Checklist for Recovery <br> After Mastectomy

One of the most common methods of treatment for breast cancer is surgery. When a patient undergoes a mastectomy (partial or bilateral), a lumpectomy, or even reconstruction, the healing process can come with its own set of challenges.

After surgery, patients will be moved to a recovery room where vitals will be monitored by a medical team. Everyone’s experience is different but the average hospital stay is 1-3 days. If opting for a mastectomy and reconstruction at the same time, patients can expect to stay longer.

From Survivors and Patients: 17 Must-Haves for Recovery after Mastectomy

We are lucky to be able to call on our community of breast cancer survivors and ask for their insights. To help breast cancer patients facing surgery, we compiled a list of some of the most-used items to help provide comfort during a hospital stay or while recovering at home.

There was an overwhelming response; front button shirts, yoga pants, and an underarm pillow were some of the most popular answers. A back scratcher, a drain apron, and a recliner were some of the non-traditional, but genius, tips provided.

Dry shampoo and feminine hygiene cloths or wipes were also recommended to help patients stay fresh. Most patients are told not to shower until the surgical drains are removed, so these items can help with staying clean until it’s safe to resume a normal routine.

It’s important for the patient to give themselves grace and allow time for healing—let go of the ever-present chore list, the daunting task of grocery shopping, and the stress of cooking while trying to recover. Before a mastectomy, it may be helpful to ask friends and family members to start a meal train.

A survivor in our community, Ashley, shared how she effectively organized her home to prepare for her recovery time:

“Before the surgery I prepped my house and put things in reach and out of cabinets so I could do as much for myself as possible. For your drains, know that while they’re in (6-9 weeks) you will not be able to lift your arms over your head. So, knowing that, I took things down like coffee cups, plates, shampoo, etc. off higher shelves beforehand.

“I did a check three days before, of everything I used on a daily basis and was mindful of things I had to reach for. I was lucky enough to have my husband home but I’m also stubborn and like to do for myself as much as possible.

“Be prepared to not be able to sleep in your bed for a while, because it’s near impossible to get out of it once you’re laying down. I slept in a chair for a week or so before getting a wedge pillow for the bed, and that thing was awesome! I used it for about five weeks before I was able to use my stomach muscles to lift myself out of bed.”

Recommendations From Breast Cancer Survivors, Patients, and Physicians

This checklist has been developed in partnership with breast cancer patients, survivors, and physicians. Below are their tips for what to have on hand and what to do as you prepare for a mastectomy.

Download your free checklist here.

How to prep at home before surgery:

1. Place most used items in reach
2. Find a comfortable chair or recliner for sleeping
3. Grab a wedge pillow for transitioning to a bed
4. Start a meal train, or ask a friend to host one during recovery

What to bring to the hospital:

5. Front button and loose-fitting shirts
6. Yoga pants
7. Pillow for support under the arm or seatbelt
8. Slip-on shoes
9. Snacks
10. Phone charger

What post-op items to have at home:

11. “Drain apron”, cardigan or zip-up hoodie with pockets, or a button-up shirt with pockets for drains
12. Pen and notebook for journaling, tracking medication times, and questions for the doctor
13. Cooler on the porch, if receiving a meal train
14. Chair or recliner for sleeping
15. Dry shampoo
16. Cleansing or shower wipes
17. Comfortable pajamas

FAQs about Mastectomy Recovery

Answered by Meghan Hansen, M.D., NBCF Medical Advisory Council member and breast surgical oncologist at Texas Oncology.

How long is recovery from a mastectomy?

Mastectomy recovery can take anywhere from 2-4 weeks, depending on the type of mastectomy performed. For example, recovery time for a mastectomy without reconstruction is typically closer to 2 weeks, while a mastectomy with reconstruction is often closer to 4 weeks. During recovery, the first week is usually the hardest because your movement is limited, and you likely will still be experiencing surgical pain. After that first week, every day gets easier. Once surgical drains are removed at around 2 weeks after surgery, patients usually start feeling much better. Restrictions on lifting and exercise are usually in place for 4 weeks total.

How long are you on bed rest after a mastectomy?

You should never be on bed rest after a mastectomy. Patients should be up and walking, with supervision, on the same day as surgery. Patients should ideally walk 3-4 times per day to get moving again and to help decrease the risk of blood clots and pneumonia.

What are do’s and don’ts after a mastectomy?

Always refer back to the patient’s surgeon and care team. However, general restrictions include no lifting over 10 pounds for 4 weeks, no strenuous exercise for 4 weeks, and limited arm movements until the surgical drains are removed. Patients may have to sponge bathe while drains are in place. It is important to closely follow all instructions and restrictions given by your surgeon and care team.

How long does pain last after a mastectomy?

Pain levels after surgery vary based on the type of mastectomy and if reconstruction was performed. Most patients who undergo mastectomy without reconstruction have little or no pain, even right after surgery. These patients typically take pain medication for 1-5 days. If patients have reconstruction, they usually take prescription pain medication and muscle relaxants the first week, then wean off of prescription medications to over-the-counter medications like Tylenol and ibuprofen during the second week. However, this varies per patient. After this, tightness and discomfort may still be present, but not to the extent that patients need prescription pain medication. If you are still experiencing pain after 2 weeks, contact your surgeon or care team to let them know.

Is physical therapy required after a mastectomy?

Most surgeons will refer their mastectomy patients to physical therapy about 4 weeks after surgery. Physical therapy will help patients regain movement and range of motion, relieve muscle tightness, and address any scar tissue-related issues, with the goal of getting patients back to their baseline, or their normal physical condition before surgery.

No matter what the patient is able to pack or set out at home, we believe that having encouragement, support, and hope makes all the difference. Resources are open and available for patients and loved ones, and our team at National Breast Cancer Foundation is here for support.

Join the conversation! If you’ve gone through breast cancer surgery, comment below what your must-have recovery items were.

For the full comment thread of recommendations from survivors, check our Facebook post here.

Last updated August 24, 2023


  1. I am so grateful for this list! I am going to be having a mastectomy soon so this list is a godsend

  2. I had my surgery 6 months ago & I suggest keeping a small cooler in your room for water, juices, etc. Also, foam no rinse body wash is great for in between freshing up!
    Keep a log in the bathroom to write down your fluid amount from your drain tube.

    • BUTTONS!
      You will need tops that are full button downs. You will not be able to raise your arms up to put on a regular tshirt. Also, size up for comfort. Good luck!!

  3. Great information to know! My double mastectomy is in 2 weeks. I hadn’t really given any thought to having the right clothes at home following surgery. What is the main consideration when buying pajamas?

    • I found that stretchy type button down pajamas worked best for the drains. Also an essential for me was a neck pillow at home and I wish I would have taken it with me to hospital !

  4. My daughter will be having bilateral mastectomy (due to aggressive breast cancer) next week and I’ll be her main caretaker. I’ll probably stay with her for awhile because she’s a single mom of 2 young school age kiddos. Thank you for tips and suggestions. I’ll be taking a leave from work to help her but any suggestions would be appreciated. Thank you

  5. I’m scheduled to have a left breast mastectomy with no reconstruction on 12/2/21 I’m very apprehensive about the recovery time and the drains. Never realized about sleeping on my back, button or zipper tops. I was planning on traveling to my daughters for Christmas in South Carolina from my home in Florida but I don’t want to be a problem, is this something I should postpone?

  6. Then you. I will be having Bilateral Mastectomy January 2022 and this helped me with my wish list for everyone that keeps asking is there anything I need.

  7. Joanne, no this isn’t something you should postpone, unless your doctor confirms your choice. Do google your best choice of surgeons . Will you be choosing immediate reconstruction? If so, have you chosen implants(silicone or saline) or will you go the micro surgery route? There’s only two locations in SC that can do this kind of surgery: Spartanburg regional and MUSC near Charleston.
    Regardless, check out as much info online as you can and view as many videos that pertain to your situation. There are also charitable organizations that will help you with things like walkers, shower chairs AND non perishable items.
    Check out your hospital resources too. The gift shop in the hospital often has resources .
    I had my bilateral and reconstruction in December also.

  8. Another thing some one Suggested to me was the battery operated toothbrush so you’re not having to move your arm back-and-forth I thought that was a really good idea

  9. I ordered all of my post op surgery clothing on Amazon. My favorite clothing that I love to wear is a long length gown with snap buttons around both shoulders and velcro closures that runs down the middle of the gown from the top of your chest down to the length of the gown. Also another clothing is a post op bra that I bought from Anaono.

  10. I had my right breast mastectomy on
    May 29, 2023. After surgery, all went well with the medicines taken after the surgery by the doctor, I didn’t feel any pain, few instance of itchiness, but no major side effect after surgery. However, my problem is that I cannot sleep well after the surgery. Please enlighten me on what should I do to regain back my sleeping hours at night. Thank you so much and best regards.

  11. Ask your doctor if Melatonin is right for you. Also, I used a light lavender spray on my pillow at night, and it sure helped me. (Right mastectomy in November, 2020, after chemotherapy).

  12. Thank you for this wonderful list. It is very useful. I just wish there was a way to email it! My mother really needs it, and she is not on any social media.

  13. Lyone, I just emailed it to my daughter. Hold your finger on the website address at the top or if you’re on a computer, right click. Copy. Go to your email and start a new message. Paste in the area you would begin typing in. I hope this works for you.

  14. I am scheduled for a double mastectomy in 10 days. Thank you for the list
    of items I will need. My only concern (and I hope I misunderstood) is that I will not have a bandage or special bra when I leave the surgery center.
    Also I am being sent home with no hospital stay.

  15. Oh you have no idea how grateful I was to come across this! My mastectomy is coming up soon and the past 3 weeks have been a whirlwind as I’m sure you’ve all experienced similar in some way or another. When I stumbled upon this I was just so amazed! I’m so thankful there are such amazing generous loving ladies out there and I wish you all well on your journey through life. Thank you all for sharing!

  16. Due to have my mastectomy on Friday 11th Aug 23. I came across this site and I’m so grateful for all you ladies that have given advice. Now off to do the shops to buy new clothes ( never need an excuse to buy new clothes) and all the other suggestions. Big thank you 🙂 x

  17. I just finished 3 months of chemo and I have bilateral mastectomies scheduled in 2 1/2 weeks- it is Stage ll-b, self diagnosed with only symptom being an itching in my right breast that I ” scratched “… no family history, no symptoms, etc- chemo was ” challenging ” but my body bravely fought it and I expect nothing less than similar results post surgery- I hope to be a resource for others and this site and all of the remarks are so reassuring ( ps- I am a physician and THIS was never on my radar as a concern for me! so I have had a LOT of learning to do) I will return to this site to both learn and share- best regards and good health to all!

  18. I’m in the middle of my journey, going to have double mastectomy and reconstruction. Have met with surgeon and this week is oncologist and plastic surgeon. This has been very overwhelming to say the least. You ladies are so helpful with your knowledge of what is needed to help get through this journey as best as possible for not only me but my family as well. Thank you very much for your help. I have started my list of necessities and things I need to do before surgery. I pray for all the ladies to have a quick recovery and a survivor.

  19. Have any if you had or know about whether to get a mastectomy if you have (as I do) “occult” (meaning of unknown medical origin) breast cancer? My cancer was not visible on mammogram, ultrasound, or in the breast area on MRI. It was found in the right lymph area on breast MRI, in one lymph node, confirmed by biopsy and subsequent lymph node surgery pathology. I have had right axillary lymph node removal and three months of chemotherapy. I will be seeing the surgeon today to consider a mastectomy. What do any of you know about the advisability of a mastectomy in this case? I know I will be getting radiation therapy later, as well as hormone therapy for high estrogen positive breast cancer.

  20. Thanks for the info. I had a grade 2 small breast cancer in my right breast taken out in May. Tommy tumour was found about 8mths prior but kept disappearing. In march I had scans glaore. Less than 2mths later it was out. It was a hormonal tumour I’ve started hormone treatment because I’m waiting on results to find out if I’m carrying the brca gene (highly likely) if so my oncologist has recommended a dbl. If I’m not I then start radiation. This waiting game is frustrating. But for now I’m gathering all the info I can.

  21. Due to have a left mastectomy with reconstruction in a weeks time and I’m dreading it. I have 2 small kids and one of them is only 2.5 months. I’m so not ready to go through it all but it is what it is. List is great, I am reading it at 3am in the morning. I hope everything goes well and I’m cancer free soon.

  22. I just finished chemo Aug 10th. I had 16 rounds. I have a double mastectomy set for Sept 18th. My cancer was stage 2b grade 3. It is very encouraging to read all of your stories.

  23. Very useful and comforting messages.I was anxious but my brave daughter is comforting me .I have mastectomy in left breast on 12 th September.let’s see how will be this new journey of life a woman …trying to be brave and bold to conquer this demon .. I will post more after surgery ..

  24. Thank you very much for sharing these very helpful tips & recommendations! I have 3 rounds of chemo left & looking at surgery (bilateral mastectomy because I am BRACA2) around Thanksgiving. So many warriors out there I am grateful for your courage & hope!

  25. I am having a double mastectomy in a few weeks. The list of items detailed is so helpful. I appreciate all the comments and the care of your staff in compiling the list of items needed in preparing for the surgery and for recovery. Wishing everyone a full recovery.

  26. Just supported my young daughter after having a double mastectomy. The most important item was a back scratcher which we called her wand! She used it to scratch her hairless head and face. She would even sleep with it in her chair! She told me she wished she could share that with other patients! Go buy a wand ladies.

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