In the world of cosmetic surgical procedures, the tummy tuck reigns supreme. According to the Plastic Surgery Statistics Report, it was the third most popular body procedure in 2019, trailing behind just breast implants and liposuction. But make no mistake—this is not a minor surgery. The recovery is extensive, and it’s imperative to listen to both your doctor’s orders and your body.
As the saying goes, patience is a virtue. A tummy tuck involves tightening loose skin, removing excess fat, and bringing together abdominal muscles that have separated, explains Dr. Kelly Killeen, a board-certified plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills, California. The healing has to occur on all three layers—the skin, the underlying abdominal wall, and the muscle, she adds, no easy feat. TL;DR: full tummy tuck recovery time can be up to six months, according to both of the doctors we spoke with.
But get through the first week, and it should all be downhill from there—this is when you’ll be in the most pain and have the most restrictions, says Dr. Killeen. You should be fairly mobile; in fact, it’s important to get up and walk every three hours, to minimize the risk of blood clots, notes Dr. Agha. Just don’t be surprised or worried if you can’t stand up completely straight. “It might even be two to three weeks before you can stand fully upright. Don’t push it, because the last thing you want is to stretch out or put tension on any of the incisions,” Dr. Agha cautions. Similarly, many people find it more comfortable to sit and sleep with their knees up, particularly for the first week or so, adds Dr. Killeen.
By the two-week mark, “Most people will start to feel pretty human again and are able to start driving and go back to work at a desk job,” explains Dr. Killeen. Pending any complications and assuming that the healing process is going well, she usually clears most of her patients to resume all normal activities after four weeks. Dr. Agha tells his patients to wait six to eight weeks, though both doctors agree that once you are back up and running (literally or figuratively), it’s important to listen to your body and not do too much, too fast. “There’s a lot of muscle repair happening during the healing process, and it’s all very precarious. Too much activity or lifting can undo any progress,” says Dr. Killeen.
While the physiological changes that occur during and after pregnancy are among the main reasons many women choose to have a tummy tuck, this surgery shouldn’t be an immediate postpartum priority. “The abdominal wall and uterus continue to shrink for several months after delivery. You’re also going to have the best results if you’re back at or close to your pre-pregnancy weight,” explains Dr. Killeen, who advises waiting at least six months.
It’s also worth noting that a tummy tuck isn’t necessarily a foolproof option for completely getting rid of pregnancy-induced stretch marks. A tummy tuck will usually remove stretch marks that are below the belly button, says Dr. Killeen. If they’re above it, they won’t be removed completely but will be pulled down far enough that underwear will cover them, she adds. Either way, it will be an improvement.