If you’re a mom who’s been through the rigors of pregnancy and childbirth (and ended up with diastasis recti), then you may be considering getting a tummy tuck. But you may wonder: Is it okay to get a tummy tuck if you’re still breastfeeding, or should I wait?
After four kids, I had a severe abdominal separation and umbilical hernia. I was constantly getting comments about how awesome it was that I was pregnant (spoiler alert: I wasn’t pregnant).
RELATED: Living with diastasis recti, aka, “Nope, I’m not pregnant”
I had tried physical therapy, several online programs, everything. But the separation wasn’t closing, and the hernia was just getting worse (In fact, you can’t “fix” an umbilical hernia without surgery). So, I decided to get a tummy tuck about 20 months postpartum.
The only thing was, I was still breastfeeding my toddler. I wasn’t really sure if it was okay to have surgery for two reasons:
- Would the medications cause issues with breastfeeding?
- How would I deal with my toddler crawling on me to nurse post-op?
Fortunately, my exposure science PhD helped me answer the first question. Plus, I talked to my doctor about it, and he was super chill. He said that as long as my youngest was eating solids and I wasn’t planning on getting pregnant again, it would be okay.
But if you want more details (especially since many doctors just automatically say no to surgery while breastfeeding), I get that. I’m the same way. So if you’re considering a tummy tuck when you’re still breastfeeding, here’s what you need to know.
Can you breastfeed after surgery like a tummy tuck?
In short, having a surgery doesn’t keep you from breastfeeding. The Association of Anesthetists says, “We advise that breastfeeding is acceptable to continue after anesthesia and should be supported as soon as the woman is alert and able to feed, without the need to discard breast milk.”
Notice that there’s no “pump and dump” associated with surgery either. The amount of a chemical in breast milk (including medications) are in proportion to the amount of that same chemical in the blood stream. Fortunately, only small amounts get into your breastmilk – not enough to harm your baby.
Plus, milk ducts doesn’t “store” chemicals in milk, so once the drug used to put you to sleep is out of your system, it’s out of your milk too.
The drugs used to sedate you during surgery are processed quickly by your body. Once you’re done with surgery and starting to wake up, that means that the anesthesia is being eliminated from your body.
If you’re awake, that means that the anesthesia is out of your system (or you’d still be asleep!). So once you’re awake, it’s safe to pump and store (not pump and dump) your breast milk – once you feel up to it, of course.
In fact, if you’re in the hospital for a few days without your child, it’s probably important to pump a time or two to keep your supply up (if your goal is to continue breastfeeding after surgery).
Think of it this way: Many moms have a Caesarian, which is a MAJOR abdominal surgery. And many of them breastfeed their newborn babies directly afterwards! So there’s no reason that the medications used during and after a tummy tuck would make you need to stop nursing.
Why do doctors say you can’t have a tummy tuck while breastfeeding?
Less informed doctors will automatically tell you that if you want to have a tummy tuck, you’ll need to wean first. That’s because doctors are taught very little about lactation in medical school. Plus, they’re unlikely to learn more about breastfeeding after they start practicing.
Since doctors don’t understand how medicines are processed out of breast milk, they just decide to “play it safe” and tell you to wean if you’re going to have a tummy tuck. Unfortunately, they also don’t know all the great benefits to both mother and baby that come with nursing (especially past the first year).
RELATED: Benefits of toddler breastfeeding
I was thankful that my surgeon knew better. I told him that I was still breastfeeding my 1.5 year old son and he was supportive.
With that said, the official recommendation is to wait until weaning to have any elective surgeries (like an abdominoplasty/tummy tuck). That’s because it’s a lot easier to have surgery (and deal with the pain post-op) without also dealing with nursing.
But if you have a goal of breastfeeding months or even years past the baby phase, you may not want to wait that long for a tummy tuck (especially if you also have a hernia like I did). So if your diastasis is affecting your quality of life, and you really don’t want to wean, I think that getting the surgery now is a better option.
Caveat: I would at least wait until your child is eating enough solids that they aren’t reliant on breast milk as their primary nutrition (My son was about 21 months when I had my surgery). That way, you don’t have to have a huge stash before surgery. Plus, if your supply falls too much or your child self-weans, they’ll still be okay.
How do you keep your toddler from crawling on you after a tummy tuck?
While your milk supply might be fine post-op, a more difficult issue might be your worry about your toddler wanting to climb on you and sit on your lap.
And when you’re first dealing with the pain of surgery, a child crawling all over you can really hurt!
Here are a few things you can do to keep your toddler from sitting on you:
- Put a pillow on your lap when you’re sitting down so it’s not as inviting for them to sit there (This also helps protect your stitches from strain if you have to cough or sneeze).
- Get your partner or a grandparent involved to do special play dates with your child (so you can have a rest).
- Teach your child to sit beside you instead of on your lap. A toddler can even breastfeed while sitting or kneeling beside you.
Is it safe to lift your toddler after a tummy tuck?
One of the other heart-wrenching things about getting a tummy tuck when you have a small child is them wanting you to pick them up. It’s best to wait at least 6 weeks before picking up your child after a tummy tuck.
That’s not to say you need to wait six weeks to cuddle your little one. Teach your child to climb up beside you (instead of you picking them up). At first, you can rub their back or pet their head.
RELATED: My tummy tuck recovery story (and recovery tips)
During the first few days, I made sure my little guy was sitting/standing beside the couch (not directly on it, as I didn’t want him touching my side yet).
As you begin to feel better, you can allow your child to sit on your lap when you’re ready.
What if you’re too tired to breastfeed?
It’s okay if you’re too tired to nurse after major abdominal surgery – in fact, it’s to be expected.
There’s nothing wrong with setting gentle limits on your toddler’s nursing. As I’ve said before, breastfeeding is a relationship, and there is give and take in any relationship (once the child is past a year old).
RELATED: 11 ways to set limits on toddler nursing
You can explain that your tummy hurts (my 5 year old refers to my scar as my “big scratch”) and that you need to rest. It helps to have your partner or someone else around to distract your child or take them to play.
You can also give your little one simple tasks so they can be your big helper. They’ll feel proud of themselves for bringing you a water bottle or some other item, and you’ll get a small break.
Conclusions on having a tummy tuck while you’re still nursing
If you’re still breastfeeding and have a toddler who is eating solids as well, it’s okay to get a tummy tuck. You and your child will be just fine.
I hope this article has answered any questions you may have had about the safety of getting surgery while breastfeeding. If you have any further questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I would be happy to help in whatever way I can.
RELATED: My tummy tuck recovery story
Hi Thank you for all this great information. I also have a tummy tuck scheduled while nursing. I’m scheduled for a few more months and my baby would then be 15 months. What scares me is … I heard that your body does not heal as well if it’s trying to also produce milk. Can you share your feelings on that. Did you have any complications because you were nursing?
Hi Bel, so glad to help! I personally didn’t have any problems with healing, and honestly, a quick search didn’t bring up anything for me. I wouldn’t be worried about that. Make a point to eat plenty of protein because that will help support healing. Good luck with your surgery!