Tips to help you recover from DIEP flap surgery
If you are preparing to or have recently undergone a mastectomy, your surgical care team may have discussed breast reconstruction surgery with you. Choosing whether or not to have reconstruction is a deeply personal decision, and one many women don’t want to rush into. With our expertise in performing breast reconstructions, we wanted to outline what to expect following recovery from our most successful type of breast construction surgery: the DIEP flap procedure.
In this guide, we’ll answer the following:
- What is DIEP flap surgery?
- How long does recovery normally take?
- How will I feel while recovering from DIEP flap surgery?
- What activities can I do to help promote recovery?
- How soon can I drive after DIEP flap surgery?
- What should I eat after surgery to promote recovery?
- How do I know if I’m recovering correctly?
- Will I regain sensation in my new breast?
- Are fat lumps normal after DIEP flap breast reconstruction?
- When should I talk to a health professional?
- Frequently asked questions
What is DIEP flap surgery?
DIEP flap surgery is a modern form of breast reconstruction, one our clinic has a 99% success rate with performing. Unlike alternative procedures, DIEP flap breast reconstruction does not cut into or remove abdominal muscle. By only using skin, fatty tissue and blood vessels from the lower abdomen, it has a much quicker recovery time for patients and procedures more natural-looking results.
How long does recovery normally take?
While DIEP breast reconstruction has a faster recovery compared to TRAM flap methods (which cut into the muscle) or breast implants, the average recovery time is still six-eight weeks for the main breast and abdominal incision to heal and tissues can take much longer to fully connect and heal at the sites. Total recovery, including some fading of scars, takes around one year.
How will I feel while recovering from DIEP flap surgery?
You’ll spend the first three-five days in the hospital so your care team can monitor your wounds and help you manage any pain and swelling. You’ll be provided with painkillers and dressings so you can stay comfortable at home.
At discharge, you’ll be able to walk but it will be uncomfortable. Walking without discomfort is expected within two weeks of surgery.
You’ll likely feel quite sore for the first few weeks as your tissues heal. You may experience itching around the wound sites or stitches—this is normal and shows the wounds are healing, so try to keep them covered to prevent scratching.
Feeling more tired or hungry than usual might occur once you get past the initial weeks. This is a good sign as it shows your body is working hard to heal!
What activities can I do to help promote recovery?
The best things you can do for your body to promote recovery after surgery are to rest, eat a healthy diet rich in nutrients and stay hydrated. By giving your body enough chance to heal, with the right support from your diet, you’ll have a much quicker and easier recovery.
You can also work with a physiotherapist or sports massage therapist. They will be able to prescribe exercises that are gentle but promote healthier tissues and help rebuild abdominal strength. Once you are fully healed, you may find massage beneficial on the sites that have scar tissue, as this can be inflexible and cause pain due to restricted movement.
How soon can I drive after DIEP flap surgery?
You should be able to drive within four-six weeks after surgery, as the wounds will have healed well and glue covering the wounds or any stitches should have been removed or dissolved by this stage.
What should I eat after surgery to promote healing?
A balanced diet that is high in fruits, vegetables and healthy fats is ideal for giving your body the right energy for healing. Look to include fresh berries, fruits high in Vitamin C, dark leafy greens, oily fish, nuts, eggs, whole grains and proteins like tofu or chicken. Avoid smoking, alcohol and excessive caffeine.
How do I know if I’m recovering correctly?
It’s tempting to rush things as soon as you start to feel better, but you need to appreciate that you’ve had major surgery. Remind yourself that pain is normal for the first 10 days, that walking will be tricky for around two weeks, and that you likely won’t be fully back to your old self for two-three months. It can be frustrating when you just want to get back to normal, but employing patience in the early stages is essential to a good recovery.
Will I regain sensation in my new breast?
The new breast will not have sensation. It is possible for some sensation to return over time, but in the majority of cases, most women do not report this. Your reconstructed breast is still healthy and you shouldn’t worry about lack of sensation.
Are fat lumps normal after DIEP flap breast reconstruction?
In a very small number of cases, around 5%, there may be fat lumps in the breast following the surgery. These are usually caused by scar tissue and fat. They shouldn’t be a cause for concern, but if you find you’re experiencing discomfort, speak with your surgeon.
When should I talk to a health professional?
Always consult a health professional if you have any concerns or worries about your healing process. Ensuring that you get the best result from your surgery and have a stress-free, healthy recovery is what your surgeon wants for you. Our team are available if you’d like to find out more, or have any questions.
Frequently asked questions
When can you sleep on your side after having the DIEP procedure?
You should be able to sleep on your side within four weeks of the breast surgery, but ensure you’re not putting any extra stress or pressure on the wounds if you do.
What do you wear after DIEP flap surgery?
You may be given a support girdle or compression garment for your abdomen, and we recommended a supportive sports bra for your breasts. Wear clothes that are comfortable and don’t pull at or aggravate your stitches, and that are easy to get on and off.
How long does the pain last after a DIEP reconstruction?
You’ll likely find yourself reaching for the painkillers within the first 10-14 days post-surgery. You may have some stiffness or lasting soreness as the tissues knit together, but if you find your pain hard to manage or lasting a long time, speak with your care team.
When can you resume exercising after this kind of reconstructive surgery?
You should be able to walk comfortably within 10-14 days of surgery; keeping active is important for promoting blood flow to tissues. You should be able to do light, non-contact exercise within six-eight weeks, but contact sports should be avoided for at least three-six months.
What help do you need after DIEP flap surgery?
We recommend having someone stay with you or visit regularly to help. You’ll find that daily tasks like laundry, cleaning, washing your hair and cooking could be harder than usual, especially right after surgery. Within a couple of weeks, things should be easier to manage.