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What You Need to Know About Breast-Reduction Surgery

From the time we’re young girls, women are socialized to believe that busty is beautiful.  Disney cartoons, with their voluptuous (yet somehow incredibly thin) princesses, video game vixens with cartoonish proportions (here’s lookin’ at you, old school Lara Croft) and models seem to conspire to make anyone who doesn’t have large breasts feels inadequate. However, the glossy magazine spreads and pixelated ideals obscure a hard truth — having bigger breasts isn’t always better.

Having large breasts — especially breasts that are too heavy for our body frames — can cause problems like significant and prolonged back and shoulder strain, neck pain, skin irritation and rashes from trapped moisture and poor posture, Dr. Navin K. Singh, a plastic surgeon and assistant professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, writes on Healthy Women. On top of that, he explains that overly heavy and cumbersome breasts can stop women from exercising, performing daily chores, finding clothes they like — or simply living their lives.

Why do people get breast reductions?

Dr. Joshua D. Zuckerman, a board-certified plastic surgeon in New York City who specializes in breast and body cosmetic surgery, tells SheKnows that breast reductions are incredibly common procedures that make a profound difference in a patient’s life.

“Patients often see a dramatic improvement in shoulder, neck or back pain overnight,” he adds. “In my opinion, society at large often fails to grasp the effects of overly large breasts on sufferers — each breast can weigh up to 5 pounds and cause a variety of problems or discomfort.”

Zuckerman explains that candidates for breast reduction typically have overly large breasts that cause pain or discomfort. Though he also sees patients who have “aesthetic reasons” for wanting a breast reduction, he says, “Some health insurance will even cover part or all of the cost of the procedure when shoulder, neck or back pain can be medically documented.”

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Navigating the slings and arrows of insurance standards and regulations can be undeniably difficult, but Zuckerman says the biggest hurdle many of his patients must overcome is simply the decision to have the surgery at all.

“It often takes patients a long time — years in some cases — to decide to proceed with breast-reduction surgery,” he says. “This is possibly due to a societal norm that larger breasts are seen as aesthetically pleasing.”

These norms are deeply hard to shuck off, and the decision to subvert them can be emotionally fraught and painful. He works carefully with patients to ensure the surgery results align with what is healthiest for them, physically and emotionally. These consultations help Zuckerman determine the amount of tissue to remove, which removes the weight from the breast and gives the patient greater comfort.

What is involved in a breast reduction?

According to Dr. Elizabeth Harris, a board-certified plastic surgeon and member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, breast-reduction surgeries can be completed under general anesthesia in an outpatient facility — and many patients can go home the same day.

“There are multiple different breast-reduction procedures, and each surgeon should explain to his or her patient the benefits, limitations and type of scarring of the preferred procedure,” she explains. When working with her own patients, she generally performs a vertical breast reduction, which has a shorter scar. This technique is often used with lateral liposuction to remove lateral breast fullness, she adds.

This technique differs slightly from a procedure called an inferior pedicle, which Harris says is the most frequently used breast-reduction method. This approach uses a large incision under the breast that extends from the breastbone (sternum) to the armpit (axilla), she explains.

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Though the immediate recovery period can last up to two weeks and patients should avoid any strenuous physical activity for at least a month after surgery, both Harris and Zuckerman enthusiastically note that breast-reduction patients are often the happiest patients they work with — because once they’ve healed, they enjoy an incredibly heightened quality of life. Women must value our own health and intuition over what our culture declares is beautiful — it’s better to find the right physician partner and take control over our comfort and well-being than to be anyone’s cover babe.

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