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Breast Lift Surgery


Breast lift (or mastopexy) is a surgical procedure to lift and reshape severely sagging breasts. Over the years, breasts lose their shape and firmness from pregnancies, nursing, and the aging process. Breast lift surgery will not permanently lift the breasts; the aging process will eventually cause them to sag again. However, the procedure may temporarily delay the effects of gravity. Breast lift surgery can also reduce the size of the areola, the dark pigmented region around the nipple. Women may also increase the size of their breasts during the procedure by having an implant placed behind the breast tissue or the chest wall (pectoral) muscle.

Breast lift surgery is cosmetic and may enhance a woman’s self-esteem, but the results will probably not match her ideal. The best candidates for the procedure are women with very small, sagging breasts who are realistic about what the surgery will accomplish. Breast lift surgery may be performed on women with larger breasts, but the effects may not last as long. Breast lift surgery may be performed on women of any age, but most plastic surgeons advise women to wait until after they have had children since additional pregnancies will usually stretch the skin again and reverse the effects of the procedure.

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), over 104,000 have breast lift surgeries each year in the United States. The popularity of the procedure rose dramatically in the late 1990s. In 1996, only 16,097 women had the procedure done. The majority of women who have breast lift surgery are between the ages of 35 and 50.

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Initial Surgical Consultation

Women who are considering breast lift surgery will usually set up an initial surgical consultation with a plastic surgeon. All plastic surgeons should be certified by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS). During the initial consultation, the surgeon will explain the effects and limitations of the procedure and take measurements of the woman’s breasts while she sits or stands. The extent of the breast lift will be affected by a woman’s age, and the shape and condition of her breasts.

Issues discussed in the initial consultation may include:

  • Effects and limitations of the surgery
  • Preparing for surgery
  • Cost of surgery (most insurance providers will not cover the cost of breast lift surgery because they consider the procedure to be cosmetic)
  • Type of facility where the operation will be performed
  • Type of anesthesia
  • The operation itself
  • Recovery
  • Possible side effects and complications

As with any surgery, women considering breast lift surgery should tell their plastic surgeons about any medications, vitamins, or other drugs they may be taking. Breast lift surgery will usually not affect the quality of future breast cancer detection with mammography.


Breast lift surgery is usually performed under general anesthesia in an outpatient clinical setting. Some women will be admitted to the hospital after surgery where they will stay for one to two days after the operation. The procedure generally takes between two and four hours.

The most common breast lift involves an anchor-shaped incision along the breast’s contour. The incision will come from both sides of the breast and intersect above the nipple. When the excess skin has been removed, the nipple and areola (dark pigmented region around the nipple) are moved to the higher position. The skin around the areola is brought down and together to re-shape the breast. Stitches are usually made around the areola in a vertical line extending down from the nipple area and along the lower fold of the breast.

Another technique that may be performed on women with small breasts and minimal sagging involves circular incisions around the areola. A doughnut shaped area of skin is removed. If an implant is also being placed during the surgery, it is set under the breast tissue or the chest wall (pectoral) muscle. Stitches are placed were the incisions are made and gauze bandages are usually placed over the breasts to facilitate healing.

Side Effects

After surgery, the breasts will be swollen and bruised for a few days. Breast pain after the procedure is usually mild and may be treated with prescription medications. Stitches are usually removed within two weeks. Patients should avoid heavy lifting, pushing or pulling, and strenuous sports for at least one month after surgery to give the breasts time to heal. Serious side effects or complications of breast lift surgery are not common.

Side effects of breast lift surgery may include:

  • Bleeding or infection
  • Temporary or permanent loss of nipple sensation

Breast lift surgery leaves permanent, noticeable scars. Scars will appear red and lumpy at first but will become less obvious over time. Women who smoke may have wide scars because smoking tends to interfere with the healing process.

Breast lift surgery is not permanent. Additional pregnancies, nursing, weight gain, and aging will cause the breasts to sag again. The effects of breast lift surgery usually last longer in women who have breast implants placed during the operation. Breast-feeding is possible in some cases after breast lift surgery.

Additional Resources and References

Updated: July 28, 2008