What I Wish I Knew Before My Breast Reduction

Our friends at Shape discuss the possible side effects and the aftercare of a breast reduction surgery.

POPSUGAR Photography | Maria del Rio

Yes, it was life-changing. But there's a lot that no one tells you about the surgery, recovery, and all those mental highs and lows.

When I graduated from high school, I made the biggest decision of my life: I was going to get a breast reduction. I was 18 and had only just entered adulthood and reluctant to go under the knife for such a serious surgery — but I felt like I just couldn't put it off any longer without sacrificing both my mental and physical well-being.

At a petite 5 feet 3 inches tall, I had come to hate my 32G bust size. There was, of course, the fact that people were constantly staring at my chest rather than my eyes. But more importantly, I couldn't fathom looking at my naked body in the mirror. Saggy and drooping breasts — every teenage girl's dream, right?! My self-esteem and body confidence were basically nonexistent.

Just to put my breasts into perspective for you:

  • I couldn't fit into normal bras or bathing suits. Seriously, I just couldn't find a bathing suit top or sports bra that fit. Shopping excursions just ended in disappointment and frustration time after time. I finally just stopped even trying, wanting to avoid the trauma of the experience. You're probably wondering, so how I did swim? I usually didn't. Though if I did, which was rare, I'd wear a t-shirt or a Speedo one-piece (clearly sticking out on the beach like a sore thumb with all my friends in cute bikinis) with two or three sports bras underneath that didn't fit or support me. Oh, and to find a basic bra to fit me required a visit to a specialty lingerie store for a custom fitting (that means $100-plus for a bra). Definitely no Victoria's Secret for me.
  • The back pain was seriously terrible. So bad in fact, that I had to hang up my dance shoes and leotards and end my six-year dancing and gymnastics career once the size of my breasts got out of hand, which was when I was about 14. After that, my 10 years of piano playing had to come to an end due to the pain I'd endure while playing an eight-minute sonata. Slowly, things started chipping away, and I felt as if I was a teenager living in 60-year-old woman's body. (And I looked like one too: my posture was so bad, I actually couldn't stand or sit up straight.)
  • Oh, and I definitely couldn't work out either. It was completely out of the question — and it was something I was in dire need of because I was no longer in shape. (Want to know how people with big boobs feel like while exercising? Here are 11 thoughts everyone with big boobs has during a yoga class.)

I had never gotten a surgical procedure done before. I was a nervous wreck. So nervous that when my plastic surgeon, Mark Schwartz, M.D., F.A.C.S., started to draw incision lines around my nipples, down my breast, and under — sort of like an anchor — I passed out. That was a first for me, too.

But I did it. Although the surgery was supposed to take just two and a half hours, I ended up being under the knife for four and half because the doctor and his staff underestimated my breast size. (Seriously!) He removed 450 grams of tissue from my left breast and 350 grams from my right, leaving me a 32C — the smallest size possible that was proportionate to my body. (Here are seven things you didn't know about boobs.)

As most people who have had the procedure done will tell you, it's life-changing. I was able to do the simple things I hadn't been able to do before, like standing up straight, properly fitting into clothes, and working out. While I wouldn't change my decision for all the money in the world, there's certainly a whole lot — including the physical pain and mental highs and lows of the recovery process that nobody likes to talk about — and what I wish I had a heads' up on. (And yes, there's a lot I'm still dealing with today, nearly three years later.)

Here, the unfiltered truth about post–breast reduction surgery.

1. If you thought the worst part was over, think again.

Once the sedatives and drugs wear off postsurgery and that throb of pain and wave of nausea hit you, you're in for what feels like the longest road to recovery ever. And it kind of is. Imagine period boobs, but like three gajillion times worse. And, hate to break it to you but chances are your surgeon will be attaching fluid draining tubes into your incisions, which will stay there for about a week. (Basically, it's a long thin tube connected to a small part of your incision that drains out unwanted buildup of fluid into a mini suction bulb at the end, postsurgery.) I looked like the Terminator or some sort of robot with wires coming out of my chest. And that's not even the worst part of it. I had to drain each tube into a measuring cup every couple of hours and record how much fluid came out. Let's just say I've sworn off of any ruby-colored juice since. **CRINGE**

2. OMG, you're so itchy.

Think back to a time you had a mosquito bite or irritation and scratched it (even though you're not supposed to). Now imagine being itchy on recovering scars with stitches and not being able to scratch them — AT ALL. I finally understood what it must be like to have a hard cast on a broken arm or leg. It's not a fun feeling. But since I wasn't in a hard cast and I was on high doses of painkillers, what's the worst that can happen? Maybe I can get a little scratch in. WRONG. Don't. Do. It. (Or be prepared for some of the worst throbbing pain you can imagine.)

3. You literally can't do anything.

When you can finally force yourself out of bed, you literally can't do anything. Doctors usually tell you not to carry anything substantially heavy for two to four weeks. THAT'S BECAUSE YOU LITERALLY PHYSICALLY CAN'T. Don't even attempt to grab the pint of milk from the fridge for your coffee — you're wasting your time. And for the love of God, don't try to see if you can lift your bag yet. Feeling so helpless for the next month or so takes a mental toll too. It's frustrating not being able to do things you normally would. Like, say, showering. (Yep, showering is quite the procedure since you can't get your chest wet.) While I didn't think the recovery period wasn't going to be so bad, I was definitely in for a rude awakening. And yes, I was dramatic about it.

4. Current thoughts: Did I make the right decision?

Walking up and down the stairs is going to take a while, granny. By the time you make it to the top or bottom, you're going to be wet with sweat and in need of a vacation ASAP. Just take your time, and if you need to be somewhere, give yourself an extra hour — that's the drama queen side of me kicking in again. Oh, and if you're in a moving vehicle, just pray you don't go over a bump. Trust me on that one. Those are just a few of the many painful things you'll endure once you're off painkillers. And unfortunately, the pain is going to last for a quite a while. The good news? The pain subsides as time goes on. The only words of advice I can give you is to be patient. And, yes, you made the right decision.

5. And if you can't even handle a road bump . . .

. . . what in the world makes you think you'll be able to handle a trip to the gym? Word of advice: work out when your body is ready. After a month, I thought I'd be ready to get back into the swing of things, and I only did more harm than good — aka back to two doses of ibuprofen every four to six hours. And when I was finally capable of working out again, it was an adjustment. If you do the math, I hadn't really been so active for four years, so there was a slight depression that washed over me as I tried to build my fitness up again. Not to mention, I was really reluctant to work out too much during that first year since I was nervous I would do some serious harm to my body. I felt delicate. But I was determined to get back into shape and slowly regain my strength. Eventually, I could work out for an hour straight without feeling pain or stopping to catch my breath. And it was amazing to be able to enjoy the things I loved most as a kid again, like running, dancing, and playing sports. You could say it was a figurative and literal weight off my chest.

6. You're also going to lose some sensation in your breasts.

For over a year, my boobs were numb — if you tried to pinch me, I wouldn't feel it. Today, that numbness has subsided, but I've lost most, if not all, sensation in my nipples. Yes, it's a bummer and I'm still coming to terms with it. (Interestingly, while I was recovering, my nipples were supersensitive when something brushed passed them — and I'm not talking the good sensitive. If a small, cool breeze swept by me, I'd see stars.) There's also the fact that I still experience sharp pangs in my scars — probably from the nerves — that can last for a couple of seconds and bring me back to those gruesome memories of the postrecovery pain.

7. And then there are the scars.

Those are inevitable. The doctor will give you some sort of silicone patch or cream to apply onto the incisions, but it's not going to do much. If you're like me and your scars turn keloidal (a bumpy, raised scar caused by excess collagen), you might want to resort to more extreme measures, like a laser procedure. While the process isn't so bad (the doctors numb your breasts and then target the incisions with a laser) the recovery was rough. My breasts ached and were extremely sensitive, and my scars formed scabs. Since it was like going through surgery round two, I never returned for more sessions. (Another method is through injectables using steroids, but due to my fear of needles, that's going to be a no from me.)

8. Eventually, you'll love your scars.

Whether you like it or not, you're going to have those scars for a long time, maybe even forever. I've actually learned to embrace mine. It certainly helps having a significant other like mine who has accepted me and my body, flaws and all. Just be prepared for what's to come. While I had to give up some aesthetics, it was worth it for my happiness. As cliché as it sounds, I've learned that life really is too short to care about the small things. So go ahead and rock your scars if they peek out in a bathing suit or if you're showing off some side boob. For me, they're a small price to pay for the freedom to do the things I love again.

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