A tummy tuck is a relatively involved surgical procedure, so expect to go through a significant amount of “down time” to allow for recovery. As long as you plan appropriately there should not be any surprises or disillusion about the process. A lot of patients compare the recovery to their experience with a C-section (except without the added discomfort of the manipulation inside of the abdomen itself). The incision is usually more numb than painful, and there is just a generalized achiness of the whole area. Also, you cannot (and should not) stand up fully straight for the first week or so to avoid too much tension on the incision. Most patients take their pain medicine around the clock for the first 24 hours, but after that you are able to start tapering off of them quickly, and usually are completely done with the medicine by 5-7 days after surgery. Expect, however to have SOME soreness for at least a few weeks.
After surgery patients typically have a binder or support garment on their mid-section. This gives compression and provides support to control the swelling. This is typically worn for 4-6 weeks depending on healing and swelling. Usually, there are also drainage tubes in place. The elevation of the flap of skin and fat leaves a raw surface area internally, and there is a potential space underneath it that can collect blood or fluid and cause trouble healing.
The drains siphon off this extra fluid so that the tissue flap can seal down and heal. At first the body makes a lot of fluid. As you continue to heal there is less fluid produced and eventually it gets to a low enough amount that your body can handle it, and then the drains can come out. While the drains are in you need to care for them. This involves cleaning around them and recording the output daily. On average the drains remain in for 7-10 days, but that can vary considerably from one patient to the next.
Typically after surgery you will return to the clinic the next day to check for early problems and your surgeon will instruct you how to care for things. The next visit is often around one week after surgery and by then you may be ready for a drain to be removed. Your doctor will also look for signs of infection and monitor healing. Weekly visits after that are the norm until drains and stitches are out and healing is well underway. Most patients consider themselves to be back to normal, healed and done with any restrictions by about 2-3 months after surgery. Once things settle down, your doctor will still want to see you periodically until you are completely healed (about 9-12 months) and then take post-op photos and make sure that all of your goals have been achieved.
A tummy tuck is a great procedure to repair the damages that occur from pregnancy and weight gain/loss, but realize it is not a walk in the park! It is so important to go into the procedure understanding what is going to happen and allow adequate time for healing so that you have a smooth recovery and get the best results possible. You should always consult with a board-certified plastic surgeon for your tummy tuck procedure.