Zwivel’s Complete Guide to Breast Lift Surgery: Techniques, Costs, and Results

Published: 07/23/18

Breast lift surgery -- also known as mastopexy -- corrects low-hanging breasts by removing excess skin and repositioning the nipples. As a result, the breasts are given a firmer, more perky and aesthetically pleasing appearance.

Why Consider Breast Lift Surgery?

Beautiful breasts are firm, elevated breasts. However, breast sagging is a reality women face as they get older and gravity takes its toll. Many women seek breast lift surgery (also known as mastopexy) because they want to correct low-hanging breasts and feel more feminine and confident when wearing contour-hugging clothing.

Undergoing a breast lift can restore womanly curves and give a more youthful, revitalized appearance. Recent statistics reveal that breast lifts are fast becoming one of the most popular cosmetic surgical procedures available, outpacing breast implants by 2 to 1. Rather than simply augmenting breast size, many women are electing to undergo lifts to treat sagging.

Sagging can occur naturally as a result of:

  • Aging

As we age, breast tissue naturally loses some of its elasticity and becomes increasingly lax. Mastopexy can reverse the ravages of time and gravity.

  • Pregnancy and breastfeeding

Stretching and deflated-looking breasts can occur naturally as a result of breastfeeding your child. Breast lift surgery can help reverse these changes and restore your breasts to a “perkier” position.

  • Weight fluctuation

Women who undergo significant weight loss note that the loss is often accompanied by a reduction in breast volume. Breast lift surgery can restore a more proportional, revitalized shape to the breast by lifting the breast and excising stretched skin.

  • Genetics

An increasing number of breast lift patients seek mastopexy to address long-term drooping breasts. Breast lift surgery can help women achieve the breast profile they have always desired.

However, sagging breasts may also result from lifestyle choices: high impact exercise and running can detrimentally impact on the elasticity of breast tissue. “I was embarrassed to walk around without a bra, even lounging at home,” explains Lisa, 48, an avid runner. “My breasts were sagging, and one drooped even more than the other. I just wanted them restored to where they used to be.”

RELATED: Zwivel's Complete Guide to Breast Augmentation Surgery

Am I a Good Candidate for Mastopexy?

Those who will benefit most from breast lift surgery have some or all of the following physical features in common:

  • Nipples that point downwards: The weight of the breast tissue causes the skin to stretch. When this occurs, the breasts often appear flat, elongated, or pendulous. Breast lift surgery repositions the breasts so the nipples face forward.
  • Nipples/ areolae that sit below the breast crease: When plastic surgeons assess women as potential breast lift candidates, one of the most important things that they evaluate is the position of the nipples in relation to the crease beneath the breast (or the inframammary fold).
  • Asymmetrical breasts: Mastopexy both reshapes the breast tissue and lifts sagging breasts. As a result, surgery can correct existing asymmetry of the breasts, restoring them to a rounded, normal symmetrical shape Note, however, that perfect symmetry is difficult to attain and nearly all women exhibit some form of breast asymmetry.

One simple measure you can carry out at home to ascertain whether breast lift surgery may be right for you, is sliding a pencil beneath your breast. If the pencil stays put, then this signals that you could benefit from surgery.

The most suitable candidates for breast lift surgery are those who:

  1. Are physically healthy and have a stable weight
  2. Are non-smokers or willing to give up the habit
  3. Have stretched skin around the breast and enlarged areolas
  4. Have good skin tone: healthy, supple skin is more likely to hold the breasts in their new position following surgery
  5. Have realistic expectations regarding surgery and what it can achieve.

Most importantly, committing to breast lift surgery is a highly personal decision that should only be pursued if it is purely your choice, and you believe it will help you feel more empowered or confident in your body.

Choosing the Right Surgeon

As breast lift surgery has become increasingly popular, there are growing numbers of surgeons with expertise and specialized experience in performing the procedure.

When you’re first setting out on your cosmetic surgery journey, the most significant decision you will make is which surgeon to choose to perform the procedure. Here are some qualities you should look for when beginning the search for the right surgeon:

1. American Board of Plastic Surgery certification

Quite simply, accreditation from this highly reputable organization guarantees that your surgeon has undergone significant training and education, regularly engages in furthering his or her cosmetic practice and knowledge, observes patient safety to the highest standard and only carries out surgery in approved medical facilities. In short, it is your guarantee of quality, safety and proficiency.

2. Experience

Ask any prospective surgeons how often they carry out breast lift surgery. Finding a surgeon who regularly performs mastopexy means a higher likelihood of refined and more aesthetically beautiful results.

3. Evidence

Ask to see before/after photos of breast lift patients the surgeon has performed the procedure on, as this will give you an idea of their aesthetic style. Pay particularly close attention to patients with a similar body/breast shape to yours as this will inform you about the kind of results you can expect.

4. Rapport

Potentially one of the most important (and often underrated) qualities you should look for in your surgeon is a sense of rapport. Your surgeon should have a friendly, approachable and professional manner, and help you feel at ease if you need to ask questions or raise issues further down the line that may be uncomfortable ( for example, what your financial obligation is should you require revision surgery).

RELATED: Taking Pride in Their Work -- 5 Surgeons Define Success

How Much Does It Cost?

The price of breast lift surgery can vary widely. On average, you should expect to pay approximately $4,600, according to 2016 statistics from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. However, this fee does not reflect additional necessary costs such as:

  • Anesthesia
  • Use of surgical facilities
  • Medical tests
  • Post-operative garments
  • Medical prescriptions
  • Miscellaneous expenses

Furthermore, the cost of surgery will be influenced by the following factors:

  • Your surgeon’s expertise and reputation: the most competent and experienced surgeons are able to charge more for their services
  • The type of breast lift procedure performed (there are different techniques)
  • The geographic location of your surgeon: generally, surgeons operating in larger cosmopolitan locations or metropolises have higher overhead costs, and therefore charge more for their services.

If you feel that you would benefit from breast lift surgery but do not have the financial means to commit to the procedure, speak to your surgeon about financing options. Most clinics offer patients financing plans to help them achieve their surgical goals.

Will Insurance Cover My Breast Lift?

Generally, health insurance plans do not cover breast lift surgery or any surgery designed to revise the appearance of your breasts. There is one possible exception, and this is if breast lift surgery is performed as part of a mastectomy reduction. However, it is worth checking with your health insurance provider so you are clear from the beginning about your financial responsibility.

Preparing for Mastopexy

Being well prepared for surgery guarantees a smoother, less stressful surgical experience. You should endeavor to do the following before your surgery:

  1. Complete any required lab tests or medical evaluations requested by your surgeon.
  2. Inform your surgeon of your medical history: you should divulge relevant information about past and current medical conditions, surgeries you have had and if you have a family history of breast cancer.
  3. Advise your doctor of any medication(s) you are taking so that they can approve it, recommend you change your dosage, or cease taking it in the period leading up to surgery (for example, blood thinning medications such as aspirin, anti-inflammatory drugs and herbal supplements must be avoided prior to your breast lift.)
  4. Talk about your expectations: Explain to your surgeon why you would like a breast lift and the results you are hoping for as a result of surgery. Make sure you understand the possible risks and complications that may occur.
  5. Get a baseline mammogram prior to surgery, and another one after surgery. It is critical to be scrupulous in monitoring your breast tissue to help detect any changes.
  6. Give up smoking. Smoking hinders the healing process and has been linked to tissue death (skin necrosis).
  7. Arrange for a friend or loved one to drive you to and from surgery and stay with you for at least one night following your procedure. You may require help with walking, washing your hair and other daily activities in the period immediately following your surgery.
  8. Follow a healthy regime in the period leading up to surgery: a diet based on wholesome, nourishing foods (especially fruits and vegetables), lots of rest and gentle exercise will ensure you are in peak physical and mental condition to undergo surgery.

Breast Lift Surgery Techniques

Mastopexy firms, reshapes and lifts the breasts by removing excess breast skin and tightening the surrounding tissue. On youthful breasts, the nipple is situated in the center of the breast, but as the breast sags and ages, the nipple moves down with the tissue towards the breast fold.

Breast lift surgery therefore raises the nipple in accordance with the rest of the breast. It will not, however, change the size of your breasts, or give roundness to the upper portion of your breasts. For this reason, many women opt to combine mastopexy with breast augmentation surgery for the most aesthetically satisfying results.

With respect to the breast lift procedure, there are several variations a surgeon may choose from. This depends on the extent of the lift required, your breast skin tone and the weight of the breast tissue.

Generally, surgery lasts 1-2 hours. Your surgeon will most likely discuss the option they will use with you prior to surgery, with a view to achieving optimal results with minimal scarring.

Here are the most common surgical techniques for breast lifts.

  • Crescent Lift

The crescent lift technique is often used for women who have less pronounced breast sagging. This procedure involves making a small incision halfway around the upper half of the edge of the areola. Crescent lifts are most commonly performed when a patient is also undergoing a breast augmentation procedure. This technique results in minimal scarring.

  • Peri-areolar or “Donut’ Lift

This technique is most effective for mild to moderate sagging in the breasts. The procedure involves a circular incision that runs around the edge of the areola, and similar to the crescent lift, is often performed in conjunction with breast augmentation surgery. This lift technique can also be useful in reducing areola size. The scar sits around the edge of the areola, but will fade over time.

  • Vertical or “Lollipop” Lift

This variation of breast lift is the most common technique, as it enables the surgeon to remove excess skin and reshape the entire breast. It is most suitable for women who have a moderate amount of sagging. Scarring is modest and well-concealed.

The Vertical Lift involves two separate incisions: one that runs around the edge of the areola, and another which runs vertically from the bottom of the areola to the inframammary crease. (This is what creates the “lollipop” shape the technique is named for).

  • Inverted T or “Anchor” Lift

For women with extreme sagging or very pendulous breasts, the “Inverted T” lift is the most effective technique of breast lift available. This procedure involves three incisions: one at the outer circumference of the areola, one that runs vertically from the bottom of the areola to the breast crease, and one that runs along the inframammary fold, which is concealed in the breast crease.

Following this method the surgeon is able to remove a significant quantity of excess skin and sagging tissue, yielding excellent results. This technique is commonly used if you are undergoing a breast reduction and breast lift simultaneously. However, as the “Inverted T” lift enables the removal of more sagging tissue and promises excellent lift, there is, as a consequence, more visible scarring.

Recovery

When you come out of the operating theater, your breasts will be covered with gauze and a surgical support bra. There may be drains placed at the incision sites in your breasts to channel excess blood or fluid away from the surgical site.

  • Swelling

Swelling is common. Expect swelling for about two weeks following the procedure, and pinkness around the incision site. However, residual swelling may persist for several months after surgery. Check with your surgeon if you can use ice packs or cold compresses to help alleviate the swelling.

  • Bruising

Bruising is also common after mastopexy. On average, it lasts for about two weeks.

  • Pain

Most patients experience some soreness or discomfort, particularly in the period directly after surgery. Your surgeon will prescribe pain medication to keep you feeling comfortable, although after a few days most women switch to Tylenol.

  • Numbness

Some women experience numbness or tingling around their incision sites after surgery. In most cases, this subsides after six weeks. In rare cases, the numbness may persist beyond this period because of nerve damage.

  • Drains

Some patients will have surgical drains inserted into the incision sites at the end of surgery. These drains remain in place for several days and serve the critical function of draining excess blood and fluid away from the breasts, helping to reduce swelling and expedite healing.

Your surgeon will explain how to care for these drains. They will be removed in your doctor’s office a few days after surgery, and your bandages will probably be changed at the same time.

  • Stitches

Your surgeon will inform you about when--or if--your stitches will be removed. Some stitches are absorbable, and dissolve on their own. Others must be removed in your surgeon’s office one or two weeks following the procedure.

Top Tips for a Speedy Recovery

  • Move around gently as soon as you are able -- it keeps the blood circulating in your body.
  • Sleep on your back for the first few weeks after surgery. Line your bed with extra pillows to keep yourself from turning onto your side.
  • Take it easy -- avoid unnecessary stress, get plenty of sleep and eat nourishing food.
  • Avoid sexual activity for one to two weeks after your breast lift.
  • Avoid straining, bending or lifting--keep what you need within easy reach.
  • Check with your doctor when you can safely resume daily activities such as showering, exercising, washing your hair, returning to work and driving.
  • Be scrupulous with caring for and emptying your drains. It is important to keep them clean and dry to avoid infection.
  • Wear your surgical bra/sports bra until your surgeon advises that it’s safe to begin wearing underwire bras again (usually 8 weeks after surgery).
  • Keep your breasts out of the sun, especially while you are still healing: sun exposure can exacerbate scarring and render it permanent, or red.

A Word on Scarring

Many women desire the smallest scar possible. However, your surgeon will want to recommend the most suitable technique for you overall: it’s important that you trust your surgeon’s recommendation.

Do not detrimentally affect your results by demanding an incision type that is not well-suited to your anatomy. Most incision lines will fade over time, particularly with proper care and attention.

Your surgeon may recommend wearing silicone tape or gel on your incisions to promote healing. Topical creams or ointments containing Vitamin E may also be beneficial later on, once the incisions have properly healed.

RELATED: The Lowdown On Breast Lift Scars

Risks and Complications

All invasive cosmetic surgical procedures are accompanied by a degree of risk. If you are under the care of an experienced, board-certified plastic surgeon, the possibility of risk or complications occurring is significantly decreased.

Nonetheless, the decision to undergo plastic surgery is extremely personal. You will need to decide if the benefits will help you to achieve your goals, and if the risks or complications that may arise as a result of surgery are acceptable.

Some of the risks linked to breast lift surgery include:

  • Complications arising from anesthesia
  • Bleeding
  • Solid swelling of blood underneath the tissue (hematoma)
  • Infection
  • Poor wound healing/wound dehiscence
  • Changes in breast/nipple sensation (these may be temporary, or permanent)
  • Breast asymmetry
  • Irregularities in breast contour or shape
  • Death of fatty tissue in breast (fat necrosis)
  • Fluid accumulation beneath the skin (seroma)
  • Potential loss or partial loss of nipple and areola
  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Cardiac or pulmonary complications
  • Revisional surgery

Your surgeon will go through these risks with you in detail to ensure you understand. If you have any questions or concerns, it is vital you feel free to voice them directly so you are as well-informed as possible going into surgery.

Results

An immediate and noticeable change will be evident in your breasts when the bandages are removed. However, your breasts will change over the next few months as swelling subsides and they settle into their new shape.

You may notice that your cup size is a little smaller following your breast lift, even if you haven’t undergone a breast reduction. This is the result of the removal of stretched, sagging tissue, and firmness and roundness being restored to your breasts.

Scars may appear red and lumpy at first, but over time they will become thin and white. Scars are easily concealed by bras and bathing suits.

Breast lift surgery should only be considered once you have finished having children. Childbearing may reverse the improvements provided by a breast lift. Similarly, extensive weight loss may also detrimentally affect your results. To ensure an outcome that lasts for as long as possible, schedule surgery once you have completed your family and have reached an ideal weight.

It’s important to be aware that although results are long-lasting, they may not be permanent. With age, the skin loses its elasticity and sagging may return, especially if you have heavier breasts. However, you can help preserve your results by maintaining a stable, healthy weight and lifestyle, and following all of your surgeon’s recommendations.

Latest Advances and Techniques

As one of the most popular plastic surgical procedures today, breast lift surgery is constantly subject to new innovations to improve on existing techniques. Effectively dealing with ptosis (sagging of the skin due to tissue stretch) represents an ongoing challenge, particularly following breast lift surgery where maintenance of beautiful, lifted breasts is extremely important.

One dynamic new advance is a product called GalaFLEX scaffolding. GalaFLEX shows promise for a range of purposes including facelift surgery, implant placement and breast lift surgery. The scaffolding provides long-term support and longevity to maintain beautiful lifted results, and is rapidly absorbed and integrated into the skin tissue. This kind of additional reinforcement provides increased mechanical strength to the work carried out by the surgeon, and improves the postoperative results.

Unfortunately, an effective, non-invasive alternative to surgery has yet to be invented. In recent years so-called "no-knife" procedures such as the Vampire Breast Lift have left many patients disappointed, as their results often fail to meet expectations.

Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of scarring can occur as a result of breast lift surgery?

Scarring is unavoidable in breast lift surgery, but can usually be well concealed depending on the variation of breast lift technique used by your surgeon. You may end up with a crescent shaped scar at the top of your areola, a scar around the circumference of the areola, or a vertical scar running from the edge of the areola to the breast crease. These fade and become very light over time.

What kinds of complications may result from surgery?

Complications are unlikely, but some of the risks linked to breast lift surgery include breast or nipple numbness, infection, swelling, bruising, breast asymmetry, contour or shape irregularities, seroma and hematoma. These can be mitigated with an experienced plastic surgeon.

How many techniques currently exist for lifting the breasts?

There are four main breast lift techniques: the crescent technique for minimal sagging, the “donut” lift which also addresses minimal sagging, the “lollipop” technique for more moderate sagging and the “anchor” technique for more severe sagging. Each necessitate different incisions, and therefore, cause different scars. Your surgeon will advise you of the most appropriate procedure for you.

Can breast lift surgery be combined with breast augmentation?

Absolutely. Many women undergo augmentation mastopexy for thorough rejuvenation of their breasts, with only one healing period.

How long is recovery from breast lift surgery?

You should be able to return to most everyday activities after one to two weeks. While you are in the initial recovery period, it is important to avoid heavy lifting or vigorous exercise, sexual activity or undue stress.

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