Mastectomy 101: Surgical Drains & Tissue Expanders (10 Weeks Post Op)

Before my double mastectomy I found it super helpful to talk to other women who had undergone the same procedure. These ladies helped prepare me emotionally and physically for my surgery and also helped me adjust my recovery expectations. The advice varied from woman to woman but the one thing I heard consistently from everyone was how terrible the drains and tissue expanders are. And they were spot on.

So today I wanted to cover the drains and tissue expanders for those of you searching the internet for more information in preparation for surgery. Each doctor does their surgery a little bit different so I can only speak from my own experience. 

DRAINS & EXPANDERS EXPLAINED: During my procedure, the surgical oncologist made an incision underneath the fold of my breasts and removed every bit of tissue (down to the dermis) in my chest. During this same time the reconstructive surgeon sewed in pockets of surgical mesh between my skin and chest muscle to hold tissue expanders. A breast tissue expander is an inflatable breast implant designed to stretch the skin and muscle to make room for a future, more permanent implant.

The reconstructive surgeon then sewed in 4 surgical drains. These drains consist of a small plastic reservoir bulb connected to about 4 feet of flexible drainage tubing. So I had 4 drains hanging out of my chest that were about 3 feet long each. Their purpose was to remove fluid from the surgical wound through mild suction. Opinions on how long the drains should stay in vary from doctor to doctor.

DRAIN CARE: Several times a day the fluid in the drains has to be stripped, measured and recorded until I hit a certain number required for them to be removed. At first it was uncomfortable when Matt stripped my drains but thankfully that only lasted a few days. The hospital will likely give you a drain log to use to record your fluid. If not, you can find one here.


WEARING YOUR DRAINS: There are several options for keeping your drains out of the way once you are released from the hospital. Tank tops, aprons, belts, lanyards, surgical bras and more, I tried them all!

surgical bra: I left the hospital with my drains attached to a surgical bra designed specifically for mastectomies. It was nice to have the drains clipped high enough so they weren’t in the way, but super awkward wearing them under a shirt in public because it feels like your announcing your double mastectomy to the world! The bra also applied a bit of pressure to my chest and could be itchy at times.

I am wearing an Amoena Post-Surgical Bra with Drain Management. Some hospitals will provide you with a surgical bra and some hospitals ask you to bring your own. Check with your doctor and hospital ahead of time!

waist apron: I got emotional when I received the sweetest set of aprons made by the volunteers at the hospital. The apron was my preferred drain holder when I went out and about although I had to be careful with the drain cords under my shirt, especially when I had my little ones in tow! You can decorate your own canvas waist apron or purchase a black apron if you want to be more incognito.

post-surgery pocketed camisole: The pocketed tank top was my second choice of drain wearing. I loved my camisole because it was super soft and comfortable and I could easily throw a cardigan over it to hide the drains.

I should also mentioned that I lived in leggings for awhile since they were easy to slip on and were comfortable enough to sleep in, run errands, etc. These super fun and colorful leggings were sent to me by Rebecca of Lularoe.

lanyard: As for showering, I clipped all of my drains to a lanyard.

EXPANDER FILLS: During the surgery my doctor filled my expanders with 100 ccs of BLUE saline so I’d have at least a little bump to go home with. And at my 3 week post op appointment I got my very first fill and visited my doctor weekly for fills until I got to my desired size.

This was the most fascinating process EVER. First, the doctor has to locate the expander port by using a crazy magnetic device. Once he finds it he draws a dramatically large (in my opinion) “X” over it to mark the spot. Then he literally pokes my skin with an insanely thick needle (that I couldn’t feel at all) which is attached to a ginormous syringe and injects 60 ccs of saline into each side.

The magnet device they use to find the port in my expander. And here is a little diagram to show how exactly they get the syringe of saline into the expander.

The first few fills did not hurt at all. But as my nerves have began to grow back the fills become more uncomfortable and only one random fill put me in excruciating pain later that night. Before my appointments I took a muscle relaxer and Advil and when I get home I took my pain medications for the remainder of the day.

I just recently reached my desired size (yayyyyy!) so the doctor gave me one extra fill and scheduled me for my exchange surgery consultation in a few weeks. I have to wait 2 full months from my last fill to ensure the skin over my breasts and muscle have stretched enough before my second surgery to have the final implants put in which will likely be sometime in early March.

10 Weeks Post Op. I am currently 10 weeks post op and life has completely resumed to normal. I am back in the office, cooking, cleaning, chasing two under two and feeling great 93% of the time. However, I will say, the expanders still suck and my breasts are rock hard so my babies can’t get comfortable laying on me which makes me a little sad and I still have sharp chest pains when I sneeze, cough or overexert myself (which I tend to do too often). Sleeping is also pretty terrible but using my pregnancy pillow helps me pretend like I’m sleeping on my side. I am also in weekly physical therapy sessions to help stretch out my chest muscles. The expanders are profoundly uncomfortable BUT I’d still do this surgery again in a heart beat. Best decision of my life.

And that’s an overview on surgical drains and tissue expanders! More to come when I have information on my next and final surgery!

Other Mastectomy Posts:
 The Double Mastectomy Decision
  The Double Mastectomy Surgery Details
  Ta-Ta to the TATAS party
 1 Week Post Op
 2 Weeks Post Op {Bye Bye Surgical Drains}
 1 Month Post Op {Expander Fills} Facebooktwitterpinterestinstagrambloglovin


  1. P!nky
    January 7, 2016 / 1:25 pm

    You are such an inspiration to women, thank you for sharing your journey. Continued prayers and <3!

  2. Claudia
    January 7, 2016 / 2:04 pm

    Just wanted to reiterate the comment above that you are truly an inspiration Christina – sending prayers to you for continued healthy results.

  3. Julie
    January 7, 2016 / 2:08 pm

    You are simply amazing. I don't know how you do it all and always with a smile on your face!

  4. K
    January 7, 2016 / 2:24 pm

    I am just continuously in awe of you. Thank you so much for sharing.

  5. Tammy
    January 7, 2016 / 5:01 pm

    Thank you for sharing. My sister told me about your blog just shortly before I had my bilateral mastectomy with TEs on November 12th. It helped so much to read your story. Even today it helps reading your experience with the tissue expanders. I've had 5 post-op fills. The third and fourth were ROUGH. I had the worst muscle spasms. We reduced the fill for the fifth one by half. I think I probably have one more fill left (tomorrow). So many women I spoke with acted like the expanders were easy and I appreciate so much hearing about someone else that didn't think they were a walk in the park.

    • Carolina Charm
      January 7, 2016 / 5:16 pm

      Exact same thing happened to me! Most women said the fills were no big deal but they knocked me out on pain meds for at least a day each time. Also, I'd like to think I have a pretty high pain tolerance and started with 60ccs each fill but after a few really rough spasms reduced it to 40ccs each time. It definitely drew the process out quite a bit but it was worth it not to be in excruciating pain!!!

    • Tammy
      January 7, 2016 / 5:33 pm

      That's me too! I really look forward to hearing how your exchange surgery goes as well. It's so very appreciated to hear others' stories.

  6. Sarah Alway
    January 7, 2016 / 5:18 pm

    Wow. I am still just incredibly amazing by your journey. You're doing great, keep it up!

  7. All Things Big and Small
    January 7, 2016 / 7:09 pm

    You are so inspirational! I just emailed your story to a cousin-in-law (my husband's cousin) who is undergoing a double mastectomy and hysterectomy because of breast cancer at age 30. This is such a helpful post and you and your family are so amazing! xoAnnie- All Things Big And Small

    • Thúy Nguyễn
      January 8, 2016 / 8:27 am

      Nhằm hướng tới những khách hàng sở hữu một căn hộ không rộng rãi, trang tri noi that đã mang đến một bộ sưu tập khá chi tiết các sản phẩm do go phong khach, do go noi that phong ngu, do go noi that nha bep với màu sắc êm dịu, chẳng hạn như màu xám, màu gỗ tự nhiên, màu vàng…mang lại một cảm giác thoải mái cho căn phòng, đồng thời tạo thêm điểm nhất cho căn phòng bằng một chiếc ghế sofa , tu bep khá sáng tạo. Nếu bạn còn không có nổi thời gian để mua sắm một diện tích làm việc, hãy xem xét do go noi that van phong của chúng tôi, nó tận dụng tối đa diện tích cho căn phòng, một chiếc bàn gập vừa đựng đủ một chiếc laptop và vài cuốn vở, phía trên có ngăn nhỏ đựng sách. Nếu bức tường trước mặt bạn quá tẻ nhạt và buồn chán, nếu bạn là một người năng động và sáng ạo, hãy chọn cách trang trí gia cong sat, sat my thuat,gia cong inox để sở hữu một căn phòng làm việc vừa độc đáo vừa thú vị

  8. Alysa Friesen
    January 7, 2016 / 9:25 pm

    You're amazing! <3

  9. Jaimee Granberry
    January 8, 2016 / 2:23 am

    I am so glad you have been sharing and detailing your experience. We have a long family history of breast cancer, but no one has done the BRAC gene testing yet. This is something I would definitely be interested in doing one day if need be- it's nice to read about a firsthand, personal experience. I'm so glad you're feeling back to normal!

  10. Caley-Jade Rosenberg
    January 8, 2016 / 11:38 am

    You are INCREDIBLE sweet friend!! I am so proud of you and so inspired by you.Praise Jesus for a happy and healthy recovery x

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