinking before surgery.

The day of surgery

The surgery takes about 1 to 3 hours. You may go home the same day. Or you may stay overnight.

Before the surgery begins:

  • An IV line is put into a vein in your arm or hand. This line delivers fluids and medicines.

  • You will be given medicine to keep you pain free during surgery. This may be general anesthesia, which puts you into a state like deep sleep. (A tube may be inserted into your throat to help you breathe.) Or you may have sedation, which makes you relaxed and sleepy. If you have sedation, local anesthesia will be injected to numb the area being worked on. The anesthesiologist will discuss your options with you.

During the surgery:

  • The doctor makes an incision. This may be made under the breast, under or within the areola (dark skin around the nipple), or under the arm. You and your doctor will have decided on the incision site or sites before the surgery.

  • Next, the doctor forms a “pocket” to hold the implant. This may be above or below the chest muscle.

  • The implant is inserted through the incision and placed into the pocket. If the implant needs to be filled with saline, that is done now. The implant is then moved to the right place.

  • If both breasts are being treated, the process is repeated on the other breast.

  • The incisions are closed with sutures (stitches), surgical glue, or both. A tube (drain) may be placed into the incisions before they are closed. This will drain excess fluid as the wound begins to heal.

After the surgery

You will be taken to a room to recover from the anesthesia. You may feel sleepy and nauseated. If a breathing tube was used, your throat may be sore at first. You’ll be given medication to control pain. When you’re ready, you will be able to go home with an adult family member or friend. Or, you may be taken to a room to stay overnight.

Recovering at home

Once home, follow any instructions you are given. Your doctor will tell you when you can return to your normal routine. During your recovery:

  • Take any prescribed medicines exactly as directed.

  • Wear the special bra or bandage you were given before discharge as directed by your doctor.

  • Care for your incisions and the dressing (bandage) over them as instructed by your doctor.

  • Follow your doctor’s guidelines for showering. Avoid swimming, bathing, using a hot tub, and other activities that cause the incisions to be covered with water until your doctor says it’s OK.

  • When you shower, gently wash your incision sites. Then pat the incisions dry. Don’t apply lotions, oils, or creams to the incisions until after they are fully healed.

  • Don’t raise your arms above breast level for 10 days. And don’t lift, push, or pull anything heavier than 10 pounds for at least 7 days.

  • Don’t drive until you are no longer taking prescription pain medication and your doctor says it’s OK. When riding in a car, carefully position the seatbelt so that it doesn’t compress your breasts.

  • Be aware that breast swelling may last for 3 to 5 weeks. If advised by your doctor, use a cold pack wrapped in a thin towel to relieve discomfort and control swelling. It’s important not to leave the cold pack on for too long, or your skin could be damaged. Put the pack over your bandages for no more than 20 minutes at a time. Then, leave it off for at least 20 minutes. Repeat this as often as needed during waking hours until swelling starts to improve. Don’t fall asleep with the cold pack on. If you’re not sure how to safely use the cold pack, ask your doctor.

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of the following:

  • Extreme chest pain or trouble breathing (call 911)

  • Severe swelling in one or both breasts

  • A fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Bleeding or drainage through the special bra or Ace bandage

  • Symptoms of infection at an incision site such as increased redness or swelling, warmth, worsening pain, or foul-smelling drainage

  • Pain that is not relieved by medicine or gets worse

  • Much more soreness, swelling, or bruising on one breast than the other

  • Breast that is very warm to the touch

Follow-up

You will have follow-up visits so your doctor can see how well you’re healing. If needed, stitches or drains will be removed at one of these visits. If you have any questions or concerns about your recovery, let your doctor know. Also tell your doctor if you notice any changes in your breasts during or after recovery. This may include injury to the breast or dimpling of the skin of your breast or nipple. If the implants leak or break, they will need to be removed or replaced.

Risks and complications

Risks and possible complications include:

  • Bleeding or infection

  • Blood clots

  • Capsular contracture (scar tissue squeezing the implant)

  • Breasts that are too firm

  • Excessive internal or external scarring

  • Changes in breast or nipple sensation (temporary or permanent)

  • Rupture or leakage of an implant

  • Persistent pain

  • Breasts that are not the same shape or size

  • Not being happy with cosmetic result

  • Risks of anesthesia

© 2000-2017 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.