16 Breast Reconstruction Surgery Preparation FAQs

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What should I do to prepare for surgery?

Familiarize yourself with our “About Your Mastectomy” patient education page, which has detailed information about getting ready for your surgery starting from 30 days out.

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When will I be notified of my surgery time?

A clerk from our Admitting office will call you after 2:00 pm the day before your surgery. The clerk will tell you what time you should arrive at the hospital for your surgery. If you are scheduled for surgery on a Monday, you will be called on the Friday before. If you do not receive a call by , please call 212-639-5014.

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Who can I follow up with to confirm my surgery or procedure has been approved?

Call your plastic surgeon’s office to confirm.

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If my surgery is scheduled for later in the day, do I still have to fast starting at midnight?

Fasting can keep food or liquid from entering your lungs during your procedure. You should fast for at least eight hours before you’re scheduled to arrive at the hospital. You may be able to have small amounts of clear liquids, such as water, up to two hours before your scheduled arrival time at the hospital. Ask a member of your care team for clear instructions about your fasting requirements.

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Do I need someone with me on the day of my surgery? What if I don’t have anyone?

Ideally, you should have a caregiver with you on the day of your surgery. The caregiver should be with you when you’re given your discharge instructions and should read them closely. At the least, you must have a responsible person take you home from the hospital. If you don’t, call one of the agencies below before your surgery. They will send someone to go home with you. There’s usually a charge for this service, and you will need to provide your own transportation.

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Should I shower before surgery?

Before your surgery, you’ll shower twice using Hibiclens. Hibiclens is a skin cleanser that kills germs for 24 hours after using it. It will lower your risk of infection after surgery. You can buy Hibiclens at the Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center or at your local pharmacy without a prescription.

Showering with Hibiclens is a bit different than showering with regular soap. The night before surgery, follow these steps:

  1. Use your normal shampoo to wash your hair and rinse well with warm water.
  2. Use your normal soap to wash your face and genital area. Rinse well with warm water.
  3. Pour some Hibiclens into your hand or a clean washcloth.
  4. Move away from the shower stream to avoid rinsing off the Hibiclens too soon.
  5. Rub the Hibiclens gently over your body from your neck to your feet. Don’t put the Hibiclens on your face or genital area.
  6. Move back into the shower stream to rinse off the Hibiclens.
  7. Dry yourself off with a clean towel after your shower.
  8. Don’t put on any lotion, cream, deodorant, makeup, powder, perfume, or cologne after your shower.

On the morning of your surgery, shower with Hibiclens just before you leave for the hospital. Follow the same instructions as the night before.

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What do I need to bring to the hospital?

These are the basic items you should bring with you: 

  • a case for personal items such as eyeglasses, hearing aids, dentures, prosthetic devices, hairpieces, and religious articles
  • a shirt that buttons or zips in the front
  • your breathing machine for sleep apnea, such as a CPAP, if you have one
  • your health care proxy form if you completed one
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How soon after surgery can I shower?

If you have a mastectomy without breast reconstruction, you can shower 24 hours after surgery. If you have breast reconstruction, you may be able to shower two days after your surgery, but check with your plastic surgeon first.

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What bra should I wear after surgery? Will the hospital provide me with one?

Depending on your surgery, your surgeon may or may not want you to wear a bra. After most implant-based reconstruction, you are provided with a surgical bra that covers your surgical site from the operating room. A surgical bra can help hold your drains in place while providing support and helping you be comfortable. After flap-based surgery, you will likely not wear a bra, but ask your surgeon if you should.

After your drains have been removed, talk with your doctor or nurse about what type of bra is best for you. If you wear your own bra, it should be comfortable and not too tight. You should not wear a bra with an underwire.

While you’re healing from your surgery or going through the different stages of breast reconstruction, your bra can be padded to help balance your appearance. You can also get a breast prosthesis from the Breast Boutique at the Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center. The Breast Boutique is located at 300 East 66th Street, at Second Avenue. To reach the boutique, call 646-888-5330.

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What are drains? Will I have them and for how long?

The Jackson-Pratt® (JP) drain(s) helps drain the fluid from your incision and prevents swelling. How long you will have your JP drain(s) depends on your surgery and the amount of drainage you’re having. Some people drain a lot, some only a little. Before you go home from the hospital, a nurse will teach you how to secure your drain(s) while showering.

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What will I wear home from the hospital?

The button- or zip-front shirt you packed for the hospital is what you’ll wear home. Many women also like to wear soft, loose-fitting, pull-on pants — especially if they had reconstruction with tissue from the abdomen.

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What types of clothes do I need once I am home?

When you first get home, you’ll need clothes that allow you to easily take care of your drain(s) and surgical site(s). Tops that close in the front and bottoms you can pull on may be easiest and most comfortable. In addition, you may want tops or jackets with interior pockets to place your drains. You can also sew in pockets.

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What should I have ready at home?

Every surgery and recovery is different. At the least, be sure you have:

  • a safe place to keep your pain medicine
  • plenty of fluids and high-fiber foods, which can relieve constipation from pain medicine
  • small pillows to position your arm(s) comfortably
  • pen and paper to track the fluids you empty from your drain(s)

Ask your healthcare team if they have additional suggestions for your recovery at home.

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What will be safe to lift, reach, or carry after surgery?

This depends on the type of reconstruction you have. Regardless, you should not lift objects heavier than five pounds until your doctor says it’s safe. This is usually about six weeks for people who have surgery with tissue transfers (from their own body), and four to six weeks for people who have surgery with tissue expanders (in preparation for implants) or implants.

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What exercises can help accelerate the healing process?

The amount and type of exercise you do after surgery will depend on a few different factors, including the type of surgery you had. You can probably start walking right away. Depending on the type of surgery you had, a physical therapist may see you in the hospital before discharge to review range of motion exercise.  You’ll also get a list of physical therapy exercises to help regain movement and flexibility after surgery.

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What should I tell my young children?

This will likely depend on their age and your family dynamic. In general, experts agree that all children should know:

  • the name of the cancer
  • the part of the body where the cancer is
  • how it will be treated
  • how their own lives will be affected

In addition, MSK’s Department of Social Work offers a program called Talking with Children about Cancer to help support adults receiving cancer treatment.

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