Breast Reconstruction With Expander or Implant: What to Expect at Home

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Your Recovery

Breast reconstruction is surgery to rebuild the shape of your breast after you have had part or all of your breast removed because of cancer. It may also be done for women who have problems with breast development. Right after the surgery you will probably feel weak, and you may feel pain for 2 to 3 weeks. You may have a pulling or stretching feeling in your breast area. You can expect to feel better and stronger each day, although you may need pain medicine for a week or two. You may get tired easily or have less energy than usual. This may last for several weeks after surgery.

Stitches usually are removed in 5 to 10 days.

Your new breast may feel firmer and look rounder or flatter than your other breast. The new breast may not have the same shape as your breast did before it was removed. Breast reconstruction cannot restore normal feeling to your breast, but in time, some feeling may return. It may take several months for your breast to heal.

You may have surgery to create a nipple and the brown area around it a few months after your breast is reconstructed. Breast reconstruction can improve your appearance and renew your self-confidence. Keep in mind that it may take time to get used to your new breast. You may want to talk with a counsellor if you need more support as you get used to your new appearance.

This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for you to recover. But each person recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to get better as quickly as possible.

How can you care for yourself at home?

Activity

  • Rest when you feel tired. Getting enough sleep will help you recover.
  • For about 6 weeks after surgery, avoid lifting anything that would make you strain. This may include a child, heavy grocery bags, milk containers, a heavy briefcase or backpack, cat litter or dog food bags, a vacuum cleaner, or anything that weighs more than 4.5 to 7 kilograms. Do not lift anything over your head for 3 to 6 weeks.
  • You may have pain for a few weeks after surgery. Support the area with your hands or a firm pillow when you bend, cough, or move.
  • Ask your doctor when you can drive again.
  • Ask your doctor when it is okay for you to have sex.
  • You can take your first shower the day after the drain near your incision is removed. This is usually in about 1 week. Do not take a bath or soak in a hot tub for about 4 weeks.
  • You will probably be able to go back to work or your normal routine in 3 to 6 weeks. This depends on the type of work you do and any further treatment.

Diet

  • You can eat your normal diet. If your stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt.
  • Drink plenty of fluids (unless your doctor tells you not to).
  • You may notice that your bowel movements are not regular right after your surgery. This is common. Try to avoid constipation and straining with bowel movements. You may want to take a fibre supplement. If you have not had a bowel movement after a couple of days, ask your doctor about taking a mild laxative.

Medicines

  • Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. He or she will also give you instructions about taking any new medicines.
  • If you take blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), or aspirin, be sure to talk to your doctor. He or she will tell you if and when to start taking those medicines again. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • If you think your pain medicine is making you sick to your stomach:
    • Take your medicine after meals (unless your doctor has told you not to).
    • Ask your doctor for a different pain medicine.
    If you were given medicine for nausea, take it as directed.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.

Incision care

  • If your doctor gave you specific instructions on how to care for your incision, follow those instructions.
  • You may be wearing a special bra that holds your bandages in place after the surgery. Your doctor will tell you when you can stop wearing the bra. Your doctor may want you to wear the bra at night as well as during the day for several weeks. Do not wear an underwire bra for 1 month.
  • If you have strips of tape on the incision, leave the tape on for a week or until it falls off.
  • Wash the area daily with warm, soapy water, and pat it dry. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can slow healing.
  • You may cover the area with a gauze bandage if it weeps or rubs against clothing. Change the bandage 1 to 2 times every day. Consider having someone help you with this.
  • Keep the area clean and dry.

Exercise

  • Try to walk each day. Start by walking a little more than you did the day before. Bit by bit, increase the amount you walk. Walking boosts blood flow and helps prevent pneumonia, constipation, and blood clots in your legs.
  • Avoid strenuous activities, such as bicycle riding, jogging, weight lifting, or aerobic exercise, until your doctor says it is okay. This includes housework, especially if you have to use the arm on the side of your surgery.
  • Your doctor will tell you when to begin stretching exercises and normal activities.

Elevation

  • Prop up the arm on the side of your surgery on a pillow when you sit or lie down. Try to keep your arm above the level of your heart. This will help reduce swelling.

Other instructions

  • You may have one or more drains near your incision. Your doctor will tell you how to take care of them. Drains are usually removed in the first week after surgery.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, or you cough up blood.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have severe pain in your breast area.
  • You have fluid under the skin or a lot of swelling at the surgery site.
  • You are sick to your stomach or cannot keep fluids down.
  • You have pain that does not get better after you take pain medicine.
  • You have loose stitches, or your incision comes open.
  • You bleed through a large bandage over your incision.
  • You develop a cough.
  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the incision.
    • Pus draining from the incision.
    • A fever.
  • You have signs of a blood clot, such as:
    • Pain in your calf, back of the knee, thigh, or groin.
    • Redness and swelling in your leg or groin.

Watch closely for any changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • Your swelling or pain is getting worse.
  • Your breast with an implant gets hard or hurts, or the shape changes.
  • You do not have a bowel movement after taking a laxative or using a suppository.
  • You feel anxious or depressed or have trouble sleeping.
  • You are not getting better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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