Caring for Yourself after a Mastectomy or Breast Tissue Expander Placement Surgery

Mastectomy and tissue expander placement surgery can present both physical and emotional difficulties. There are many factors to consider, and managing your pain while caring for your incision, drain, and dressings are important elements of post-surgical care. Use these guidelines as a resource to help inform you on how to best care for your mind and body after undergoing a mastectomy or breast tissue expander placement surgery.

Managing Your Medication

While there are a few medications that are optional to take after surgery, antibiotics are necessary to prevent infection. It is crucial, for the function of the drug, to take your antibiotics on schedule and to complete the entire dosage. Finishing your prescribed dose of antibiotics will prevent illness-causing bacteria from growing.

Taking your prescribed medication for pain management is an important part of post-surgical care to help alleviate pain, but it’s a delicate balance to maintain your pain without overdoing it, which can lead to negative side effects. Muscle relaxers should be taken every eight hours or as needed and shouldn’t exceed two pills every eight hours. You may experience negative side effects, like sleepiness or an upset stomach, if you exceed the recommended dosage. Narcotic pain medicine is also an option for pain relief but should be taken with food to prevent an upset stomach.

Nausea, dizziness, and constipation are among some of the side effects of too much pain medication, so only take as much as you feel you need to mitigate excessive pain. If you’re struggling with side effects from the pain medication, you can take over-the-counter Tylenol, but refrain from taking NSAIDs, which include Advil, Motrin, Aleve, Naproxin Sodium, or Meloxicam.

Zofran and Ondansetron are effective nausea relievers, but if you’re struggling with nausea or other side effects despite, or because of, medication, reach out to our office—Dr. Potter and her team are here to help.

Balancing Your Activity

In the days just after surgery, you should drastically limit your movement. Reaching to wash your hair in the shower is okay, but you shouldn’t be overextending your arms, reaching high overhead, or lifting anything heavy. It is a balance, because not moving your arms at all can result in “frozen shoulder”, so picking up lightweight items, like a water bottle, is a good idea. Although regular activities like working out and cleaning should be lessened immediately after surgery, over time you can begin to incorporate those things back into your daily routine.

To minimize your activity, be sure to delegate! Have others help with household chores, like cooking and cleaning. Light exercise, such as walking, is acceptable after the first week, but avoid high-intensity workouts or heavy lifting (keep weights under 5 pounds). For those who are otherwise active and accustomed to intense workouts, you may be able to increase your activity after a few weeks, we just don’t want you to overdo it! This is a time to take a break and focus on breathwork, not HIIT work. Take 10 deep breaths every hour, but don’t challenge yourself too much.

After surgery, it’s best to sleep on your back, preferably propped up with a couple of pillows. Some people choose to sleep in a recliner, but any sleeping position that keeps you elevated and comfortable is good. This can be difficult for side and stomach sleepers, but it’s necessary to remain on your back to keep swelling at a minimum.

Caring for Your Drain and Dressings

The first step to caring for your incisions, drains, or dressings is to first and foremost, wash your hands with warm soap and water or sanitize them with hand sanitizer to help prevent infection. After you’ve cleaned your hands, put on gloves before you touch your drain or incision. You can use sanitizer to strip the drain a few times a day when you empty it, and this helps keep the tubing free of debris. Clean the drain tube by pinching it right underneath the dressing area and then squeeze the drain tubing all the way down to the bulb. You should be doing this a few times a day, but we want to make sure you’re not experiencing too much drainage. If you’re noticing that it is filling up quickly, please call our office.

Your drain dressing should be sitting flush to your skin to make sure it’s sealed and sanitary. You can reinforce it if you need to, but if the dressings need to be reapplied, again, call the office. Dr. Potter’s office is available to make sure that everything is in working order to ensure that you’re healing properly.

Incision Care

Like we said before, when you are handling your incisions, always make sure you’ve washed your hands and you’re wearing gloves to keep the area completely sanitary. After a mastectomy or tissue expander placement, you’re given a methyl dressing with an adhesive all the way around it, so it seals properly. Methyl dressings contain silver, which helps prevent bacteria. When reinforcing dressings or managing your incision, make sure everything is properly sealed and clean.

The first week after surgery, follow the post-op instructions that were given to you. These guidelines will tell you when to change your dressings and when to leave them alone. Always change into a clean bra after cleansing the incision and try not to touch the area too much.

When to Call Dr. Potter’s Office

Dr. Potter and her team are here to support you. You should call the office if:

  • You are running a temperature and you don’t feel well. A slight temperature is normal after surgery, especially at night, but a fever combined with not feeling good is reason to call the office.
  • The area is large and swollen. Some swelling is normal, but if the swelling is excessive, call our office.
  • You have redness or pain with swelling. Again, redness and swelling are normal, but if you are experiencing these symptoms to an extreme, call our office.
  • Your drain is filling too fast. If you are experiencing a lot of drainage—250 ccs to 300 ccs per breast per day—we want to know about it.

Take care of yourself—drink a lot of water, eat nutritious food, and get plenty of rest. Dr. Potter and her team are resources for your care so don’t hesitate to ask for help.