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What Are Surgical Drains?

Surgical drains are tubes inserted into the soft tissue of your breast after surgery to help drain excess fluids that build up inside your body. This fluid is normal and fills the space where breast tissue was removed during surgery. If not drained properly, excess fluid will cause misshapen implants, infections, and other complications. 

We will place the flexible, plastic drains near the surgery site and secure them to your skin with stitches. A soft plastic bulb is attached to the end of the tubing, which catches and holds excess fluid. The pencil-thin drainage tubes are 14 to 18 inches long.

We will place gauze pads over each drain’s insertion point into your skin so that any leaked drainage is absorbed by the gauze and does not stain your clothes. It’s important to keep the area around your drains clean and dry to help prevent bacteria from entering your body through the drain holes.

Types Of Breast Surgery That Require Surgical Drains

We will place one to five drains after your procedure, depending on how much breast tissue was removed. Types of breast surgery that require drains during recovery include: 

Breast augmentation (enlargement) and breast reduction surgeries generally do not require drains. 

How Long Should A Drain Be Left In After Breast Surgery?

Drains are left in until the fluid output reaches a low level. This is usually less than 20-30 cc (cubic centimeters) per day for two consecutive days – about 2 tablespoons. Most drains are removed one to three weeks after surgery. If they stay in longer than three weeks, the risk of infection increases.

Surgical Drain Care After Breast Surgery

You will need to regularly empty the bulbs attached to the tubes and write down the amount of fluid during your recovery. At home, you will:

  • empty drains into the toilet when they become half full (two to four times daily),
  • note the color and consistency of the drainage,
  • rinse the empty bulb with water,
  • gently compress the bulb to create a vacuum,
  • close the tubing system by resecuring the bulb to the tubing. 

Before you leave the hospital, a nurse will show you how to do these procedures. At home, have someone help you with the process if possible.

Be careful not to catch your drainage tubing on something and accidentally pull it out. Remember to place commonly used items within easy reach or ask someone for help with everyday tasks.

What Color Should Drainage Be After Sugery?

After surgery, the fluid that you see in your drainage tubes will become thinner in consistency and lighter in color over time. It should follow this progression:

  • bloody and thick,
  • thin and red (like cranberry juice),
  • straw-colored, then
  • clear.

Signs Of Drainage Complications

Surgical drains provide bacteria an access point into your body. Signs of infection include:

  • fever with a temperature of 101°F or higher,
  • redness surrounding the drain,
  • increasing pain at the drain site,
  • hardness where the drain exits your body,
  • thickening of the drainage fluid (it should become thinner over time), 
  • no new drainage, 
  • swelling of the surgical area, and
  • foul-smelling drainage. 

Infected drainage will look creamy or milky and smell bad. If you notice these signs, call your doctor right away.

What Not To Do With Surgical Drains After Breast Surgery

  • Do not shower during the first 48 hours after surgery,
  • Do not soak in a hot tub,
  • Do not go swimming,
  • Do not lift over ten pounds,
  • Do not overexert yourself (rest is key to recovery),
  • Do not drive, 
  • Do not let your pain become greater than a six on the pain scale (take pain medication when it reaches four).

Common concerns for women with breast surgery drains include:

  • Showering—You will be able to shower normally with your drains. 
  • Sleeping—Your drains will be placed so they are unlikely to interfere with your sleep. If you tend to move around a lot in your sleep, you may want to sleep in a recliner to prevent accidentally pulling your drains out at night. 
  • Clothing—You should wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing or a special drain management garment (a cotton camisole with built-in pockets designed to hold the bulb and keep the tubing secure).

Surgical Drain Removal

Your drains will be removed in your plastic surgeon’s office. We will cut the stitch that holds the tubing in place and gently pull it out of your skin. You will have small scars that fade over time. 

Does It Hurt to Have Drains Removed after Breast Surgery?

You will notice a pulling sensation when your drains are removed. If the drain system is resistant, there may be some discomfort. Most people don’t need pain medication. You can shower 24 hours after the drains are removed. 

How Long Does It Take for a Drain Hole to Heal?

The drainage hole is about as wide as a pencil. The hole will close in a few days and fully heal in three to four weeks.

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