Breast uplift surgery

Your health expert: Mr Ian Grant, Consultant in Plastic Surgery
Content editor review by Rachael Mayfield-Blake May 2022
Next review due May 2025

Breast uplift surgery (mastopexy) is an operation to re-shape your breasts to change how they look. It aims to lift them to a higher position. Like all surgery, this major operation has risks. It’s important to find out about the procedure and choose your surgeon carefully.

About breast uplift surgery

It’s common and completely normal for breasts to become less firm after pregnancy and breastfeeding, or with gravity as you age. You may feel comfortable with this. But if you want to change how your breasts look, you may consider breast uplift (breast lift) surgery. You may wish to have a breast uplift on just one breast if your breasts are uneven, or on both.

How breast uplift surgery is done depends on the size of your breasts and how you wish to look afterwards. Usually, your surgeon will re-shape your breasts by removing extra skin from underneath them. They tighten the skin and surrounding tissue, and move your nipple to a higher position. A breast enlargement or breast reduction procedure can be done at the same time if you also want to change the size of your breasts. These are more complex operations that require a detailed discussion between you and your surgeon about the risks and potential outcomes.

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. If you get pregnant after having breast uplift surgery, it’s likely to stretch your breasts again. So if you plan on having children in the future, you may wish to wait until afterwards before having surgery.

Your surgeon may also advise that you wait about 6 to 12 months after breastfeeding before having surgery. This is so your breasts can regain their shape. Breast uplift surgery may also affect whether you can breastfeed in the future, especially if the position of your nipples is changed during your operation.

Breast uplift surgery will leave scars. But 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.

Before you have a cosmetic surgery procedure, such as a breast uplift, you will have a full clinical assessment. This will be by your GP, surgeon and sometimes a psychiatrist or psychologist.

Advice about breast uplift surgery

It’s important not to rush into any cosmetic procedure, including breast uplift surgery. Spend some time looking into it and discuss your options with a GP. They may be able to recommend a good surgeon with the right skills and experience, or give advice about which hospital to choose.

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 and you fully understand all aspects of the care you’ll receive. For example, ask what’s included in the fee for the procedure, and if there are any additional costs if you need treatment for a problem after surgery. Ask who will be responsible for your aftercare. It's also important to consider how you would cope if there was a problem after surgery, or if the result didn’t meet your expectations. Don’t go ahead if you have any doubts.

Your surgeon’s qualifications

Check that your surgeon is registered on the GMC specialist register in either specialist breast surgery or plastic surgery. The Royal College of Surgeons also has a list of certified cosmetic surgeons. Ask your surgeon 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).

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.

You’ll need a two-week ‘cooling off’ period after your consultation before you finally decide to go ahead with surgery. If you still have questions, a second consultation with your surgeon may help. Most surgeons will offer a second appointment at no charge to go through the plans for surgery.

The hospital

Check that the hospital is registered with the independent regulator:

Preparing for breast uplift surgery

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 sign a consent form.

If you smoke, try to stop at least six weeks before your operation. Smoking affects how you heal and increases your risk of a chest or wound infection, which can slow your recovery. Your surgeon may also recommend that you lose some weight before your operation.

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

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 where they’ll make the surgical cuts on your breasts.

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

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, ask someone to stay with you overnight.

Breast uplift surgery

Breast uplift surgery usually takes around two to three hours to complete. 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 the area around your nipples (areola) and/or from under your breasts. They’ll then re-shape your breasts. Your surgeon may then re-position your nipples and 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 to give fullness to the upper part of your breast. Your surgeon will place the implant directly under your breast tissue or behind your chest muscle.

When the operation is finished, your surgeon will close the cuts with stitches or skin-closure strips. They may wrap your breasts in a supportive dressing or use tape for support.

Aftercare for breast uplift surgery

After breast uplift 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 will be removed when the fluid or blood has stopped draining, usually before you go home.

Your nurse will give you advice about caring for your wounds before you go home, 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, as well as a date for a follow-up appointment.

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

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

Recovery for breast uplift surgery

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 have sex for two weeks after surgery. You’ll probably need at least two weeks off work after breast uplift surgery, but this depends on your job. Do not lift anything heavy for several weeks.

Do not 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 get back to 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 a pharmacist for advice.

It’s best to wear a bra with no underwiring for a few weeks after the operation. 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.

A nurse will examine your wounds about a week after your operation. You may have skin-closure strips (sometimes called Steri-strips) instead. These are special pieces of sticky tape that hold the wound together while it heals.

It’s important 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 (fever)

It may take several months before your breasts settle into their new shape. You may have to wear 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
  • a change in nipple sensation – it 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. This may affect the way your breasts look after surgery.
  • Bleeding, including blood collecting under your skin (a haematoma). This may require surgery to stop the bleeding and drain the area.
  • Unusual red or raised scars (keloids or hypertrophic scars) which may be permanent.
  • An uneven size or shape of your breasts may be caused by natural differences but these may be 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.
  • Damage to deeper structures, such as nerves, blood vessels, muscles and your lungs. This damage may be temporary or permanent.

Over time, your breasts will naturally fall again. The effects of your breast uplift surgery will not last forever. To help maintain the shape and appearance of your breasts after your uplift, keep your weight steady with a healthy diet and exercise.

Sepsis (adults)

Sepsis is a life-threatening complication that can develop if you get an infection. Sepsis is a medical emergency. Call 999 or go to A&E immediately if you have any of the following symptoms.

  • Slurred speech, confusion, difficulty making sense.
  • Extreme shivering or muscle pain.
  • Passing no pee (urine) during a day.
  • Severe difficulty breathing, feeling breathless, or breathing very fast.
  • It feels like you’re going to die.
  • Skin changes such as your skin looking blue, pale or blotchy, or a rash that does not fade when you roll a glass over it.

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.

After your pre-operation discussions with your doctor or surgeon, you may decide that you don’t want surgery at all. Once they explain the normal changes that can happen to breasts over time, it may reassure you. Or you may decide against surgery after talking to a clinical psychologist about the reasons for it. There’s no pressure to have a breast uplift operation, do what’s right for you.

The actual operation isn’t painful as breast uplift surgery is usually done under general anaesthetic, so you’re asleep during the operation. But your breasts will likely be sore and swollen for a few weeks after your operation. You’ll be offered pain relief to help with any discomfort you have.

See our sections: Aftercare for breast uplift surgery and Recovery for breast uplift surgery above for more information.

The effects of a breast lift will not last forever. Over time, your breasts will naturally fall again. To help maintain the shape and appearance of your breasts after your uplift, keep your weight steady with a healthy diet and exercise. It may help to use a sports bra when you exercise too.

See our section: Complications of breast uplift surgery above for more information.

You’ll probably pay a ‘package’ price for breast uplift surgery, which includes the cost of the surgeon, anaesthetist, tests and hospital stay. The costs vary from surgeon to surgeon and clinic to clinic. Breast uplift surgery, like other types of cosmetic surgery, isn’t usually available on the NHS.

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