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The NHS guide to cosmetic procedures

Cosmetic breast reduction (female)

Breast reduction surgery is an option for women who wish to make their breasts smaller, less heavy and more lifted.

If you're feeling very distressed over the size of your breasts or they're causing physical symptoms such as backache, you may be able to have a breast reduction on the NHS.

But if you're considering a breast reduction operation to change your appearance, rather than for health reasons, you'll need to pay for it privately.

Before you go ahead, you may want to read Is cosmetic surgery right for me?.

Read on to find out:

How much does it cost?

In the UK, breast reduction surgery costs around £6,500, plus the cost of any consultations or follow-up care that may not be included in the price.

Where do I go?

If you're looking in England, check the Care Quality Commission (CQC) website for providers that can perform breast reductions. 

All independent clinics and hospitals that provide cosmetic surgery in England must be registered with the CQC. The CQC publishes inspection reports and performance ratings to help people choose care.

Also, research the surgeon who is going to carry out the operation. All doctors must, as a minimum, be registered with the General Medical Council (GMC). Check the register to see the doctor's fitness to practise history.

You may also want to find out:

  • how many operations they've performed where there have been complications
  • what sort of follow-up you should expect if things go wrong
  • their own patient satisfaction rates

Read more about choosing a cosmetic surgeon.

What does it involve?

Breast reduction surgery is carried out under general anaesthetic.

There are several techniques the surgeon could use, but generally the operation involves:

  • moving your nipple to its new position – usually while it's still attached to the blood supply
  • removing excess fat, glandular tissue and skin from your breasts
  • reshaping the remaining breast tissue

Most women are left with a scar around the nipple. With some surgical techniques, the scar will also run down vertically and horizontally across the breast crease (anchor-shaped), or just run down vertically to the breast crease.

The operation takes between 90 minutes and 4 hours, depending on the extent of the breast reduction.

You usually need to stay in hospital for one or two nights.


When you wake up after surgery, you will have dressings on your breasts and plastic tubes may be attached to them to drain blood away.

After one to two days, any tubes would be removed and you will usually be able to go home. Some women experience pain for a few days, which can be relieved with painkillers.

It's likely your breasts will be swollen and feel tender and lumpy after surgery.


It can take two to six weeks to fully recover from breast reduction surgery. You may need to take a week or two off work and shouldn't drive for at least a week.

The final appearance of your breasts may not be obvious for several weeks or months after the operation.

Some surgeons recommend wearing a sports bra 24 hours a day for up to three months after breast surgery.

The length of time you need to keep the dressings on depends on how quickly your wounds healed. Stitches are removed after a week or two, unless they are dissolvable.

You should avoid stretching, strenuous exercise and heavy lifting for up to six weeks after the operation. You can drive again when it's no longer painful to wear a seatbelt, which may be several weeks.

Side effects to expect

It's typical after breast reduction surgery to have:

  • sore breasts for a few weeks
  • up to three scars – one around the nipple, and sometimes another one vertically from the nipple to the crease below the breast, and sometimes a third scar along the crease below the breast

Scars are usually quite red for the first six weeks, but most fade over time and should be invisible under normal clothing, bras and bikini tops.

What could go wrong

Breast reduction surgery can occasionally result in problems, including:

  • thick, obvious scarring
  • unevenly shaped breasts or nipples
  • wound healing problems 
  • loss of nipple sensation
  • being permanently unable to breastfeed
  • red or lumpy breasts if the fat dies (fat necrosis)
  • excess skin left around the scars, which may need to be surgically removed
  • bleeding inside the breast tissue (haematoma) – this generally occurs within the first 24 hours after the operation

Also, any type of operation carries a small risk of:

  • excessive bleeding
  • infection
  • an allergic reaction to the anaesthetic
  • a blood clot forming in the deep veins

The surgeon should explain how likely these risks and complications are, and how they would be treated if they occurred.

Occasionally, people find the desired effect wasn't achieved and feel they need another operation.

What to do if you have problems

Cosmetic surgery can sometimes go wrong and the results may not be what you expected.

You should contact the clinic where the operation was carried out as soon as possible if you have severe pain or any unexpected symptoms, such as redness of your breast skin, a burning sensation or unusual swelling.

If you have breast reduction surgery and are not happy with the results or think the procedure wasn't carried out properly, you should take up the matter with your surgeon through the hospital or clinic where you were treated.

If you have concerns about your care, you should contact the CQC. If necessary, you can make a complaint about a doctor to the General Medical Council (GMC).

For more information, read the Royal College of Surgeon's advice on What if things go wrong?

If you're planning to have children

If you plan to have breast reduction surgery before having children, or more children, bear in mind that breasts can get larger again during pregnancy and this may affect the results of the operation.

Also, there's a chance you wouldn't be able to breastfeed after the operation.

More information

Page last reviewed: 19/05/2016

Next review due: 19/05/2019


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