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Breast reduction (female)

Breast reduction is a major operation that can help make your breasts feel smaller, lighter and give them a better shape.

If you're feeling very distressed about the size of your breasts, or they're causing problems like backache, you might be able to have a breast reduction on the NHS.

If you're thinking about breast reduction to change your appearance, rather than for health reasons, you'll need to pay for it privately.

How much a breast reduction costs

In the UK, breast reduction surgery costs around £6,500, plus the cost of any consultations or follow-up care.

What to think about before you have a breast reduction

Before you go ahead, be sure about why you want a breast reduction. Take time to think about your decision.

Find out more about deciding whether cosmetic surgery is right for you

You could also speak to a GP about it.

Choosing a surgeon

If you're having a breast reduction in England, check with the Care Quality Commission (CQC)

All independent clinics and hospitals that provide cosmetic surgery in England must be registered with the CQC.

Be careful when searching the internet for breast reduction surgery. Some clinics may pay to advertise their services on search listings.

Check the surgeon is registered with the General Medical Council (GMC). They should be listed on the specialist register and have a licence to practise.

Also, check the British Association of Plastic Reconstruction and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS) or the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) to see if the surgeon is a "full member" on the specialist register for plastic surgery.

Always book an appointment to meet the surgeon before the procedure.

Ask your surgeon:

  • about their qualifications and experience
  • how many breast reduction operations they have performed
  • how many operations they have performed where there have been complications
  • what sort of follow-up you should expect if things go wrong
  • what their patient satisfaction rates are

Find out more about choosing who will do your cosmetic procedure

What breast reduction involves

Breast reduction surgery is carried out under general anaesthetic. This means you'll be asleep during the operation.

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

The operation takes 2 to 3 hours, depending on the extent of the breast reduction.

You'll usually need to stay in hospital for 1 or 2 nights.

Afterwards

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

After 1 to 2 days, the tubes will be removed and you'll usually be able to go home.

You may have some pain for a few days, which can be relieved with painkillers.

It's likely your breasts will be swollen, and may feel tender and lumpy after surgery. The swelling may last for around 3 months.

You will not see what your breasts look like until the swelling has gone down.

Recovery

It can take 2 to 6 weeks to fully recover from breast reduction surgery.

You may need to take 2 to 3 weeks off work, and need help with housework, childcare and shopping.

You should not drive until it's no longer painful to wear a seatbelt. This may be several weeks.

Avoid stretching, strenuous exercise and heavy lifting for up to 6 weeks after the operation.

Some surgeons suggest wearing a sports bra 24 hours a day for up to 3 months after breast surgery. Check with your surgeon.

The length of time you need to keep the dressings on depends on how quickly your wounds heal.

Stitches will need to be removed after a week or 2, unless they're dissolvable.

Scars

You'll probably have scars around your nipples.

You may also have a vertical scar running down your breast and a horizontal scar across the crease, below the breast (anchor-shaped).

Or you may only have a vertical scar running down your breast.

It depends on the type of surgery you have.

Scars are usually red for the first 6 weeks, but most fade over time and should be invisible under normal clothes, bras and bikini tops.

What could go wrong

Breast reduction surgery can sometimes 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 happens 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

Your surgeon should explain how likely these risks and complications are, and how they'd be treated if you have them.

What to do if you have problems

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

Contact the clinic where you had the operation as soon as possible if you have severe pain or any unexpected symptoms, such as red skin, burning, or unusual swelling on or around your breast.

If you're not happy with the results of your breast reduction, or you think the procedure was not carried out properly, speak to your surgeon at the hospital or clinic where you were treated.

You can contact the Care Quality Commission (CQC) if you have concerns about your care.

If necessary, you can make a complaint about a doctor to the General Medical Council (GMC).

The Royal College of Surgeons has more information and advice about what to do 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, which may affect the results of the operation.

There's also a chance you will not be able to breastfeed after the operation.

Page last reviewed: 6 August 2019
Next review due: 6 August 2022