Have you looked at before and after pictures of tummy tuck patients, seen amazing results, and thought to yourself, “I want that! But is it really worth it?” Online forums offer tons of helpful patient feedback, but with many stories tending to be at one extreme or the other, online chatter might make it even harder to decide if a tummy tuck is a good idea for you.
The truth is that tummy tuck is major surgery with dramatic results, and it’s best to take extreme stories (positive or negative) with a grain of salt and be realistic. Tummy tuck recovery requires more time, patience, and endurance than many other cosmetic procedures. It’s not fun to read about the details of surgical recovery, but getting a realistic idea of what to expect ahead of time will help you make the best decision for yourself and avoid surprises.
Here are the most important things you need to know about tummy tuck surgery before you take the plunge:
You won’t be bikini-ready overnight
It’s normal to be excited about waking up to the new you after tummy tuck surgery, but keep in mind that no one looks like their “after” photos immediately after surgery. At first, your belly will look much different from what you can expect from your final results. Post-operative swelling is common and can be significant, especially during the first three weeks after surgery. Your scar, placed just below the bikini line, will initially be scabbed over, red, and quite tender. In other words, it won’t be pretty! But be patient and know that all of this is a temporary part of the normal healing process. As you continue healing, swelling will subside, redness will disappear, and your scar will become narrower. By the third month, you’ll look great, and after six months or so, you’ll be ready to rock those “after” photos. Many patients continue to see improvements up to a year after a tummy tuck. With proper care, scars can become nearly imperceptible.
While you will have to wait a while to enjoy all the benefits of a tummy tuck, the good news is the results are very long-lasting if you maintain a similar weight. The vast majority of patients are thrilled with their decision to undergo the procedure—tummy tuck has a 97% “Worth It” rating on RealSelf.
You’ll need to take it easy for a few weeks
A tummy tuck isn’t a procedure you can work into a long weekend and then jump back into your routine. As mentioned above, it’s major surgery. While walking is allowed (and encouraged!) as soon as the night after your surgery, you should consider work, house cleaning, child care, and general physical activity to be off-limits. You will likely need substantial help at home for the first two weeks after surgery. Designate a trusted adult to be in charge of covering things you’d normally do but can’t, and let people take care of you—your results will depend on it!
You also need to plan for your transportation needs for the first few weeks. In addition to having someone take you to your procedure and back home again, you will need to turn over your keys until you are completely off of pain medication. Additionally, before getting behind the wheel your incisions should be healed enough that both wearing a seatbelt and turning your shoulders to monitor traffic around you is comfortable.
It’s important to be realistic about your return to work. Many patients can safely go back to a desk job within two weeks, but any work that requires travel, lifting, reaching, or periods of standing should be avoided until your surgeon agrees that your incisions have healed well enough to cope with the activity. You can discuss physical requirements of your job with your surgeon during consultation, and they will give you an idea of how long you’ll need to be away from work.
Finally, you will have to be a hands-off parent for a little while. This is understandably the most difficult aspect of tummy tuck recovery for moms of young children, who are used to being picked up and held. But you can do it without neglecting your little ones. Read books together, play board games (except Twister), and have your caregiver let them assemble your breakfast plate so they can help with your recovery too.
You are going to be uncomfortable for a little while
While the risk of major complications after a tummy tuck is low when performed by an experienced, board certified plastic surgeon, there’s no getting around the fact that for the first few days after your procedure, you will experience quite a bit of discomfort. Since just about every move we make requires us to use our abdominal wall, even basic movements will hurt at first—sitting up, standing, and even laughing can strain the tender area. Prescription pain medications will help keep things tolerable, and the good news is that you’ll be past the worst pain and discomfort after the first few days. After that, you should feel better each day.
That being said, here at the Parker Center, Dr. Paul Parker uses a long-acting, injectable anesthetic called Exparel to improve patient comfort after surgery. Because this anesthetic lasts long after the completion of your surgery, it can help ease the discomfort of initial healing—and our patients report a significant difference.
Depending on the technique your plastic surgeon uses, you might require temporary drains to help draw out excess fluid that gathers in the space between the muscle and overlying tissues after surgery. While they may seem gross, drains are not painful and they do help facilitate recovery. Any drains will need regular emptying (it’s not difficult, and your surgeon will show you how to do this) and cannot get wet, so you will not be able to take a “real” shower until they are removed, typically within one to two weeks after surgery.
Of course, each patient heals at his or her own rate. Before you have surgery, talk to your surgeon about what you might expect, as well as what measures they take to help minimize pain and discomfort after surgery. For example, I prefer combining liposuction with abdominoplasty, which often allows for a “drainless” recovery with less swelling. Our New Jersey tummy tuck patients also get the benefits of our unique Rapid Recovery Program, which includes personalized pain relief protocol, scar care, and massage therapy.
The happiest patients are those who prioritize their healing process
Of course you want the best possible results from your tummy tuck, and you’ll have to take a part in making sure this happens. Did you know that what you eat during the weeks after a tummy tuck can impact your recovery? Healing takes a lot of energy and it’s important to fuel your body properly. Help your body heal optimally by eating a balanced, whole foods diet that includes plenty of lean protein to help rebuild tissue. Resist any temptation to “diet” or lose weight during recovery. Depriving your body of nutrients will only slow down the healing process.
Before surgery, also ask your surgeon about scar care and what steps you can take to make sure your incisions heal well. They will provide guidelines about keeping the scar supported, tell you about appropriate topical medications, and describe the physical limitations you will have. Follow their instructions to the letter!
On the flip side, accept that you’ll have to put off or ignore some other responsibilities. Your house might be a little messier than you like for the time being or laundry may pile up. That’s okay: let this be a time to pamper yourself. Stay focused on the positive and before you know it, you will be seeing the slimmer, firmer midsection you envisioned and find yourself enjoying life with a more confident outlook!
For best results, choose an experienced, board certified plastic surgeon who regularly performs tummy tuck surgery. Find a surgeon you trust and with whom you feel comfortable—you should feel like he or she understands your goals and feel 100% comfortable asking any questions before and after surgery. If you’re going to be in the area, we’d love to help answer your questions; just contact us to schedule a free New Jersey tummy tuck consultation!