Recovery Timeline Following a Mastectomy 

Everything You Need to Prepare Yourself for Breast Cancer Surgery

A mastectomy is a surgical procedure to remove cancerous tissue from one or both breasts. It’s sometimes also performed as a preventive measure for those at high risk of developing breast cancer. 

Breast cancer often has little or no symptoms at first and can be difficult to detect, especially if tumors are small. The disease remains the most common cancer for U.S. women, with one in eight women (or 13%) developing invasive breast cancer in their lifetime, according to

Annual mammography screening for breast cancer begins for most women at the age of 45 and earlier for women at higher risk. Diagnosis is confirmed through a needle biopsy, and the treatment that follows can include a combination of methods including surgery, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, biological therapy, and/or radiation therapy. If surgery is recommended, patients may be advised to undergo a unilateral mastectomy (one breast) or double mastectomy (both breasts). 

For patients facing mastectomy surgery, we’re sharing our insights and direct experience on mastectomy recovery times and what to expect.

How Long Does it Take to Recover From a Single or Double Mastectomy?

Breast cancer patients can expect a physical recovery time of approximately 4 to 6 weeks following breast surgery, but several factors such as general health and the extent of surgery can impact recovery time. Patients having follow-up reconstructive surgeries can expect a longer recovery time overall.

In addition to recovering physically, there’s plenty of emotional recovery happening too. Breast cancer puts strain on the entire body, affecting a person’s mental state from the moment of discovery. 

It’s an experience that Sleep Again Pillow’s co-founder, Rachel Baumel, has tremendous empathy for after undergoing a double mastectomy as part of her own breast cancer diagnosis.

  Mastectomy recovery time and what to expect following breast cancer surgery.

What to Expect After a Mastectomy


  • How Long is a Mastectomy Surgery?

A mastectomy on its own without reconstruction takes one to three hours on average. If reconstructive surgery is occurring in the same procedure, the surgery window expands to anywhere from three to eight hours depending on the surgical techniques involved. 


  • How Painful is a Mastectomy?

Pain and numbness are normal following a mastectomy. Patients are often prescribed medication to help manage the pain during the initial healing phase. 

Chronic pain or numbness after a mastectomy is often the result of nerve damage. Burning, tingling, itching, and a loss of feeling in the chest area are all commonly reported sensations in the months following breast cancer surgery. Talk with your doctor about the potential risks and long-term treatment options for those who experience chronic pain or numbness following a mastectomy.


  • How Long Will I Be Hospitalized After a Mastectomy?

Most hospital stays for a mastectomy are as little as one overnight and up to three days. For those seeking reconstructive surgery following a mastectomy, the length of stay could extend out to a week or longer.


  • Tips for Preparing for Mastectomy Surgery

Be prepared for your hospital stay by making sure you have all of your important questions answered in advance of your surgery.

Get all your cozy clothes ready, both for your time in the hospital and after. You’ll want to have several loose-fitting shirts that unbutton or snap in the front as raising your hands over your head may not be an option initially following a mastectomy. 

Bring the things you normally take for a weekend away from home - personal hygiene items, chargers, and a few restful activities such as a book, eReader, knitting, or anything else that requires little physical movement.


  • What Are Mastectomy Surgical Drains?

A surgical drain is used to collect fluid from the wound following a mastectomy. Most undergoing a mastectomy will have at least one drain per breast surgery, with additional drains if lymph nodes have been removed. How do these drains work? Tubing from the wound connects to a small drain bulb that collects fluid. Empty the drain bulbs every 12 hours after you arrive home from the hospital. Most surgical drains will be removed within about a week to 10 days following surgery.


  • Exercise and Normal Activities Following a Mastectomy

Expect things like your normal range of motion to be very limited at first. Most patients are instructed to avoid lifting anything heavy for the first 2-3 weeks following surgery.

Take it easy and follow recommendations for gentle rehabilitation exercises. Patients having reconstruction completed may be prohibited from exercise until their follow-up consultation.


  • How Soon Can I Drive Following a Mastectomy?

Ask about driving restrictions from your doctor and surgeon. Many patients can resume driving anywhere from 10 days to 3 weeks after surgery, but it could be sooner or later depending on the surgery type, medication use, and overall recovery progression.


  • Tips for the Weeks Following a Mastectomy

Arrange transportation. Whether it’s a family member, friend, or rideshare service, have a plan for rides on your surgery day, follow-up visits, and any other important appointments you can’t miss.

Make some easy-to-reheat meals in advance of your mastectomy and have some snacky or other handheld food options ready that don’t require a lot of preparation. 

Turn over chore duty to other members of your household. 

Set realistic expectations on when you’ll return to work, scheduling enough time off so you have adequate time to heal.


  • Sleeping After Surgery

Rest is central to recovering from mastectomy surgery. More than that, most mastectomy patients will be required to sleep in an elevated position for weeks following surgery to both increase circulation and reduce pain and pressure on healing incisions.

A mastectomy pillow can go a long way in helping you get the rest you need. The best mastectomy pillow is one that not only elevates but supports you from both sides. With 2 full-size body pillows included in our 5-piece pillow set, our Sleep Again Pillow system prevents rolling onto incisions, but it also provides that comfy, snug, and protected feeling while sleeping and all-around resting during recovery.


  • Emotional Support Following a Mastectomy

Family and friends can be an essential part of a support system during your mastectomy recovery. It can be also helpful to have some other breast cancer support organizations - local support groups and online resources - to lean on when feeling overwhelmed or just for general peace of mind.


 Mastectomy recovery time and what to expect following breast cancer surgery.

Support mastectomy recovery for yourself or someone you love with The Sleep Again Pillow System, the #1 Doctor-Recommended Mastectomy Pillow, created by a breast cancer survivor.

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