Post-operative recovery after a DIEP flap breast reconstruction

DIEP flap breast reconstruction surgery usually requires a hospital stay of 5–10 days.

After a DIEP flap breast reconstruction:

  • the reconstructed breast(s) will be monitored carefully, every 30–60 minutes for the first day or so.  This is important to make sure that the blood supply to the reconstructed breast is sufficient. Although this frequent checking can make it difficult to sleep, it is the best way to check for any postoperative complications. It also means action can be taken promptly if there is a complication.
  • you will experience some discomfort or pain and tightness in the chest area and abdomen (there are many pain-relief options available to help manage this
  • excess blood and fluid will be drained from the reconstructed breast and abdomen using tubes inserted under the skin to prevent excessive swelling and reduce pressure on the blood vessels supplying the tissue flap(s); the tubes will usually be removed 2–8 days after surgery
  • a support bra or bandage may be worn to help reduce swelling and support the reconstructed breast(s)
  • you will have an oval-shaped scar on the breast(s) and a scar across the lower abdomen between the hips. It should be possible to cover this scar by with underwear or a swimsuit.

Healing may take several weeks as the swelling goes down. The ‘tummy tuck’ will create a tightened feel across the abdomen. You should avoid stretching this area in the days after surgery and will need to move in a slightly bent over position.

All heavy lifting (more than 10kg) should be avoided for at least 6 weeks and possibly up to 3 months after surgery. Heavy lifting includes lifting of large washing baskets, boxes and small children. You may also have driving restrictions, particularly for manual cars, which involve more core muscle activation.

As with any surgery, postoperative recovery will take longer if complications occur. The length of recovery will depend on the severity of the complication and treatment needed.

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