As the abdomen expands during pregnancy, the skin becomes stretched, which is often evident by stretch marks. If the skin is inelastic, it will not shrink back to its pre-pregnancy formation.  Another common occurrence, especially after multiple pregnancies, is the loosening or separation of abdominal muscles. This results in a sagging or protuberant appearance of the tummy.

Separation of the abdominal muscles may lessen over time, but if the condition remains and proves troublesome or undesirable, intervention may be necessary. Some find physiotherapy or postpartum dualgirdles to be beneficial while others find that nothing works to reduce the appearance of a protruding belly. In these cases, surgery may be the only solution to fixing abdominal muscles that have become overly stretched and separated. More commonly known as a tummy tuck, an abdominoplasty is a surgical procedure that tightens and flattens the skin and muscles. Abdominoplasty may be performed independently or as part of a mommy makeover package, which generally also includes breast surgery (breast lift with or without augmentation or reduction), liposuction, and other procedures that can help restore a woman’s pre-baby body.

The Tummy Tuck Timeframe: How Soon is Too Soon?

A tummy tuck is not advisable immediately after giving birth. Hormones can affect the elasticity of the skin and there is an increased risk of bleeding until the body has fully recovered from the pregnancy and labor. If the mother is breastfeeding, hormone levels will be even higher. At the same time, the body is going through the process of naturally loosing the weight gained during the previous 9 months. Not to mention, new mothers will need any energy they have to tend to their infant without having to worry about recovery from abdominoplasty.

Many surgeons will recommend a patient waits until at least 6 months after delivery to undergo a tummy tuck, because the majority of stretching will be recovered by then, although ripping will not. Hormones that soften the deep fascia tissue during pregnancy to allow for the growth of the baby will be inactive and the tissues will be better able to hold the stitches. This is an estimated timeframe and dependent on many factors. One factor is weight loss: if there was excess weight gain during pregnancy, the patient will need to wait until the extra pounds have been shed before the procedure can be performed. Reaching a goal weight may take longer than 6 months.

Women who are breast feeding should wait at least 3 months until after they have stopped nursing, especially if they have been doing so for several months or years. The hormone levels associated with breastfeeding can remain in the system for an extended period of time, which can lead to complications.

A third factor is if the patient plans on having more children in the future. Those that do have more pregnancies in their plans should wait. The effects of an abdominoplasty can be reversed from pregnancies that occur after surgery and from weight gain.

The Procedure

Abdominoplasty will remove excess skin and some fat from the middle and lower abdomen. It will also tighten the muscles of the abdominal wall that have become too stretched or separated. The procedure is performed on patients who are in good health but are concerned about loose skin and extra fat deposits in their tummy that do not respond to healthy diet or regular exercise.

The tummy tuck procedure can take between 2 and 5 hours. General anesthesia or local anesthesia with IV sedation may be administered. Incisions made during a tummy tuck are typically made just above the pubic area, extending from one hipbone to the other, in order to remain concealed by the patient’s underwear or bathing suit. An incision is also made to separate the naval from the surrounding tissue which will be redraped.

Once the abdominal muscles have been pulled tighter and stitched together in a more desirable position, the skin is then repositioned and excess skin is trimmed. A new hole is also made for the belly button and it is stitched into place. Once all incisions are closed, the dressing will be applied. A drainage tube may also be inserted to remove any excess fluid from the site during the first 1 to 2 days.

Recovery will entail some discomfort during the first few days, which can be controlled with pain medication prescribed by the surgeon. Some swelling should be expected, as well as bruising and possible numbness of the abdominal skin. These side effects are temporary and will subside over the proceeding weeks and months.

Stitches will be removed after 5 to 7 days, and patients usually return to work in 2 to 4 weeks. Some light exercise can help to improve healing, but vigorous activity is not permitted for the first 4 to 6 weeks after surgery. Women undergoing a tummy tuck after pregnancy will need help with childcare the first few days, since lifting can damage the results of the procedure. They will also need to be conscious of their diet and activity levels, since weight gain can also have unfavorable effects.

If a tummy tuck is something you would like to consider to get your pre-pregnancy figure back, contact a plastic surgeon who has extensive experience with the procedure. When performed by the right physician, an abdominoplasty can have long lasting results that look natural and leave you feeling like the most attractive mom on the block.