Breast uplift surgery

Expert reviewer, Mr Robert Hardy, Consultant Surgeon
Next review due January 2023

Breast uplift surgery is an operation to re-shape your breasts to change how they look and make them feel firmer.

Like all surgery, this major operation has risks. It’s important to find out about the procedure and choose your surgeon carefully. We hope the information here will help you make the right decision for you.

An image showing a nurse talking to a patient in hospital

About breast uplift surgery

It’s common for breasts to become less firm after pregnancy and breastfeeding or with gravity over time. Many women feel comfortable with this. But if you want to change how you look, you may consider breast uplift surgery.

How breast uplift surgery is done depends on the size of your breasts and how you wish to look afterwards. Usually, your surgeon re-shapes your breasts by removing extra skin from underneath them. The skin and surrounding tissue is tightened, and your nipple moved to a higher position. Breast uplift surgery doesn’t significantly change the size of your breasts. A breast enlargement or breast reduction procedure can be done at the same time.

The timing of surgery is important. Most surgeons won’t do breast uplift surgery if you’re under 18, because your breasts may still be developing before this age. Being pregnant after breast uplift surgery is likely to stretch your breasts again. Because of this, many women wait until after they’ve completed their family before having surgery. Your surgeon may also advise waiting at least six months after breastfeeding, so your breasts can regain their shape.

All breast uplift surgery will leave scars. However, your surgeon will try to keep these to a minimum and make sure they don’t show when you wear a bra or bikini top.

Getting advice about breast uplift surgery

It’s important not to rush into deciding on any cosmetic procedure, including breast uplift surgery. Spend some time looking into it. Discuss your options with your GP. They may be able to recommend a good surgeon or give advice about which hospital to choose. See our FAQ: How do I choose the right surgeon?

Once you’ve found a surgeon, arrange a meeting to discuss what you’re hoping to gain from surgery. Ask what result you can realistically expect, and about any risks or complications. It’s OK to take a list of questions with you. This is your chance to get all the information you need to make your decision.

A good surgeon will encourage you to take a few weeks as a ‘cooling off’ period before you finally decide on surgery. If you still have questions, a second consultation with your surgeon may help.

Preparing for breast uplift surgery

Your surgeon will explain how to prepare for surgery. If you smoke, they’ll advise you to stop at least six weeks before your surgery. Smoking increases your risk of a chest or wound infection, which can slow your recovery. Your surgeon may also recommend that you lose excess weight.

You may be able to go home on the day of your surgery or you may need to stay in the hospital or clinic overnight. If you’re going home the same day, make sure someone will stay with you overnight.

Breast uplift surgery is usually done under general anaesthetic, so you’re asleep during the operation. You usually can’t eat or drink anything for about six hours before your operation. But follow your anaesthetist’s advice.

Your surgeon will tell you what to expect before, during and after your procedure, and about any pain you might have. This is your opportunity to ask questions so that you understand what will be happening. You don’t have to go ahead if you don’t want to. Once you understand the procedure and agree to it, you’ll be asked to sign a consent form.

Your surgeon will measure your breasts and assess their shape and nipple position. They may also take photographs for your medical records. Before your surgery, they’ll mark the position of the intended surgical cuts on your breasts.

Your surgeon may recommend that you have a mammogram (X-ray of your breasts) before your operation.

What are the alternatives to breast uplift surgery?

Depending on what you’re hoping to achieve with breast uplift surgery, there may be an alternative. For example, breast reduction or breast enlargement may be a better choice if you want to change the size of your breasts. Ask your surgeon to explain your options to you.

What happens during breast uplift surgery?

Your surgeon will make several cuts on your breasts. The exact number and position of the cuts will vary, depending on the technique your surgeon uses.

Your surgeon will remove skin from around your areola (the area around your nipples) and/or from under your breasts. Your breasts will be reshaped into tighter cones. Your surgeon may then re-position your nipples and may reduce the size of your areola to suit the new shape.

If you’re having a breast enlargement at the same time, your surgeon will insert a breast implant. This helps to give fullness to the upper part of the breast. Breast implants are usually made from silicone. Your surgeon will place the implant directly under your breast tissue or behind the chest muscle.

When the operation is complete, your surgeon will close the cuts with stitches. They may wrap your breasts in a special supportive dressing or use tape for support.

What to expect afterwards

After your surgery, you’ll need to rest until the anaesthetic has worn off. You’ll be offered pain relief to help with any discomfort you have. You may have thin tubes running out from the wound to drain excess fluid into a bag or bottle. These are removed when the fluid or blood has stopped draining, usually before you go home.

Before you go home, your nurse will give you advice about caring for your wounds and what to do if you have problems. You’ll also get advice on how to care for your breasts, and on hygiene and showering. You’ll be given a date for a follow-up appointment.

You’ll need someone to drive you home. Try to have a friend or relative stay with you for the first 24 hours after your operation.

The medicines used for general anaesthetic can stay in your body for a while. Because of this, it’s safest not to drive, drink alcohol, operate machinery or make important decisions for 24 hours after your anaesthetic. Always follow your surgeon’s advice.

Recovering from breast uplift surgery

You’ll probably need at least two weeks off work after breast uplift surgery, but this depends on your job. Don’t lift anything heavy for several weeks or have sex for two weeks. Build up your level of activity gently. You’ll probably be able to do light activities after two weeks and be back to your normal activities by six weeks.

You shouldn’t drive until you feel safe and can wear a seatbelt comfortably. If you’re in any doubt about driving, contact your motor insurer to check that you’re covered. Always follow your surgeon’s advice about when you can resume your usual activities and return to work.

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. If you have any questions, ask your pharmacist for advice.

Your surgeon will probably recommend that you wear a firm dressing or support bra for a few weeks while you heal. This will help to stop the weight of your breasts pulling on your healing wounds. A sports bra may be suitable – ask your surgeon or nurse for advice.

Soluble stitches will dissolve in the weeks following your surgery. If you have non-dissolvable stitches, these will be removed 10 to 14 days after surgery. You may have skin-closure strips (sometimes called butterfly stitches) instead. These are special pieces of sticky tape that hold the wound together while it heals.

You need to know what to look out for in case of infection. Contact your hospital or GP for advice if:

  • your wound is painful
  • the area around your wound feels hot and swollen
  • your wound looks red or starts to form pus
  • you have a high temperature

It may take several months before your breasts settle into their new shape. You may have to buy bras with a different shape or cup size. Scars will be red at first but will gradually fade over the next 12 to 18 months.

Side-effects of breast uplift surgery

Side-effects are the unwanted but mostly temporary effects many people get after having the procedure. Side-effects of breast uplift surgery include:

  • soreness, swelling and bruising, which can take weeks to settle
  • permanent scars that are noticeable at first, but usually fade over time
  • nipple sensation may be greater or less than before surgery

Complications of breast uplift surgery

Complications are when problems occur during or after the operation. Ask your surgeon about the chances of these affecting you.

Some complications can happen after any operation. You might develop chest problems, for instance, especially if you smoke. There’s also a risk of a blood clot, usually in a vein in the leg (deep vein thrombosis or DVT).

Complications specific to breast uplift surgery include the following.

  • An infection for which you may need antibiotic treatment. Getting an infection can affect the way your breasts look after surgery.
  • Bleeding, including blood collecting under your skin (a haematoma), may require surgery to stop the bleeding and drain the area.
  • Unusual red or raised scars (keloids or hypertrophic scars) which may be permanent.
  • Uneven size or shape of your breasts may be caused by natural differences highlighted by the surgery.
  • Loss of part or all of your nipple or other areas of your breast may be caused by changes in blood supply which can cause body tissue to die.

Over time, your breasts will naturally fall again. The effects of your breast uplift surgery will not last forever.

Frequently asked questions

  • If you decide to have breast uplift surgery, it’s really important to choose a surgeon with the right skills and experience. There’s no single qualification for cosmetic surgery, so you’ll need to do your homework and ask lots of questions. Don’t be guided by price and be very wary of advertising claims. Don’t rush into a decision – remember this is major surgery. Make sure all your questions are answered to your satisfaction and you fully understand all aspects of the care you’ll receive.

    Ask your GP

    It’s best to discuss any sort of surgery with your GP first – they may know of surgeons in your area. They’ll also be able to pass on any important health information from your medical records to your surgeon.

    Your surgeon’s qualifications

    Your surgeon must be registered with the General Medical Council (GMC). You can check this by entering their name into the GMC website register search. It will show you if the surgeon is on the GMC specialist register in the area of practice relevant to breast uplift surgery. The relevant area of practice could be either specialist breast surgery or plastic surgery. The Royal College of Surgeons also has a list of certified cosmetic surgeons.

    The hospital

    Check that the hospital is registered with the independent regulator:

    Think about how far you’re prepared to travel for your surgery and follow-up appointments, and arrange a visit to the hospital. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

    Ask your surgeon

    Before deciding to go ahead with cosmetic surgery, you should have an initial consultation with your surgeon. Ask about their qualifications and experience. For instance, ask how often their patients have complications after surgery. And ask about what insurance they have and what it covers.

    Your surgeon will also be able to tell you if they belong to a relevant professional association. These include the British Association of Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS), the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) or the Association of Breast Surgery (ABS).

  • No. Breasts will inevitably fall again in the future. Your breast size and shape alter:

    • if you gain or lose weight
    • during pregnancy and breastfeeding
    • with age

    Discuss this with your surgeon. Many women decide to wait until after they’ve had children before having breast uplift surgery. If you’re planning to lose weight, it’s better to do this before having surgery.

    To help maintain the shape and appearance of your breasts after your uplift, keep your weight steady and wear a suitable bra to provide support.

  • Breast uplift surgery, like many other types of cosmetic surgery, is not usually available on the NHS. However, it may be offered in a few circumstances – for instance, as part of reconstructive surgery after breast cancer.

    If you choose to pay for breast uplift surgery, you will probably pay a ‘package’ price which includes the cost of the surgeon, anaesthetist, tests and hospital stay. The costs vary from surgeon to surgeon and clinic to clinic. Do check exactly what the ‘package’ includes.

    Never base your decision on costs alone when deciding where to be treated. It’s important to always consider the quality of your surgeon and the hospital or clinic when making your decision. For more guidance, see our FAQ: How do I choose the right surgeon?

  • Most women who have breast uplift surgery can still breastfeed, but this isn’t always the case. Breast uplift surgery may affect whether you can breastfeed or not, especially if your operation involved changing the position of your nipples.

    It’s worth remembering that pregnancy and breastfeeding can affect the shape of your breasts. This means you may want to wait until afterwards to have breast uplift surgery.

    If you think you may want to breastfeed at some point after your surgery, discuss this with your surgeon.

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  • Reviewed by Liz Woolf, Freelance Health Editor and Natalie Heaton, Specialist Health Editor, Bupa Health Content Team, January 2020
    Expert reviewer, Mr Robert Hardy, Consultant Surgeon
    Next review due January 2023