10 Tips for Drain Management After Breast Cancer Surgery

Following breast cancer surgery, a woman may go home with one or more drains coming from the incision site on her chest or under her arm. Care instructions should be given prior to leaving the hospital on how often to observe and empty the drainage container. The purpose of the drain is to keep fluid from collecting in the area of your incision. Here are some helpful tips for managing your drains:

  • The drains are tougher than they look. You may feel afraid that your drain will come out by accident–there is no need to worry–it won’t. If something seems really out of the ordinary, always contact your health care provider.
  • The lower they are, the better you are.  You will want to keep your drain bulbs as low as possible, keeping them near the waist and below the heart. This allows for proper drainage and healing.
  • Keep the drain bulbs secure. Have a place to secure the drain bulbs keeps the tubing from tangling as well as making it more comfortable for you.  There are several options for securing your drains. One option is to attach the drains to your waist with a pin or Carabiners to belt loops. Another option is to use shoe strings or shower pockets for when you shower. Better yet, comfortable clothing options, like drain management garments, are available to help you with drains after breast surgery. Cotton camisole-type garments, the Ladies First Softee® Roo, are soft and comfortable with no internal seams to rub against the skin. A roo pocket on the front holds up to 4 drain bulbs; the garment can also hold removable soft cotton breast forms to give you a little shape as you recover and heal.
  • Watch fluid levels. You’ll need to track how much fluid is going out so that your doctor knows when it’s time for the drains to come out, usually after one or two weeks.
  • Be on the lookout for warning signs of infection. If you’re running a fever over 101 or smell a bad odor coming from incision site or drain port site, call your doctor.
  • So many colors! Don’t be alarmed–the colors of the drainage fluid can vary from beginning to end.  Occasionally there will also be tissue in the fluid. Usually the drainage will be cherry red for about 24 hours, but will become more yellow-straw colored prior to removal. If the drainage does not change from red after about two to three days, notify your doctor.
  • Problem solving might be necessary. If you find that your drains aren’t draining properly within the first couple days and/or there is leakage around the insertion site, you may have a drain clot.  As the fluid contains many red blood cells the first several days after surgery there is a greater chance that you could get a clot in the tubing. Strip drains as instructed by physician. If leaking around insertion site of drain occurs hold tubing securely close to insertion site and strip the tubing between the thumb and index finger to initiate fluid flow. If problem persist notify your physician.
  • Wear comfortable clothing. Try to wear clothes that are easy to get ‘on and off’ while the drain is in place (preferably button down or step into shirts).
  • Pillows are your friend! The drain ports can be uncomfortable. Having a pillow to put under your arm will relieve pressure and make the area more comfortable.
  • Keep moving but go slow. It is important to proceed with activities of daily living, however, until drains are removed do not overdo. Activities such as vacuuming or doing laundry may hamper the decrease in fluids thus getting the drains removed.

For more information on products the support recovery such as drain management camisoles and support pillows, check out www.ladiesfirst.com or call us at 1.800.497.8285.

By Donna Crow, RN, CBCN, CBPN-IC and Ladies First, Inc.

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