Breast reduction

Published by Bupa's Health Information Team, July 2011.

This factsheet is for women considering having breast reduction surgery (or reduction mammoplasty).

Breast reduction surgery involves reshaping and reducing the size of breasts.

You will meet the surgeon carrying out your procedure to discuss your care. It may differ from what is described here as it will be designed to meet your individual needs.

About breast reduction

Breast reduction is an operation to remove excess tissue and skin from your breasts. Your breasts are then reshaped to make them smaller, and your nipples repositioned. Breast reduction can also be used to make the size of your breasts even if one is much larger than the other.

Breast reduction surgery can relieve any discomfort you may have if you have large breasts, such as:

  • back, neck and shoulder pain
  • grooves in your shoulders from bra straps
  • sweating, rashes and skin infections under your breasts

Many women find it easier to join in with sport and exercise and feel happier and less self-conscious about the way they look after the operation.

Breast reduction surgery can also be carried out in men who feel self-conscious about enlarged breasts, known as gynaecomastia. It is a different procedure to female breast reduction.

Illustration showing the structures of the breast

Getting advice about breast reduction

It's important not to rush into the decision to have cosmetic surgery. Discuss your options with your GP, who may be able to recommend a surgeon or help you choose which hospital to be treated in.

Before you decide to have a breast reduction, you should think about the result you are hoping for and what will fit with your body shape. Some women want a radical reduction in size, but this can affect the final shape and appearance of your breasts, so a more moderate reduction may give a better result.

Because breast size alters with body weight, you will be more suitable for surgery if your weight is stable. If you're overweight, your surgeon will advise you to lose weight before your surgery. Your breasts won't grow back after surgery, but they may get bigger if you put on weight or become pregnant.

Preparing for breast reduction

Your surgeon will explain how to prepare for your operation. For example, if you smoke, you will be asked to stop, as smoking increases your risk of getting a chest and wound infection, which can slow your recovery.

Breast reductions are usually done under a general anaesthetic. This means you will be asleep during the procedure. You will be asked to follow fasting instructions. This means not eating or drinking, typically for about six hours beforehand. However, it's important to follow your surgeon's advice.

You will need a well-fitting bra to wear after your operation. Your surgeon will advise you about the most suitable type and size of bra beforehand. You may need to wear this immediately after your surgery or one or two days later.

At the hospital, your nurse may check your heart rate and blood pressure, and test your urine.

Your surgeon will discuss with you what will happen before, during and after your procedure, and any pain you might have. This is your opportunity to understand what will happen, and you can help yourself by preparing questions to ask about the risks, benefits and any alternatives to the procedure. This will help you to be informed, so you can give your consent for the procedure to go ahead, which you may be asked to do by signing a consent form.

Your surgeon will mark your breasts with a pen to show the planned size and shape of the cuts for your operation. He or she may also photograph your breasts for confidential 'before and after' images.

Your nurse will prepare you for your operation. You may be asked to wear compression stockings to help prevent blood clots forming in the veins in your legs. Also, you may need to have an injection of an anticlotting medicine called heparin as well as, or instead of, wearing compression stockings.

About the operation

There are various ways to do this operation. Your surgeon will discuss which is the most appropriate for you and explain how your breasts are likely to look afterwards. The operation usually takes two to four hours.

Typically, excess breast tissue will be removed through cuts on the lower part of your breasts and your nipples moved to suit the new shape.

Your skin will be re-shaped and the cuts closed with stitches (which may be dissolvable). Your breasts will be wrapped in a special supportive dressing or support bra.

Fine plastic tubes may be left in each breast for up to 48 hours afterwards. These allow blood and fluids from your breast to drain into a bag.

What happens during breast reduction

There are various ways to carry out operation. Your surgeon will discuss which is the most appropriate for you and explain how your breasts are likely to look afterwards. The operation usually takes between two and four hours.

Typically, your surgeon will remove excess breast tissue through cuts in the lower part of your breasts and move your nipples to fit the new shape. He or she will reshape your breasts and close the cuts with stitches (which may be dissolvable). Your surgeon may wrap your breasts in a special supportive dressing or support bra.

Fine plastic tubes may be left in each breast for up to 48 hours afterwards. These drain blood and fluids into a bag.

Sometimes, breast liposuction may be an option. Your surgeon will remove fat from your breasts through a plastic tube. Talk to your surgeon for more information about breast liposuction.

Video: how breast reduction surgery is carried out

What to expect afterwards

You will usually need to stay in hospital for between one and four days after your operation.

You may need pain relief to help with any discomfort as the anaesthetic wears off. Your anaesthetist may also prescribe painkillers and antibiotics for the first few days after your operation.

Before you go home, your nurse will advise you about caring for your healing wounds and arrange a date for a follow-up visit. You may have several follow-ups to check on your progress.

Your surgeon may fit you with a special supportive dressing, which may be replaced after a couple of days and removed about a week after surgery. When the dressings have been removed, you will need to wear a support bra, which helps to prevent the weight of your breasts pulling on your wound. You will initially have to wear the bra day and night.

Removable stitches will be taken out after seven to 14 days. The amount of time dissolvable stitches will take to disappear depends on the type of stitches you have. Your surgeon will advise you about this.

Recovering from breast reduction surgery

Full recovery from breast reduction varies between individuals, so it's important to follow your surgeon's advice, but usually you will be back to normal within six weeks.

If you need pain relief, you can take over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your pharmacist for advice.

At your initial appointment, your surgeon should give advice about when you will be able to carry on with your usual activities and return to work. You may need two to four weeks off work, depending on your job, and you shouldn’t do any heavy lifting for around six weeks afterwards.

What are the risks?

As with every procedure, there are some risks associated with breast reduction surgery. We have not included the chance of these happening as they are specific to you and differ for every person. Ask your surgeon to explain how these risks apply to you.


Side-effects are the unwanted but mostly temporary effects you may get after having the procedure.

Your breasts will be sore for a few days after your operation and may feel tender and lumpy for some time. You will have scars, which will be red and slightly raised to start with, but should fade to white over the following months.

Your nipples may be less sensitive than before. This is more likely if your nipples have been moved during surgery. Depending on the type of breast reduction surgery, you may be unable to breastfeed after the operation.

There is a chance you will be left with small folds of skin at the end of the scar, both between and at the sides of your breasts. You may need to have a second operation under local anaesthetic to remove these.


Complications are when problems occur during or after the operation. The possible complications of any operation include an unexpected reaction to the anaesthetic, excessive bleeding or developing a blood clot, usually in a vein in the leg (deep vein thrombosis).

Specific complications of breast reduction include those listed below.

  • Infection – this may need to be treated with antibiotics and sometimes further surgery.
  • Haematoma – this is when bleeding occurs inside your breast making it swollen and painful. You may need further surgery to stop the bleeding.
  • Your wound can be slow to heal. The skin may form a scab that can fall off, leaving a wide scar.
  • Rarely, alterations in the blood supply to your breast may result in the loss of part, or even all, of your nipple.
  • It's possible that your breasts may not be exactly the same shape and size as each other or that your nipples may not be level after surgery.


For answers to frequently asked questions on this topic, see FAQs.

For sources and links to further information, see Resources.

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Bupa Breast Health Check

Be proactive about breast health and get a thorough breast check from Bupa, including a mammography for women over 40. Find out more about the Bupa Breast Health Check or call 0845 600 3458

Find a Bupa Health Assessment to suit you

You can't put a value on your health. Bupa Health Assessments help you identify any current or potential health risks, meaning you can take action now. Compare our range of health assessments or call 0845 600 3458 quoting ref. HFS100.

  • This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the about our health information page.

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  • Publication date: July 2011

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