If you have spent years of your life frustrated by stubborn belly flab—fat deposits that even the most stringent diet and exercise cannot seem to alter—then you may be over the moon about finally having a tummy tuck procedure.
After all, a tummy tuck is your chance to finally have the smooth, flat abdomen you have always wanted. Not only will it let you shed the extra skin folds and love handles, but it can also help you restore weakened muscles for an altogether tighter, more aesthetically pleasing belly.
Mixed with your excitement, however, there is bound to be some trepidation. After all, a tummy tuck is a significant surgery. It is normal to feel a bit jittery about going under the knife and unsure about what your life will be like in the days, weeks, and months that follow.
A little knowledge can go a long way toward building confidence and providing peace of mind. With that said, allow us to present a comprehensive guide: Everything you need to know about making it through your tummy tuck and the subsequent recovery, with minimal discomfort.
Part I: Before Your Surgery
If you have already had your tummy tuck procedure and are in the throes of recovery, then by all means, skip down to Part II. But if you are still in the planning, consulting, or scheduling phase of your tummy tuck, then we have a few insights that may be useful.
Choose the Right Doctor
The most important decision you will make about your tummy tuck is who performs it. It goes without saying that you want a surgeon who will keep you safe and provide optimal results, and also someone with whom you feel comfortable asking questions, voicing concerns, and seeking general advice about the surgical process. There are a lot of plastic surgeons in the world, and not all of them are created equal. How can you ensure you select the right provider?
Seek a board-certified plastic surgeon.
This is crucial, and the language here matters a lot. A board-certified plastic surgeon is someone who has been extensively trained and proven themselves to be skilled in procedures such as tummy tucks. And, they are accountable to an accrediting board, which means they are consistently held to a high standard. By contrast, someone who calls themself a cosmetic surgeon is not necessarily accountable to a reputable accrediting agency and does not necessarily have any extensive skills or academic credentials. Keep this in mind as you interview surgeons and check their credentials.
Do not hesitate to interview a couple of surgeons.
You never need to feel like you are locked in with the first surgeon you talk with. This is a big decision, and you have every right to “shop around” a little bit, interviewing surgeons until you find someone with whom you are comfortable.
Ask plenty of questions.
As you chat with different surgeons, do not hesitate to ask any questions that come to mind. For example:
- Ask about the procedure itself.
- Ask about price and financing.
- Ask about the recovery process.
- Ask if there are any alternative options for you to consider.
Seek a plastic surgeon who will patiently explain the process in a way that you understand, and also someone who will always give you straightforward answers rather than beating around the bush. Also, be wary of surgeons who do not set reasonable expectations. It is fine for a surgeon to talk up the tummy tuck process but be cautious of anyone who acts like it is magic or will suddenly make all your problems go away. You are seeking major surgery, after all, not shopping for a new car.
Be mindful of “fit.”
At the end of the day, it matters that you find a surgeon with whom you feel comfortable. It matters that you find a surgeon whose personality and communication style you can click with. After all, you will be engaging in a fairly personal, intimate process with your plastic surgeon, and if you just do not care for the person, that may be reason enough to look elsewhere.
These are a few of the basic steps we would recommend for anyone shopping for a good tummy tuck surgeon.
What Patients Wish They Knew
While most patients who have a tummy tuck speak highly of the procedure and love their results, it is not uncommon to hear them say, “I wish someone had told me about _____.” So, allow us to tell you everything you need to know before you go in for your procedure!
Here are a few things that patients often wish they had known in advance.
It Will Take Some Time to Heal. Probably Longer Than You Think.
Many patients, especially those who are younger and healthier, underestimate the toll that a tummy tuck takes on the body and the amount of time needed for recovery.
You may assume that you will be back to normal within a week or two, but that is an entirely unrealistic expectation. Instead, make this your frame of reference:
- For most patients, it takes about a week before they can walk fully upright without any discomfort.
- Patients are advised to take at least two weeks off from work, allowing plenty of time to rest and recover.
- While you will likely be back on your feet within a week or two, it may be up to six weeks before you are cleared to resume all normal activities, such as exercise.
You May Have Some Swelling.
It is also important to realize that, following a tummy tuck, swelling is normal. While some patients have little to no swelling, many patients have considerable swelling. And, your risk of swelling increases if you have liposuction during your tummy tuck.
So what does this mean, practically? For one thing, you may need to invest in binders or compression clothing, as the swelling can last for up to three months. Second, the swelling means you will not be able to fully assess the results of your tummy tuck for a while. Do not be discouraged! The results will be well worth it.
Our doctors use a drainless tummy tuck technique. No drains mean a faster recovery, less pain and an easier time moving around after surgery. Not many doctors are trained in how to do a tummy tuck without drains so be sure to ask.
Your Clothes May Not Fit You.
Not for a while, anyway. Again: There will be swelling. Do not assume that you will immediately be ready to slide on those skinny jeans. Be patient. Those results will come.
You Really Do Not Want to Weigh or Measure Yourself.
Following a tummy tuck, you will naturally want to see some results, but again, your body will have some initial swelling that makes it hard to determine the true outcome of your procedure. And, you may also be filled with IV fluids that add to your total weight.
The bottom line: Stepping onto the scale or taking before-and-after photos is only going to disappoint. Take the time to recover, trust that the process is working, and wait for the doctor’s go-ahead to verify your tummy tuck results.
You May Have a Hard Time Pooping.
No, really. The anti-pain medications that ensure a comfortable surgery can also back up your system and lead to a little bit of constipation. Make sure you head into your recovery with some milk of magnesia or a similarly gentle laxative.
At First, Little Things May Cause You Pain.
Little things like laughing, crying, sneezing, or even inhaling a deep breath. This is very normal, and it is the result of your body being a little tender post-surgery. This should not scare you, but it should encourage you to really take it easy for a week or two following your tummy tuck.
You Should Stock Up on Supplies Before Surgery.
It will be hard to get around, and you will not be able to drive at all for several days. Be sure you get all the items on the shopping list (see below), and that you fill any prescriptions your surgeon gives you in advance.
You Will Need Help.
If at all possible, schedule your tummy tuck for a week when your spouse, partner, Mom, Dad, sibling, or adult child can be home with you, assisting with care as well as other household duties. This is really an imperative part of the healing process.
You Should Get Moving… Gradually.
On the first day after your surgery, it may be difficult for you to move from your sofa to the bathroom. By the end of the week, though, you should be walking around the block. And within the first couple of weeks, you should be incorporating a little more movement into your routine each day.
The goal? Prevent against blood clots, and ensure your body has the healthy blood flow it needs to heal the way it is supposed to.
Getting the Right Supplies: A Complete Shopping List
As we mentioned above, you probably are not going to feel like heading to the store the day after your surgery. (And in fact, you really should stay home to rest.) As such, we recommend stocking up on supplies before the day of your procedure.
But what supplies will you need to ensure a smooth recovery from your tummy tuck? Here is a shopping list with all of the essentials.
- Prescriptions. Your surgeon should give you the prescriptions you need in advance, allowing you to stock up well before the big day.
- Tylenol. Get an over-the-counter pain reliever that you can use as you wean yourself off of the prescription drugs. (Or, better yet, to use in place of the prescription drugs.)
- Gauze and bandages. You will need to keep your incision site clean, which means changing out your bandages regularly.
- Comfortable underwear. Ladies, this means cotton granny panties. Men, it means some very loose boxers that you can toss out once your recovery is complete. Make sure you have at least seven pairs and do not feel like you need to spend a ton of money here.
- Laxatives. As we mentioned above, your pain medications will stop you up. We recommend a nice, gentle stool softener or milk of magnesia.
- Reading material. You will spend a good chunk of the first couple of days sleeping, but it is also wise to have light reading material. Think paperback novels or magazines.
- Ice packs. You may need ice packs, and not for the reasons you would think. Tummy tuck patients will initially be a bit hunched over, and an ice pack can relieve pain in your back.
What About Groceries?
Naturally, you will also want to make sure your home is properly stocked with food. Hopefully, you have someone to stay with you for at least four or five days to cook and to bring you food. Still, we recommend stocking up in advance, ensuring quick, easy, convenient foods that will actually nourish your body and support proper healing.
In particular, we recommend:
- Lean proteins
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Healthy fats (nuts or olives)
- Protein bars
- Protein shakes
What About Renting a Hospital Bed?
Some patients rent a hospital bed for their recovery, allowing them to get up and down with ease and also to adjust their elevation to ensure optimal comfort. Having a hospital bed can certainly help, but it is not a necessity. Do make sure you have chosen either a bed or sofa where you can get comfortable as you rest and recover.
The Most Important Thing on Our Tummy Tuck Checklist
Having all the right supplies will help your tummy tuck recovery go much more smoothly. But having another grown-up in your house to help you get up and down, bring you food, keep up with the housework, and care for your children is essential. Be sure you schedule your procedure for a time when you can have some help, at least for four or five days. Simply put, your tummy tuck procedure will be a million times better if you have someone there to assist.
Other Ways to Prepare for Your Tummy Tuck
With regard to making the right preparations for your tummy tuck, the best policy is simply to listen carefully to your surgeon, who will offer some tips and guidelines specific to your health and wellness.
Generally speaking, getting ready for a smooth procedure and an expedient recovery will require you to do the following:
- Start taking certain medications. In the interest of preventing infection, your surgeon may ask you to start taking antibiotics a few days before the actual procedure.
- Stop taking certain medications. Blood thinners, anti-inflammatory medications, and even certain herbal supplements can cause bleeding and impede your recovery.
- Cease smoking. Smoking and vaping can curb your body’s natural healing abilities. Your surgeon will likely want you to stop smoking several weeks before the procedure itself.
What to Expect on the Day of Your Tummy Tuck
On the day of your procedure, it is completely natural to feel a combination of excitement and trepidation. There are a few simple steps you can take to ensure that things go smoothly and that the day of your surgery is as low-stress as possible.
One thing that is crucial is to follow all of the surgeon’s dietary precautions; this means not eating or drinking anything you are not supposed to, and also not eating or drinking anything past the time when you are instructed to fast. This is incredibly important for the success of your surgery, and in fact, many surgeons will cancel your tummy tuck procedure if they find that you have not followed the eating and drinking guidelines down to the letter.
Be sure you arrive for your surgery on-time, if only to prevent yourself from feeling rushed or stressed out heading into surgery. Also, ensure that when you arrive, you have your support person there with you, ready to receive any final instructions from the surgeon and also to get you safely home once the tummy tuck is complete.
When you arrive for your procedure, you can expect some last-minute diagnostics and questions from the attending medical team, simply to ensure that you are still in a good place to have a healthy, successful surgery. You will be asked to change into a gown, and an IV will be administered.
Most tummy tuck procedures are done on an outpatient basis; you can expect your procedure to last anywhere from three to five hours, and once you are out of surgery and begin recovering from the effects of anesthesia, you will likely be cleared to head home.
Tummy Tuck Emotions: Before and After
A final word as you get ready to have a tummy tuck: This can be a highly emotional journey, and it is very normal to experience some highs and lows, both leading up to the procedure and afterward. By acknowledging and preparing yourself for these emotional shifts, you can head into your tummy tuck with much healthier, more reasonable expectations.
The kinds of emotions you may experience surrounding your tummy tuck include:
- Excitement about the results you are going to get (and, ultimately, about the results you see).
- Anxiety over some of the logistics of the surgery and the recovery period.
- Happiness that you chose to take this important step toward greater health and happiness.
- Sadness or sensitivity (simply because getting a tummy tuck can be such a life-changing experience, it can trigger all kinds of emotional extremes).
- Frustration (as there may be days when you are not recovering as quickly as you had hoped).
- Exhilaration (especially once you start to see your newly firm, taut tummy).
Be ready to weather all kinds of emotional highs and lows during this unique and ultimately incredibly positive season in your life.
Part II: After Your Surgery
It is important for patients to understand that they are not going to “bounce back” from their tummy tuck overnight, or even within the first week; nor will they see the results they want for at least a few weeks, until the swelling subsides.
Your surgeon will give you plenty of instructions about how to rest, how to take care of yourself, and how to minimize pain and discomfort during your tummy tuck. The best thing you can do is attentively listen to these instructions and follow them to the “T.” If any questions or concerns arise, reach out to the surgeon’s office ASAP.
Also, make sure you head into your recovery with the right expectations. Again, you will need to take at least a couple of weeks off from work, allowing plenty of time to rest and recuperate. It may take that long before you can comfortably walk or stand upright for long periods of time. And it will likely be around six weeks or more before you can stop wearing compression garments.
What to Do, and What NOT to Do, As You Recover from a Tummy Tuck
With regard to specific tummy tuck recovery guidelines, there are several specific things you should do and several specific things you should avoid.
To begin with, here are the things NOT to do during your tummy tuck recovery:
- Do not clean your house.
- Do not do any heavy lifting; this includes lifting your kids or your pets.
- Do not drive until your doctor gives you the go-ahead to do so. (This will take at least a week.)
- Do not do laundry.
- Do not weigh or measure yourself.
- Do not try to fit into your “skinny” clothing.
- Do not go grocery shopping, at least not without someone to help you lift items and push the buggy.
- Do not attempt strenuous exercise or physical activity that has not been cleared by your doctor.
- Do not eat a lot of processed food or “junk food.”
- Do not drink soda or carbonated drinks, which can cause some very uncomfortable bloating.
- Do not listen to any negativity from others or from yourself.
Now, on to the positives: Here are some things you SHOULD do during your recovery from a tummy tuck.
Take your pain medications as prescribed by your doctor; be mindful of getting the timing and dosage right. Reach out to the surgeon’s office with any questions or concerns.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet, focusing on fresh produce, lean protein, and whole grains.
- Gently massage your tummy if it feels good to do so; this can be a great way to increase circulation and minimize pain.
- Head outside to soak up some sunshine, as you are able.
- Gradually increase the amount that you get up and walk around, in accordance with your surgeon’s recommendations.
- Stay in contact with friends and family members who bring positive energy and words of encouragement into your life.
- Be patient, remembering that the results of your tummy tuck will take time but will prove well worth it.
- Be proud of yourself for taking this important step toward being healthier, happier, and more self-confident.
- Reach out to your doctor if you have any specific questions about the recovery process.
- Follow your post-operative instructions about keeping bandages fresh and clean.
- Show up for any follow-up appointments as instructed by your surgeon.
- Ask for help from the people you love, whether that is help cooking dinner, cleaning the house, or driving you to an appointment.
By following these basic guidelines, you will be well on your way to a positive recovery experience.
Showering After Your Tummy Tuck
One area of particular concern for tummy tuck patients: Showering. Given the realities of pain and incision sites, the logistics of getting a good shower can be a little bit complicated. Here are a few tips that can make showering easier.
Time it Right
One way to power through shower time is to plan it for 30-40 minutes after you take one of your prescription pain pills; this will take the edge off and ensure that you are in minimal discomfort for what may prove to be a tough physical task.
Invest in a Shower Chair
While this may not be completely necessary, giving yourself a way to sit while you shower may make the entire process a bit easier.
Ask for Help
If possible, have your spouse, partner, or support person there to help you get in and get out of the shower, and also to dry off when you are done. This will be especially important the first time or two that you shower.
Do not underestimate the effect that a good lotioning up can have on your skin. This is a great way to pamper yourself and to show some self-care following your tummy tuck.
Rest When You are Done
It is impossible to overstate how tiring simple physical activity can be during your first week of tummy tuck recovery. That is to say, having a shower may take a lot out of you. There is no shame in taking an hour or two to nap once your shower is through.
We have mentioned that there will be some pain following your tummy tuck. We do not say any of this to scare you. Actually, the pain management methods that are used in today’s tummy tuck procedures have proven highly effective at mitigating post-operative pain. Some patients only need to use their prescription medications for a couple of days following the procedure, and some patients only require the intervention of over-the-counter pain reducers.
With that said, it is important to have healthy expectations and to assume that you might be in some pain during the first few days of your recovery. Make sure you talk with your surgeon in advance about the different pain management options that are available to you. Basically, those options will encompass:
- Over-the-counter remedies. Patients who do not need prescription painkillers are encouraged to stick with ibuprofen and naproxen. Be sure you talk with your surgeon about when you may take these medications and exactly which medications you should take, as some OTC remedies may actually cause more bleeding.
- Prescription medications. These narcotics can help you sail through the worst of the discomfort and also minimize bleeding. Be aware that some of them come with side effects, most notably constipation.
Additional Considerations for Post-Operative Care
In addition to showering and pain management, there are a few further considerations to bear in mind as you recover from your tummy tuck procedure.
Before you leave from your surgery, you will be given a compression garment to wear. This garment plays a couple of important roles: It reduces your swelling, and it also gives support to your abdomen throughout the healing process. Depending on how quickly you heal, you may need to wear this compression garment anywhere from two weeks to two months. The compression garment is not meant to be painful, so if it is hurting you, that may mean it needs to be adjusted; be sure to be in contact with your medical team if this occurs.
You will leave from your surgery with dressings or bandages covering your incision site. These bandages will need to be changed with a certain frequency; you will receive full instructions before you are sent home and can always call the medical team with follow-up questions.
Keeping the site of your incision clean is one of the most important aspects of home care. Be sure to treat the area with gentleness, as to avoid any additional bleeding. Also, let your surgeon know if you have any surgical site complications that worsen over time, such as pus, swelling, redness, or warmth. Such symptoms are fairly normal, but they should decrease, rather than increase, during your first week of recovery.
Antibiotics can provide an important safeguard against possible infection. In some cases, antibiotics may be administered topically at the site of your incision. In other instances, oral antibiotics may be prescribed. It is so important to follow the doctor’s orders on antibiotics; you may not feel like you “need” them, but they may make all the difference in preventing serious complications from your tummy tuck procedure.
Conclusion: Moving Forward in Tummy Tuck Recovery
The decision to get a tummy tuck is a significant one: It means taking a big, proactive action to look your best, feel your best, and finally get rid of that flab that has taunted you for so long.
Given the significance of this procedure, it should go without saying that recovery will take some time, and results will not be evident right away. Again, the best advice for anyone embarking on this journey is to remain patient and hopeful; you will get through the recovery period, and you will be delighted by the end result of your tummy tuck. We hope this guide proves helpful to you along the way.