Breast uplift surgery

Expert reviewer, Mr Robert Hardy, Consultant Surgeon
Next review due August 2020

Breast uplift surgery is an operation to remove extra loose skin from your breast and re-shape them. This makes them look more youthful and feel firmer.

It’s common for breasts to become droopy after pregnancy and breastfeeding, or just as a result of gravity over time. Many women feel comfortable with this. However, you may decide you want to change the way you look, and so consider having breast uplift surgery.

Breast uplift surgery is a major operation and, like all surgery, has some risks. It’s important you take time to find out about the procedure and choose your surgeon carefully. We hope the information here will help you make the decision which is best for you.

An image showing a nurse talking to a patient in hospital

About breast uplift surgery

Breast uplift surgery can be done in various ways, depending on the size of your breasts and how you wish to look afterwards. Usually, your surgeon will change the shape of your breasts by removing the extra skin from underneath them. The skin and surrounding tissue will be 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 if you choose.

The timing of breast uplift surgery is something you should discuss with your surgeon. 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 breast uplift surgery.

Since it’s usually done to improve your appearance, it’s helpful to remember that, like all surgery, breast uplift surgery will leave scars. However, your surgeon will try to keep these to a minimum.

Getting advice about breast uplift surgery

It’s important not to rush into a decision to have any cosmetic procedure, including breast uplift surgery. Spend some time looking into the type of surgery you’re thinking about. 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 on choosing a surgeon below for more information.

Before opting for a breast uplift operation, discuss with your surgeon what you’re hoping to gain from the procedure. Ask about the result you can realistically expect and the risks and possible complications of the surgery. Remember, it’s OK to take a list of questions with you when you meet your surgeon. This is your chance to get all the information you need to make the decision whether to have surgery or not.

A good surgeon will encourage you to take a few weeks as a ‘cooling off’ period before you go ahead with your 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 your breast lift surgery. For example, if you smoke they’ll advise you to stop, perhaps for at least six weeks before your surgery. Smoking increases your risk of getting a chest or wound infection, which can slow your recovery. Your surgeon may also recommend that you lose some excess weight if you need to.

You may be able to go home the day of your surgery, or you may need to stay overnight. If your surgeon says you can go home the same day, make sure someone will be at home with you that night.

Breast uplift surgery is usually done under general anaesthesia. This means you’ll be asleep during the operation. You’ll probably be asked not to eat or drink anything for about six hours before your operation. However, it’s important to follow your anaesthetist’s advice.

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 ask questions so that you understand what will be happening. You don’t have to go ahead with the procedure if you decide you don’t want it. Once you understand the procedure and if you agree to have it, you’ll be asked to sign a consent form.

Your surgeon will measure your breasts and assess their shape and the position of your nipples. 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 an ultrasound scan or 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, more suitable cosmetic operation. For example, a breast reduction operation or breast enlargement operation may be a better option for you. 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 nipple) and/or from under your breasts. Your breast 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 will help give shape to each breast. Breast implants are usually made from silicone. Your surgeon will place the implant directly under your breast tissue or behind the chest muscle. For more information about having breast implants see our topic on breast enlargement.

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 breast uplift surgery, you’ll need to rest until the effects of the anaesthetic have passed. You’ll be offered pain relief to help with any discomfort you have. You may need to have fine 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, hygiene and showering. You’ll be given a date for a follow-up appointment.

You’ll need to arrange for 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 anaesthesia 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. If you’re in any doubt about driving, contact your motor insurer so that you’re aware of their recommendations. 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 of course this depends on what your job involves. Don’t lift anything heavy for several weeks and avoid 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. However, 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.

If you have dissolvable stitches, these will dissolve in the weeks following your surgery. If you have non-dissolvable stitches, these will be removed 10 to 14 days after surgery.

Before leaving the hospital, you may be given information about problems to look out for. These may include getting an infection in your wound. Contact your hospital (or your GP if it’s out of normal hours) 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’ll have scars. These 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:

  • some soreness, swelling and bruising, which can take weeks to settle
  • scarring – you’ll have permanent scars, they’ll be pink and noticeable at first, but usually fade over time
  • altered (reduced) nipple sensation

Complications of breast uplift surgery

Complications are when problems occur during or after the operation. Ask your surgeon what the chances are that these will affect you.

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

Complications specific to breast uplift surgery include:

  • an infection – you may need antibiotics to treat this. Getting an infection can affect the way your breasts look after surgery.
  • bleeding, including getting a collection of blood under your skin (called a haematoma). You may need surgery to stop the bleeding and drain the area
  • unusual red or raised scars (keloids or hypertrophic scars) – these may be permanent or can fade
  • an unevenness in size and shape of your breasts – possibly caused by natural differences highlighted by the surgery
  • loss of part, or even all, of your nipple or other areas of your breast – changes in blood supply can cause the tissue to die

Remember that, 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 that you choose a surgeon with the right skills and experience. There’s no single qualification for cosmetic surgery and no central register of surgeons trained in 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 on the GMC website. Look there to see if the surgeon is on the GMC specialist register in the area of practice relevant to the procedure you’re having. General surgeons with a specialist interest in the breast, as well as plastic surgeons, carry out breast uplift surgery.

    The hospital

    If you’re choosing to have your surgery in England, check that the hospital is registered with the independent regulator – the Care Quality Commission (CQC). You can ask the hospital to show you their registration certificate or search the CQC website. 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. Don’t be afraid to ask the surgeon questions about their qualifications and experience. For instance, you can ask how often their patients get complications after surgery. And ask about what insurance they have, and what it covers.

    Your surgeon will also be able to tell you whether 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. If you have breast uplift surgery this doesn’t mean that your breasts will stay the same as the years go by. Your breast size alters with body weight, so if you gain or lose weight your breasts will change shape. Your breasts may also increase in size during pregnancy and breastfeeding, getting smaller again afterwards. And they may change shape with age.

    Before you opt to have breast uplift surgery, discuss with your surgeon how weight gain or a pregnancy may affect the shape of your breasts. Many women decide to wait until after they’ve had children before having breast uplift or breast reduction surgery.

    Breasts will inevitably droop again in the future. 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 lift surgery is not usually available on the NHS, which means you’ll have to pay to have it done privately. The cost of private breast uplift surgery can vary.

    Breast uplift surgery, like many other types of cosmetic surgery, is not usually available on the NHS. It may, however, 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. The costs vary from surgeon to surgeon and clinic to clinic.

    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. See our FAQ above on choosing your surgeon for more guidance.

  • 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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Related information

    • Breast mastopexy. Medscape., updated 23 February 2016
    • Complications of plastic surgery. OSH post-operative complications (online). Oxford Medicine Online., published October 2011
    • Breast uplift. British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS)., accessed 22 August 2017
    • Breast augmentation. British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS)., accessed 22 August 2017
    • FAQs. British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS)., accessed 22 August 2017
    • Breast lift (mastopexy). American Society of Plastic Surgeons., accessed 22 August 2017
    • Choosing a surgeon and hospital. Royal College of Surgeons., accessed 22 August 2017
    • Interim clinical commissioning policy: breast reduction and breast lift (mastopexy) surgery. NHS England 2013.
    • Considering cosmetic surgery? British Association of Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS)., accessed 22 August 2017
    • Interim clinical commissioning policy: breast reduction and breast lift (mastoplexy) surgery. NHS England 2013.
    • Breastfeeding after breast surgery. Australian Breastfeeding Association., last reviewed August 2015
    • Personal communication, Mr Robert Hardy, Consultant Surgeon, August 2017
  • Reviewed by Dr Kristina Routh, Freelance Health Editor, Bupa Health Content Team, August 2017
    Expert reviewer, Mr Robert Hardy, Consultant Surgeon
    Next review due August 2020

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