breast augmentation

Aug 09, 2012

Breast Augmentation: The Basics

Breast implants aren't just for celebrities or wealthy socialites; in fact, the typical candidate for breast augmentation is an average woman who simply wants to enhance her natural attributes. Breast augmentation—or augmentation mammoplasty—can give your breasts more volume, add projection to your profile or correct uneven breasts. Implants may also be placed to reconstruct the breasts after cancer or a traumatic injury.


Breast augmentation is a surgical procedure that enlarges and reshapes the breasts through the insertion of prosthetic implants. Breast implants are filled with saline solution or a silicone gel to make your breasts look and feel as natural as possible. Before you have surgery, a board-certified plastic surgeon will spend time helping you choose the right size, style and shape of implant.

Surgery is performed under general anesthesia at a hospital or outpatient surgical center. A basic breast augmentation usually takes between 60 and 90 minutes, followed by several hours for post-operative recovery. Unless your surgeon wants you to stay at the hospital overnight for observation, you should be able to go home the same day.

Placing the Implants

In the first stage of breast augmentation, the surgeon makes incisions in one of several places:

  • Under your arms (transaxillary)
  • Below your breasts (inframmamary)
  • Around your nipples (peri-areolar)
  • In your navel (trans-umbilical)

The type of incision will depend on the kind and size of implants you choose, your plans for breastfeeding and your feelings about the location of your incision lines. Many plastic surgeons choose to make the incisions either in the crease below your breasts or under your arms, where scars can't easily be seen. Peri-areolar and trans-umbilical incisions are less common.

After an incision has been made, a pocket is created to hold the new implant. Your surgeon may place the implant either below your mammary glands (subglandular placement) or below your major chest muscle (subpectoral placement). Saline implants consist of an empty silicone shell, which is filled with saline solution after placement. Silicone gel implants are prefilled, which makes them difficult to insert through small incisions around the nipple or in the navel.   

Closing the Incisions

After inserting the implants, the surgeon will check their placement to make sure they're evenly positioned on your chest. Your surgeon will then use two series of sutures to close the incisions. The first set of sutures will close the underlying breast tissue, and the second set will close the overlying skin. Surgical tape or silicone sheets may also be placed on the incisions to minimize scarring.

Recovering from Breast Augmentation

After surgery, most women need at least 48 hours of recovery time before going back to work or resuming household activities. Your plastic surgeon may ask you to take it easy for one or two weeks to protect the incisions, avoiding heavy lifting or vigorous exercise. You will probably have pain for a few days after the procedure, which can usually be managed with pain medication or muscle relaxants. Swelling or bruising may last for one or more weeks. Your surgeon will advise you to wear a compression bra to reduce swelling and promote tissue healing.

One of the most important things you can do after breast augmentation is to keep your post-operative appointments with your plastic surgeon. Even if you're feeling and looking great, consistent follow-up is the key to a safe, healthy recovery.