Breast reduction surgery: Jay-Jay Feeney speaks out about new lease on life after F-cup boobs reduced to a DD

After undergoing elective breast reduction surgery last year, radio host Jay-Jay Feeney says her reduced DD breasts have given her a new lease on life - but not everyone is able to reap the benefits of smaller boobs. 

While Feeney was able to undergo a breast reduction in the private sector, which can cost between $8000 and $21,000, getting a spot on the waitlist for a publicly-funded operation can be incredibly difficult for many women due to the restrictions on weight and BMI. 

Speaking to AM on Thursday morning, the 48-year-old - who was formerly an F to FF cup - proudly showed off one of her new underwire-free, DD-cup bras to hosts Melissa Chan-Green and Ryan Bridge. 

"I thought Ryan, to compare, maybe you could pretend your face is a boob and see if it fits inside that bra [cup]," she said, handing a bemused Bridge one of her old brassieres as a comparison. 

Tentatively placing the cup over his face, Bridge demonstrated how Feeney's breasts had been roughly the size of his head before her elective surgery. 

"Imagine carrying two of Ryan's heads on your chest," Chan-Green added, with Bridge noting the "massive difference" in size between the newer bra and the one she wore prior to the procedure. 

"I think people think we just want to get [a reduction] done for cosmetic purposes, but I don't know anyone who does want one for cosmetic reasons. They are heavy - I had just over a kilo taken out. You're carrying this weight [on your chest] all the time," Feeney explained.

"You're aching, you're hunched over. My neck was always stiff, your back is always aching. I'd get vertigo because of the stiffness - I haven't had vertigo since the breast reduction.

"[The surgery's] the best thing that's ever happened. You feel so much better. I'm not all about my boobs anymore - before this, all you are is 'boobs' when you walk in a room and now, I don't feel like anyone is staring at my boobs."

But for Laila Jeffries, the journey to getting a breast reduction funded through the public health system has been long, arduous and defeating. 

For 15 years, the Rotorua mother has been fighting for breast reduction after suffering ongoing pain, discomfort and a compromised quality of life. Despite numerous referrals, she was always declined. 

Unable to play the sports she once loved or perform day-to-day tasks, Jeffries' cup size has ruled her life - and impacted her ability to run around and enjoy activities with her children. 

Last year, more than a decade after her first referral, Jeffries was finally put on the waitlist for a breast reduction, a life-changing surgery that reduces the size of a woman's breasts by removing glandular tissue, fat and skin before the breasts are reshaped.

Now, the advocate is sharing her story in an effort to raise awareness about the significant toll large breasts can take on womens' lives, with many women throughout the world suffering chronic pain, migraines, muscle tension and being subjected to societal stigmas and unwanted attention.

Also speaking to AM on Thursday, Jeffries said her referrals had been consistently declined due to her weight, with her body mass index (BMI) sitting at around 31, which is categorised as morbidly obese for her height of 151 cm - a little over four-foot-nine. 

"When I first started the journey I was 151 cm tall and 67 kg. They wanted me to get to at least 57 kg. 

"I thought it was ridiculous. When I was younger I was very, very thin... they never took into consideration the weight of my breasts. No matter how much weight I lost, I never lost weight in my chest." 

According to Te Whatu Ora, breast reduction is usually only offered to non-smoking women with a BMI of 30 or less. The public health agency also notes that not all women seeking a breast reduction can be offered surgery due to current resource constraints. 

Jeffries, who currently has a cup size of 16K, detailed the impacts her breasts have on her day-to-day life, including frequent injections to relax her muscles and an inability to exercise for longer than 15 minutes, or one quarter of a netball game. 

"I take muscle relaxants daily. I suffer from chronic back pain. I also get anywhere between nine to 18 injections in my back and in my head for muscle tension. I suffer from chronic migraines," she told AM. 

"I used to be very active and play sports and now when I try and play my favourite sport, netball, I can only go on for like a quarter and I'm absolutely buggered."

When Jeffries was informed in 2022 that she had been placed on the waitlist for the surgery after 15 years, she was the happiest she'd felt in a long time, she said. 

"It was surreal. I bawled my eyes out, I genuinely broke down and cried. I don't think [the clinician] understood the impact that [a reduction] is going to have on my life - not only my life, my children's lives. 

"Being able to do so much that I'm unable to do now - it's life-changing."

Jeffires is hoping the surgery will reduce her 16K breasts to a small B, but she hopes even an A cup will be possible. 

Although she admits there's a small part of her that will miss her breasts, she's itching to begin her new life without the constraints of her outsized chest. 

"The male attention as I was growing up and becoming an adult... I mean don't get me wrong, it's had its good days. My friends will miss them, I'll miss them," she joked.

"Just being able to go to a bra shop and buy a bra - go for a run, join a gym, not have to take medication every day."

In New Zealand some health insurance policies will cover part of the cost of a breast reduction, if the patient meets its specific guidelines. For example, Southern Cross will only reimburse the allowance for a bilateral breast reduction on acceptance of a medical report supplied by the operating surgeon that demonstrates several criteria have been met, including a cup size over DD and at least two of the listed symptoms for a minimum of 12 months (such as pain in the upper back, neck or shoulders, headaches, and ulcerations from bra straps). Additionally, to qualify for cover, the amount of breast tissue to be removed should be estimated to be at least 350 grams per breast. 

According to Christchurch-based plastic and reconstructive surgeon Dr Jesse Kenton-Smith, opting for a clinic that's an affiliated provider for Southern Cross will typically see the cost of the consultation covered and often patients receive up to $5000 towards the operation.

ACC only funds breast reductions for injuries caused by a medical treatment, or as treatment for an injury.