Post-Operative and Home Care Instructions Following Your Breast Reconstruction Surgery

Board-Certified Plastic Surgeons Serving Denver, Lone Tree, Colorado & Nationwide

When you arrive for your breast reconstruction procedure, you'll receive detailed instructions regarding your post-operative care routine. It's important that you follow these instructions carefully to ensure proper healing and the best possible results.

Below is an overview of the post-operative routine you'll need to follow. We encourage you to ask us any questions you may have regarding this phase of your treatment during your consultation. You can learn more about your breast reconstruction options by speaking to our plastic surgeons in person. Please 303-706-1100 today to schedule a consultation. We serve patients in the Denver, Colorado area.


Start with clear liquids and toast or crackers. If those are well tolerated, progress to a regular diet. Avoid spicy or greasy foods for 24-48 hours.

For flap-based procedures, progress with a light diet. Smaller, more frequent meals will help prevent bloating. Limit caffeine and chocolate for the 1 week. Foods high in fiber and protein are recommended.

Wound Care

Keep your dressings clean, dry, and intact for the first week. Your surgeon will take remove your dressing at your one-week follow-up visit. If your dressings get wet while showering, pat them dry. If the dressings fall off, replace with dry gauze.

woman with bandaged breasts after reconstructive surgeryAll of your sutures will be under the skin. You will either have a layer of skin glue that resembles clear nail polish or steri-strips, similar to tape, on all of your incisions. Please do not remove the steri-strips. Your surgeon will remove the dressings, if needed.

bandaged breasts

Special Wound Care Instructions for Implant-Based Procedures

You will have a 1 or 2 drains in each breast. A drain kit with instructions and teaching by the nursing staff will be provided at the hospital. Empty and record (in “cc” amounts) the drainage amount once or twice per day after discharge from the hospital and bring your drain record with you to each clinic appointment.

You may feel and see the expander under the skin most pronounced at the midline.

Special Wound Care Instructions for Autologous Reconstruction Procedures

The flap is monitored by the doctors and nursing staff while in the hospital. You will have a drain in the breast and both sides of the abdomen (DIEP Flap) or the Latissimus Site (Latissimus Flap). A drain kit with instructions and teaching by the nursing staff will be provided at the hospital. Empty and record (in “cc” amounts) the drainage amount once or twice per day after discharge from the hospital and bring your drain record with you to each clinic appointment.

Pain & Swelling

While in the hospital, your pain will be monitored very carefully. Pain medication will be prescribed to you to use as needed postoperatively. Pain is best controlled with lower doses of multiple medications such as Tylenol, Celebrex and narcotics.

You can expect moderate swelling in the reconstructed breast, underarm and abdomen.  You will have numbness in the reconstructed breast and abdomen for up to 12 months. You may also experience tightness in the abdomen for the first 3 months – the abdominal binder will help support this donor site.


You will have an abdominal binder to wear for approximately 3-4 weeks following your surgery. It is important to wear this compression garment until your doctor tells you it is no longer needed. If desired, you may switch to a control-top garment (Spanx) for prolonged wear.

Do not wear a compressive bra for the first 3 weeks. You may wear a light camisole for gentle support.


Take pain medication as needed for up to 4 weeks in moderation and at night if needed. While you are taking pain medicine, you are encouraged to follow a high fiber diet or take a stool softener such as Colace (available over the counter), as pain medications tend to cause constipation.

Do not take Motrin/Ibuprofen or Aspirin products for 1 week after surgery. Ask your surgeon when you may resume your blood thinning medications. All other prescription medications may be resumed immediately, as discussed with your physician. Take your full course of antibiotics if prescribed by your surgeon.


You may walk and climb stairs immediately following surgery. After 2 weeks you may resume moderate activity such as brisk walking. No sexual activity for 3 weeks. During the first 3-4 weeks, do not lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk (approximately 10 pounds). After 6 weeks you may resume more strenuous aerobic work and lifting activities. No abdominal exercises for at least 8 weeks.


You may shower and wash your hair 48 hours after surgery. You may get your incisions wet, but do not direct the water spray at your incision site. Pat dressings dry. Do not submerge the incision in a bath, swimming pool or hot tub for the first 4-6 weeks. Support your drains in the shower around your necks or waist.


During the first 2 weeks, place pillows under your head and knees. Sleeping in a recliner may be most comfortable to keep the upper body supported. After the first 2 weeks, sleeping on your side and back is permitted, but not on your stomach. After 4 weeks, resume normal and comfortable sleeping positions.


Most patients are able to start driving again approximately 3 weeks after their procedure.

Smoking, Alcohol, and Cannabis

Do not smoke or use vape pens after surgery as it impedes wound healing and can lead to serious wound complications. Alcohol consumption and smoking of any kind is dangerous while taking pain medicine. It has a tendency to worsen bleeding. If you use cannabis/marijuana, including vape pens, please discuss with your physician.


For Implant-Based Procedures

Depending on your career and your rate of healing, you should be able to return to work within 1-2 weeks of surgery. Your surgeon will be able to give you a better estimate depending on your physical and professional profile.

For Autologous Reconstruction Procedures

Depending on your career and your rate of healing, you should be able to return to work within 4 to 6 weeks of surgery. If your job involves heavy lifting, please allow 8 to 12 weeks before returning to work. Your surgeon will be able to give you a better estimate depending on your physical and professional profile. Flying or traveling is permitted after the first week as tolerated.

Physical Therapy

A prescription for physical therapy will be given to you at either your pre-operative appointment or your first post-operative appointment. Gentle range of motion exercises are encouraged during the first 2 weeks.

Can I Take Care of Myself After Breast Reconstruction?

You will need to ask a close friend or family member to assist you after your breast reconstruction procedure. Most importantly, this person should be available to help you get home. You cannot drive, take public transportation without an escort, or complete other tasks that could potentially lead to injury after receiving anesthesia or while taking pain medication.

You will be able to take a more active role in your recovery after a day or two. Our team will provide home care instructions for you to follow that are specific to your procedure. In general, you should avoid moderate and strenuous activities, take pain medication as needed, and attend your post-operative appointment. You may also benefit from going to physical therapy.

How Long Does It Take To Recover From Reconstructive Breast Surgery?

The duration of your breast reconstruction recovery will depend on a variety of factors. The first factor is the type of procedure that you undergo. For example, a surgical technique such as DIEP flap will typically have a longer recovery than implant-based breast reconstruction.

The second factor is how well you follow our pre-operative and post-operative instructions. These instructions are specifically designed to support a smooth and swift recovery process. Deviating from them can increase your risk of complications and impact wound healing.

Finally, it is important to understand that people do not recover from surgery at the same pace. Everyone has their own unique healing speed that depends on factors such as genetics, lifestyle, and nutrition. Be mindful of this when comparing your situation to other patients.

How Long Does Pain Last After Breast Reconstruction?

You can expect to experience some manageable pain after breast reconstruction surgery. However, excessive pain is not normal, and it should be reported to our surgeons immediately.

We will prescribe pain medication to take at home that can help you feel more comfortable. Often, patients find that lower doses of multiple medications such as Tylenol, Celebrex, and narcotics work best.

How long pain lasts after breast reconstruction depends on the type of procedure. With autologous breast reconstruction, you may experience tightness at the donor site for the first three months. You may have numbness in that area and the reconstructed breast for up to 12 months. Our surgeons will tell you what you can expect from your individualized surgical plan.

When Can I Sleep on My Side After Breast Reconstruction?

You can sleep on your side two weeks after breast reconstruction surgery. Until then, sleep on your back with pillows under your head and knees. Alternatively, sleep in a reclining chair.

After four weeks, you can sleep any way that you like. Stomach sleeping is acceptable at this point. However, if any sleep positions feel uncomfortable, you may need to wait a bit longer.

What Is Quality of Life Like After Surgery?

Quality of life for patients after their breast reconstruction surgery is reportedly good. By restoring the breasts, this procedure often provides patients with newfound self-confidence, joy, and ease. While recovery may require patience and care, many people report feeling like themselves again once their breasts are fully healed and reconstructed. After surgery, patients may have to adjust their movement and sleeping patterns and lean on loved ones for support as they heal, but after their healing is done, they can enjoy their new breasts for decades to come.

What Is the Highest Complication Rate After Breast Reconstruction Surgery?

However, at The Breast Center, Dr. Christopher G. Williams and Dr. Jeremy Z. Williams both prioritize patient safety during every part of the breast reconstruction journey. Under their care and expertise, patients are able to manage and even completely avoid most complications involved with breast reconstruction.

What Happens If I Don’t Sleep Upright?

Paying extra attention to your habits while in recovery is essential, as lying on or applying pressure to your chest area can affect your breast reduction results. Whether sleeping on your side or flat on your stomach, both of these sleep positions can be painful and bring swelling to incisions as well as cause scarring. Sleeping upright helps prevent this.

To prevent swelling and promote circulation, you can also elevate your head while sitting in bed, which is the most comfortable position for the average patient.

How Tight Should Bra Be After Reconstruction?

You should not wear tight bras while you are healing from breast reconstruction surgery. After autologous reconstruction, you will need to wait three weeks before you can wear a compressive bra. Until then, you can reach for a light camisole that provides gentle support.

Specific recommendations for wearing a bra after breast reconstruction can vary based on the procedure. Talk to our Lone Tree surgeons to learn what is best in your specific situation.

Special Considerations

Call your surgeon immediately if you experience any of the following:

  • Excessive pain
  • Rapidly expanding swelling under the skin
  • Bleeding
  • Redness at the incision site or pus drainage from incision
  • Spreading, bright pink discoloration
  • Fever over 101.5° F.

Call 911 if you are experiencing a life-threatening emergency. Such symptoms include severe shortage of breath, chest palpitations, sudden or severe chest pain, or other life-threatening concerns.

Contact Our Denver Breast Surgeons

Please contact The Breast Center Park Meadows Cosmetic Surgery using the form on this page or call 303-706-1100 today to schedule your breast reconstruction consultation. We serve patients in Denver, Lone Tree and the surrounding areas of Colorado.

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