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Breast Cancer Surgery

Drain care

Drains are long tubes that are inserted into your breast area or armpit to collect fluid which starts to build up in the space the tumour was. It is held in place with 1 or 2 stitches. A drain tube has a plastic bulb on the end to create suction, which gently pulls the fluid out of the body and into the bulb. This will help your incision heal properly.

It’s important to keep your drain clean and protect it so it stays in place. Be sure to:

  • Always wash your hands with soap before and after emptying your drain.
  • Use the tab to fasten the drain to your clothes with a safety pin. Fasten it below the level of where it comes out of your skin so it can drain properly. Be careful not to put a hole in the drain bulb or tubing with the safety pin. Don’t let the drain pull on the area where it’s inserted.

Watch a video to learn how to care for your drain.


Drainage is what the fluid is called as it is coming out of your body. At first, the drainage may be bloody. Over time, the drainage colour will change from red to pink, then to light yellow or clear as your wound heals and the drainage goes away.

  • You’ll have different amounts of drainage from day to day. It should become less over time.
  • A bit of drainage may leak around the drain site. Put a gauze dressing over the site and change the gauze when you need to so the site stays dry.

If your drain accidently slips out, even a bit, never try to push it back in. If your drain falls out completely, put a dressing over the site and call your surgeon’s office.

Emptying the drain

Empty the drainage container every 8 hours or whenever it looks half full.

To empty the drain, follow these steps:

  1. Wash your hands well.
  2. Open the port (opening) of the bulb by lifting the plug off.
    ​​​​​​​​​​​ drain-care

    Illustrations used and adapted with permission of B.C. Multimedia Services

  3. Squeeze the fluid out from the port into a small measuring container.
  4. Squeeze the bulb until it’s flat. This gets the air out of the bulb. Keep the bulb flat while you close the port by putting the plug back on. This creates the suction that pulls the fluid from your body into the bulb.​​​​​​​​​​​

    Illustrations used and adapted with permission of B.C. Multimedia Services

  5. Measure the fluid then flush it down the toilet. Record the amount, date, and time on your drainage record. Bring your drainage record with you to your follow-up appointment.
  6. Wash the measuring container with hot soapy water by itself. Do not wash it with regular dishes.​
  7. Wash your hands again.

If you can’t collapse the bulb after emptying the fluid, your drain may not be working properly. Call your surgeon’s office and ask what to do.

Do not rinse or do anything to the inside of the drain.

Milking the drain

It's important to make sure the tube doesn’t get clogged. Milking the tube may help to move small pieces of tissue or clots out of the tube. This helps make sure it can drain properly. You may see some air bubbles or pieces that are stringy, white, or bloody in your tubing or drainage container. This is normal.

Milk your drain when:

  • You see a clot in the tube that is stopping the fluid from draining. The clot may look dark and stringy and it may even look like tissue.
  • You see fluid leaking around where the tube goes into the skin.
  • You think there’s no suction in the drain.
  • You see a sudden decrease in the amount of drainage.

How to milk your drain:

  1. Wash your hands and put 2 drops of lotion on the fingertips of one hand.
  2. Near the insertion site, pinch the tube firmly with the forefinger and thumb of the hand without lotion.
  3. With your other hand (the one with lotion), use your forefinger and thumb to squeeze and slide down the tube halfway to the container. Keep the tube pinched.
  4. Bring the hand without lotion down to just above where the tube is pinched. Pinch the tube again with the hand without lotion. Repeat step 3 to milk the lower half of the tube right down to the container.

    Illustrations used and adapted with permission of B.C. Multimedia Services

If you see drainage around the skin where your drain is inserted and your drain is no longer draining fluid, then your drain may be blocked. If you can’t remove the blockage by milking the drain, contact your surgeon’s office.

Removing the drain

Your drain is usually ready to come out when your body can absorb the fluid on its own. This is usually when your drainage is about 2 tablespoons (25 to 30 mL) or less in 24 hours. Your surgeon will tell you when your drain can be taken out and how to arrange to have it removed.​​​​​​​​​​

Related video

Drain Care

Describes the steps of caring for the drain and the drain site in the first 1-2 weeks after a mastectomy (breast surgery).​


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