If your breast size is causing you discomfort, or if you want smaller breasts for cosmetic reasons, breast reduction surgery may be an option for you.

It’s important to first discuss this procedure with a surgeon. You’ll want to understand the potential benefits versus the side effects associated with this type of surgery and whether it’s right for you.

In preparation for that discussion, here’s some general information on breast reduction surgery, including what you can expect during the procedure, what the recovery is like, potential side effects, and more.

Breast reduction surgery (also called reduction mammaplasty) is a type of invasive procedure that involves incisions (cuts) in your skin to decrease the size and weight of your breasts. If elected for cosmetic purposes, the surgery may also reduce sagging.

In addition to decreasing your overall breast size, the surgery will lift your nipples and breast mound higher on your chest and typically improve the shape of your breast.

Why people consider having breast reduction surgery

The decision to undergo breast reduction is based on a number of factors. While some people elect to have this surgery for cosmetic reasons only, others may want smaller breasts to ease physical discomfort, including:

  • chronic back pain
  • breast pain during exercise and other activities
  • persistent rashes underneath and between your breasts
  • hunched posture
  • problems from bras, such as shoulder dents from bra straps
  • trouble with how certain clothing fits, including shirts and swimsuits

Additionally, a breast reduction may help soothe emotional distress that may occur with large breasts due to possible related physical discomforts you may chronically experience. Such considerations may lead to an overall improved quality of life.

A plastic surgeon can help determine whether you’re a good candidate for breast reduction. Chronic back pain is the most common reason individuals elect to have this surgery.

Breast surgeries are most typically done in adults. But some teens may also qualify for a breast reduction when they have significant discomfort that lasts for a year or longer, and in individuals who retain the same breast size for at least a year.

Other considerations include your overall health and whether you engage in certain behaviors that could affect the recovery process, such as smoking.

Most breast reduction surgeries are performed on an outpatient basis with the help of general anesthesia, which is when a combination of medications called anesthetics are used to put you in a sleep-like state before a surgery or other medical procedure.

Incisions are made directly along your breasts so the surgeon may remove excess fat, skin, and tissues. Your breasts are then reshaped, and the incisions are closed with sutures.

A surgeon may use one of the following methods for this procedure:

  • Vertical (“lollipop”) reduction. This method involves one incision made vertically from the bottom of your areola, or the circle of darker skin surrounding your nipple, to the bottom of your breast folds, as well as another circumferential incision around the border of your areola. This method is best suited for moderate breast size reduction and if you also have noticeable sagging.
  • Inverted-T (“anchor”) reduction. With this method, a surgeon uses the same incisions as a lollipop reduction, with an additional incision made along the bottom crease of your breasts. This type of surgery is best for more significant size reductions, as well as if you have more noticeable breast sagging and asymmetry.
  • Liposuction. If you want a slight breast reduction only, a surgeon may recommend liposuction. This is a less invasive procedure that involves removing a small amount of fat. But this method isn’t recommended if you have large amounts of fatty tissues, sagging, or asymmetry.

Another potential option is a combined breast lift and augmentation. Most often used for aesthetic purposes, this procedure involves a traditional breast reduction along with implants to achieve the desired shape and lower the risk of sagging.

A breast reduction is a major surgery, so it’s important to plan for ample recovery time to allow for proper healing. You may leave your surgery with drainage tubes that you’ll need to care for. These tubes keep fluid from collecting in the surgical area and are typically kept in place for a few days.

Although you may be able to go home on the day of your surgery, you should plan to take 1 full week off of work or school.

A doctor or healthcare professional will instruct you to take prescription pain medications for a few days and, if needed, an over-the-counter version for a couple of weeks after your procedure. Your breasts will be bandaged to reduce bleeding and swelling, and you’ll be sent home with a surgical bra.

Initially, you can expect pain, swelling, and soreness. While you may be able to resume most of your usual activities within 3 to 4 weeks, you may be restricted to light walking only within the first few weeks following breast reduction surgery.

It will also take time for you to experience the full effects of a breast reduction. At first, your breasts may be swollen as they heal, but they may also feel lighter within the first 2 to 3 months. In all, it can take up to 1 year for your breasts to fully soften.

As with any major surgery, a breast reduction may pose the risk of infection, scarring, and bleeding. There’s also possible anesthesia side effects to consider too, such as nausea, dry mouth, or a sore throat.

Other risks and side effects that may be specific to this type of surgery include the following:

Also, talk with a surgeon if you plan on any future pregnancies, as this may affect the shape and size of your breasts after having surgery. For some people, doctors may advise that you wait until you’re finished having children.

Deciding to have a breast reduction is a major decision and one that you should make with a qualified and experienced surgeon.

At the minimum, a prospective surgeon ought to be board certified. They should also be able to show you a portfolio of their work with before and after photos.

If you’re looking for a reputable surgeon in your area, start with this free search tool.

Questions to ask a potential surgeon

When shopping for a surgeon, here’s a list of key questions you can ask at your consultation:

  • What’s your training and education?
  • Are you board certified?
  • Will the procedure take place in an accredited facility?
  • Which breast reduction method is best for me?
  • Do you have a portfolio of work for comparison?
  • What risks and side effects should I be aware of?
  • When can I expect to see results after my surgery?
  • How much will my procedure cost? Do you take my insurance?
  • Do you offer any payment plans?
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The average cost of a breast reduction without insurance ranges between $7,705 to $9,765. Keep in mind that the procedure, accompanying anesthesia, and any hospital stays are all separate costs.

Whether you can use medical insurance for a breast reduction depends on the reason you’ve elected to have the surgery. Breast reduction surgery done for aesthetic reasons is considered a cosmetic procedure.

In such cases, an insurance company won’t cover the costs of cosmetic surgery. The average out-of-pocket cost for aesthetic-based breast reduction surgery was $5,913 in 2020, according to data from that year.

On the other hand, if you want a breast reduction due to chronic pain and other physical ailments, your insurance may cover this procedure. The caveat is that most insurance companies will want proof that you’ve tried other nonsurgical methods first, such as physical therapy.

In addition, some insurance companies may require that a minimum amount of breast tissue, which is calculated based on your body weight, must be removed for the surgery to be covered.

Breast reduction surgery is intended to decrease the size of your breasts.

While this procedure may be chosen for cosmetic purposes only, many people elect to have this surgery as a way to correct ongoing pain and discomfort due to large breasts.

As with any surgery, it’s important to carefully weigh the benefits versus potential risks and to discuss these with a doctor.