If you’ve dealt with abdominal separation after pregnancy, you know how frustrating it can be to deal with people constantly asking you “How far along are you?” when you’re definitely not pregnant. You may be interested in a tummy tuck, but you may also be afraid of surgery. So if you’re looking for encouraging tummy tuck recovery stories, here’s mine.

As a mother of four with diastasis recti, I was hesitant to have surgery to fix the separation in my stomach muscles. I did months of physical therapy and tried several online programs. And these things helped some, but because my gap was so large, I couldn’t close it.

RELATED: Living with diastasis recti

Plus, the weakened muscles also caused me to develop an umbilical hernia that kept getting bigger. And once you have a hernia, you can’t “fix” it with exercise. The only permanent solution is surgery.

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So after doing my research and finding the best surgeon for me, I went ahead with the procedure. At this time, it’s three months post-op and I’m feeling great.

And honestly? The recovery was not as bad as I thought it would be. In this blog post, I’m going to share my real tummy tuck recovery story with you and give you some tips on how to make your own surgery recovery go as smoothly as possible.

The night before my tummy tuck

My husband and I stayed at a hotel near the hospital the night before my surgery. I didn’t eat much that night, and I was told to take a bottle of magnesium citrate to “clean me out” before surgery (not the best thing ever, but part of the process).

I also took pictures that night so we could have something to compare to later (to give you an idea of how bad it was, notice I’m over a year and half after my last child and still wearing maternity jeans). Other than that? It was a lot of relaxing and watching TV.

The day of my tummy tuck surgery

Literally, the worst part of my tummy tuck was waiting for it the morning of. Other than having my wisdom teeth out in high school, I had never had a surgery before and I was very nervous. But I reminded myself that this was just a regular Tuesday at the office for my surgeon (who had been doing this for over 15 years), and that it was fine.

Once I got there for pre-op, the nurses, the surgeon, and the anesthesiologist were all super nice and reassuring. I had always said before that the part I was most afraid of was when they were going to have my husband leave me, but they gave me medication to relax me before they knocked me out, and I honestly don’t remember him leaving me lol.

A few hours later, I woke up. I remember it hurting pretty bad, but all I had to do for the rest of the day was sleep and get occasional medications (antibiotics, anti-nausea meds, and/or pain meds) from the nurses. I stayed one night at the hospital (which I really appreciate).

The first day after my tummy tuck

The next morning, I told my husband, “I don’t know how they expect me to only stay here one night, because I’m pretty sure I’m never getting out of this bed.”

But sure enough, a few hours later, the nurse had me get out of bed and walk. It was difficult and hurt, and I had to stay very bent over as I walked, but I did it.

I had to wear a belly binder over my bandages to hold everything together (the hospital provided one, but I suggest buying an extra so you have an extra one to wear while you wash the other. This is the brand I used, and it’s more comfortable because you can adjust the three pieces).

The first few weeks after my tummy tuck

The doctor told me that I needed 6-8 weeks to recover, meaning I wasn’t allowed to pick up anything over 8 pounds during that time. Given that I had a toddler, this was difficult, but we made it work.

I’m super grateful that my husband and his parents did a lot to take care of the kids during my first few weeks of recovery. The first week and a half was a lot of sleeping and just hanging out.

One thing to keep in mind is that, just like how you can’t stand straight up, you can’t sleep lying flat either. But sleeping on your side isn’t an option for the first few weeks either, so you need some way to sleep reclined.

Pieces of play couch propped together to make an inclined bed for if you can't sleep lying flat.

My daughter used our play couch cushions to set up a reclined bed for me (which was really sweet of her), and it worked very well.

Triangle pillow and "speed bump" pillow from Brentwood Home play couch used to prop up rectangular piece for an inclined bed

I could prop it more upright during the day to read, and then remove a cushion or two to sleep at night. It worked much better than just trying to prop up regular pillows (sorry the pic is so close up, but the wall was right behind me).

I also had drains that were taken out a week post-op. While that wasn’t the most pleasant thing ever, they weren’t terrible. The biggest thing was just wearing stretchy pants like leggings or sweatpants that you could pull up over the drains (and making sure the kids or dogs didn’t accidentally pull on them).

I continued to walk bent over (although I slowly straightened up over the next week or so), and it took about a week to wean off of pain meds (although I continued to use Tylenol for another week or so after that.

And honestly, the pain wasn’t as bad as I was afraid it would be. I had read stories of some women who cried every day for weeks, but it really just wasn’t that bad (at least for me).

Tummy tuck recovery tips

There are some things that can make your abdominoplasty recovery much easier. Here’s what I recommend:

Stay on top of pain meds

You don’t want to let your pain get out of control. So don’t be shy about taking your meds, even if you think you can handle it.

At first, you can switch between your prescription meds and Tylenol so they overlap each other. After week or two, you can drop down and even just start taking something before bed. Soon, you won’t need them at all.

Hydrate and eat lots of protein

Remember, you just had major surgery, and your skin and muscles need to do a lot to repair. You need to help them by eating healthy and staying hydrated.

I dealt with a weird combination after my surgery: I was simultaneously extra hungry because my body was recovering, but I also could eat less at one time since there was less space in my stomach. So it was important that I had lots of healthy snacks.

I really like this protein shake (which I drink almost every morning). It tastes great, doesn’t upset my tummy, and is vegan. Meat, yogurt, beans, and eggs are also great protein sources.

The other issue with a tummy tuck is that your lymphatic system is affected by your incision, causing extra swelling. Even though it seems counterintuitive, extra water will help flush the swelling out.

Hold a pillow against your stomach when coughing or sneezing

I know I said that pain wasn’t a big problem, but coughing, sneezing, or even laughing hard can cause searing pain across your midsection. But holding a pillow against you can at least help support you against this extra pressure. Of course, wearing your binder 24/7 helps protect you too.

Get help with kids

Recovering from major surgery with kids dependent on you is difficult, to say the least. Almost every day, my 4 year old wanted to know if my “big scratch” was better, and I had to tell him that it was getting better but would still be awhile.

And of course, it was difficult not being able to pick up my toddler when he wanted me to. For him, I would sit down on the bed or couch and then let him sit beside me and cuddle. He could even still nurse that way.

RELATED: Benefits of toddler breastfeeding

Let your partner teach your kids not to grab you or “hug attack.” Even at a year and a half, they can learn that as long as they’re gentle, it should be fine.

Don’t push too hard

Often when you’re a mom, you feel like you should do everything all the time. But again, remember you’re recovering from major surgery. Don’t pick up things that are too heavy. Let someone else carry laundry up and down stairs. After a week or two, you can start folding it again. Maybe you can empty or load the dishwasher. But don’t try to do heavy housework that requires a lot of lifting or bending.

Don’t expect to look like an airbrushed model immediately

The pictures that are often shown on plastic surgeon’s websites are not reality. They are heavily airbrushed, and that’s not what you’re going to look like (especially in the first few weeks with swelling).

Forward facing pic of myself 3 months post tummy tuck
side view of myself 3 months post tummy tuck

You can look around for more realistic pictures of tummy tuck recovery to know what to expect (the pics above are me at 3 months post op, and I’ve been working with a trainer for about 6 weeks. I’ll put up more updated pics as time goes on. Also, have I mentioned that it’s terrifying to put pics of your belly on the internet?).

You can see the scarring around my belly button, and you can see that the stretch marks from the top of my belly have been pulled down to the bottom. But you can also see a huge difference from before my surgery.

Remember, you’ll spend the first month or so resting and fueling your recovery with healthy food, not focusing on exercise. And that’s exactly what you should be doing.

Here I am 5 months post-op. The swelling has gone down further, and the strength training and bike riding I’ve been doing has made a big difference. I fell a lot stronger (and am loving how I look more, too).

When can you start exercising after a tummy tuck?

Obviously, consult your surgeon about when he or she wants you to begin exercising again. I was told not to lift anything over a gallon of milk (about 8 lbs or 3.6 kg) for the first 8 weeks because I had such a large hernia to repair.

However, I was allowed to do gentle cardio around 3.5 weeks post-op. I started with my Echelon bike on low-impact rides a few times a week. From there, I slowly increased the length and intensity of my rides.

Around 10-11 weeks post-op, I added in strength training. I found a trainer who had experience with women’s health issues like diastasis, and I’ve been getting stronger every day.

I really only started focusing on core exercises after 4-5 months post-op. At first, any strain on my linea alba burned, and I was really nervous about stressing it. But now that it’s been a few more months, it no longer hurts to do simple moves like bird-dogs, planks on my knees, and dead bugs (things I wasn’t supposed to do at all pre-surgery).

Just like anything else, make sure your doctor and trainer knows about any health issues you have before you begin exercising again. Make sure to warm up first, especially if you’re lifting weights.

Tummy tuck recovery story conclusions

I hope this article has been helpful to you in some way. As a mom who’s dealt with abdominal separation and had an abdominoplasty, I know that it can be scary to think about the recovery process – but I’m here to tell you that you can do it!

If you’re interested in learning more about what my tummy tuck experience was like, please feel free to reach out and ask me any questions or share your own stories.

While we may not have exactly the same journey, knowing someone else has gone through something similar might help put your mind at ease when it comes time for surgery.