"It’s a long journey from having shoulder pain to breasts that make you happy"
A woman’s lifechanging encounter with breast reduction surgery
As a petite girl with a generous chest, I can tell you that having large breasts is not all cotton candy and sexy Victoria’s Secret lingerie. But every time I tell anyone that my endowment makes doing the most basic of activities feel like a Takeshi’s Castle task, they raise their eyebrows and give me a coy smile. It’s considered a blessing to have a D-cup. I blame pop culture for this misconception. Does anyone remember Yasmine Bleeth running in slo-mo in Baywatch? Let me burst that bubble, running with heavy breasts is physically painful.
Dr Devayani Barve-Venkat, MS general surgery and MCh plastic surgery, explains , “The centre of gravity shifts forward and this leads to an unnatural curvature of the spine, resulting in shoulder, neck and back pain.” Venkat knows that “the minute the word ‘breast’ comes up, there are collective blushes and discomfort in the family. There are too many myths about surgery and a lot of judgement about a woman seeking breast surgery.”
The procedure is more common than we think. The International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS) found that over six lakh breast reduction procedures were performed worldwide in 2019, with almost 19,000 from India alone.
To get a clearer picture, we spoke to 41-year-old Aditi Marwah* who opted to get a breast reduction surgery done at 39. “I got this procedure done for me and not for anyone else. My two major problems with heavy breasts were the shoulder pain and the icky under-the-breast sweating. After the surgery, I was relieved. I felt light and so much more relaxed.”
“I got this procedure done for me and not for anyone else”
When I was 33 years old, I had my second child. I chose to breastfeed but after my pregnancy, I realised that my breast size had increased exponentially. Before having kids, I was a cup B or C but now, I was in the D category. When I was breastfeeding, I went up to a cup E. I’d never had such heavy breasts before and I was severely uncomfortable. The sagging, the sweating, the bra straps digging holes in my skin. Wearing those big bras all the time was very painful. What made it worse was the climate in Delhi. No matter how much talcum powder I would use, rashes had become a regular occurrence.
Fed up with constantly living in discomfort, I started looking for solutions. There is always working out, but I knew that I wouldn’t get my shape or firmness back. I decided to speak to my family about it. At first, they were very dismissive. They said, “yeh sabke saath hota hai” and that I’ll learn to live it. But just because every woman goes through this doesn’t mean I should have to live with such horrible shoulder and neck pain. I put my foot down.
Finally, I spoke to my father. He is a doctor and so he understood what I was going through. He’s the one who set me up with my plastic surgeon to get breast reduction surgery.
During my first meeting with the doctor, he asked me why I was doing this? Was it because someone was commenting or telling me to? I assured him that I wasn’t opting for a breast reduction for anyone else but myself. I explained to him that I didn’t want to live with heavy breasts that cause so much pain. He then asked me what kind of shape I was looking for and how much reduction I wanted. I told him that I was looking for a B or C cup size. I didn’t want anything bigger than that.
The procedure itself is pretty simple but there are steps leading up to it. The doctor will first do a consultation, a counselling session of sorts where they will try to gauge if you’re opting for the surgery for the right reasons. Then, the doctor will explain whether the size you want is feasible or dangerous. For instance, if you’re looking to go all the way down to a B-cup and it’s not possible, it could be too much fat removal and may affect your health. There is only so much you can reduce. Once you and your doctor settle on a size, they will perform mammography to check for breast cancer and a few other routine tests.
Before the surgery, my doctor also talked to me about the scars I would have on my breasts. He said that my husband might not like them. But I knew that wouldn’t be a problem. My husband as well as my children knew the kind of pain I was in.
The doctor also warned me about how much sensation in my breasts I stood to lose. He said that because I was 39, my breasts would sag a little but my shape and size would drastically differ. This was a risk I was willing to take. It was a 5-hour procedure and I was only hospitalised for one day. Thankfully, there were no complications in the surgery.
This is not the end of my journey. It’s a long journey from shoulder pain to breasts that make you happy. The post-surgery care is intense and it needs to be done just right. The doctor asked me to stay at home for a week. That’s how long you have to keep the bandage on after breast reduction surgery. There is a small cut from where the fluid comes out and you have to be careful with that.
After 10 days or so, once the bandage comes off, I had to only wear sports bras for almost 3 months. But there weren’t a lot of restrictions in my daily or personal life. I chose to have the surgery during winter because it’s easier than going through all this when it is scorching hot. I had to go to the doctor every three months. Fortunately for me, I didn’t lose any sensation in my breasts, but that is a very real possibility.
After the surgery, I was relieved. I felt light and so much more relaxed. The best part? I don’t have to fuss over bras anymore. That’s what made me the happiest. The fact that I wasn’t dependent on underwires that stabbed me or straps that were constantly creating grooves in my skin. If I choose to, I can also go bra-free sometimes. I can roam about in a camisole because my breasts are firm again. There is no sagging anymore. This obviously wasn’t an option before.
My dressing revolved around my breasts. But now, I just have so many more options because I don’t look busty anymore and I am not uncomfortable with my reflection in the mirror.
I have a scar on one of my breasts, it’s very prominent. But there is nothing on the other. The doctor had told me before the surgery that I would have to live with the scars. He warned me that they will only fade with time. I tried a lot of treatments to make the scar go away. I used silicon gels and patches but when nothing worked, I gave up. I thought to myself, “it’s my body only” and I was finally ecstatic with my breasts.
Of course, this surgery is not without its risks. The one thing to remember for any woman looking to get a breast reduction is to make sure that they aren’t planning on getting pregnant again. It doesn’t necessarily hamper your ability to breastfeed or produce milk (here’s everything you need to know about breastfeeding) but your breasts will lose their shape and grow in size again. Which will take you back to square one. The doctor specifically asked me how old my kids are and if I was completely sure that I didn’t want any more children.
Then there is the financial aspect, because health insurance doesn’t cover breast reduction surgery and on average the procedure will cost anywhere between Rs 1.5 to 2 lakh.
I have learned that as you age, your breasts will sag more and that is very painful. Breast reduction surgery is not something to be ashamed of, it can be life-changing. Now, I am happy with my breasts, my scars and everything.
This first-person account should not be considered a medical guide. Please consult with your licensed health care provider before making any decisions about surgical intervention.
As told to Mitali Shah
*Name changed to protect the identity of the woman