OUCH!

I have a friend who lives in LA who just had a tummy tuck and breast augmentation.  She is on her first day after surgery.  She is a tough cookie, and her words to me today were, “This really hurts!!”

One of the most common mommy makeover surgeries is breast augmentation and tummy tuck.   These by themselves are the two most painful surgeries we do as plastic surgeons.  These surgeries hurt because of the muscle.  For tummy tucks, I like to put in a pain pump which drips numbing medication internally to help.  In addition we give you pain medication and some of us use muscle relaxants as well.  Even with all of this, it still hurts.

For planning how to deal with your family life (as you are a mom, hence the mommy makeover):

  • the first 2-3 days you are OUT. You will be on medication round the clock.  Someone else should care for your kids.  And you. 
  • The first one to two weeks you will be very sore.  No driving until you are off pain medication.  As for when you will feel normal again and be doing your daily life things, people vary.  Every person is different as to when they get over the “hump” and feel better. 
  • No heavy lifting (yes, this includes your adorable children) until much farther out.  Exactly when you can lift something over 5-10 pounds is not a hard rule.  Some of it depends on you and your tissue.  Your doctor will know what that means.  Here plastic surgeons differ on their recommendations for activity level, so defer to your doctor.  Tensile strength of your wound (how strong your repair is) is weakest at three weeks out from surgery.  Usually you can’t do any exercise until at least 6 weeks out.  For core body exercise (pilates, crunches, that favorite daily method place in menlo park, etc) I extend that until 3 months.

Give yourself time.  It took you 9 months (and for those of you with multiple kids, multiply that time) to get into this mess, it will take you a while until you feel normal again.  This is normal.

I just got back from a playgroup. There was a mom who just had twins 6 months ago and has another child who is 2.  She had tried to do an intense exercise and diet program to get back into shape.  Here is a woman who has three kids within 2 years, the twins are boys, she is not sleeping through the night.  I was looking at her thinking, “You showered!” “Your shoes match!” “You aren’t wearing sweats!”  So I will repeat what I, the plastic surgeon and mother of three said to her:

Give yourself a break.

I know it is tough.  We see magazine articles of “how famous so and so actress lost her baby weight in three months!”  And there will be some lovely article about broiled chicken and fish and salad and yoga.  Or better yet, “I lost the weight just chasing after my kids.” Oh how lovely.  Here in the Bay Area there are many uber athletic thin women.  Some women I know look smaller when they are 9 months pregnant than the average American woman is non pregnant. 

Give yourself a break.

There are those genetically blessed women who “pop” right back into form quickly.  Yes, it isn’t all genes.  Keeping in shape while you are pregnant, not gaining more than the baby weight, not using pregnancy as carte blanche to try all the flavors of Ben and Jerrys … these all are important. 

But at six months out with a new baby, particularly if you have other children, and are breastfeeding/ working/ making dinners/ laundry/ cleaning up/ making lunches/ bathtimes/ buying diapers/ afterschool activities/ playgroups/ clean the house again…

There is a time and place for everything.  Sometime not so far away, your baby won’t be a baby.  He will be sleeping through the night.  YOU will be sleeping through the night.  I see the majority of my mommy makeover patients 2-3 years after their last child.  I think that timing is good.  It gives you time…. time to enjoy being a mother.  Time to breastfeed.  Time to give your body a chance to get back to normal.   Then you can work out.  Diet.  Exercise hard.  See where you can get to on your own.   

So give yourself a break.  Your baby won’t be a baby for long.  Savor every moment while you can.

Life isn’t always black and white.

In fact, as we get older, I find little is black or white.  Women come in to see me after having children to look at their belly, and many expect  answer.  “You should do _______. Let’s sign you up for surgery next week.”  I’m not that kind of doctor.  Some women come in and are a clear tummy tuck candidate.  Others come and are clearly not.  And then… dum ta dum dum… there are those who fall in between.  The dreaded grey zone.

I’ve had three kids.  I know the grey zone. I’m in the dreaded grey zone. My belly used to be beautiful- not take photos of it and put them on a magazine beautiful, but flat and strong beautiful….though of course I didn’t appreciate it until I lost it. (Is there a country western song about this?)  I look at my belly, and I don’t love it, but I also don’t mind it.  There are those days where I think it looks pretty good, and those days it doesn’t.  But then I look at my kids and I know it was worth it.

So if you aren’t thrilled with your tummy, should you try to improve it?  As a woman surgeon, I think a lot about the scar of a tummy tuck.  Will you think about it? Let’s say we do the tummy tuck and the scar fades to nothingness, which is what I expect for most of my fair skinned patients.  So you have a teeny tiny line of scar across your belly and around your belly button.  Now you get dressed.  Are you going to think about the scar? Will you be concerned it shows? Will you reposition your underwear? With all of our tiny underwear and low rider jeans and running around all summer in a bathing suit chasing kids.  I think about the scar with every patient.

Many women I see fall into a grey zone- They aren’t what they were before kids (sigh.) but they aren’t bad.  If you stand up really super straight the belly skin looks okay. (don’t slouch!)  So should these women do a tummy tuck?

My advice for women waffling in the grey zone?  Wait.  Wait a couple years. Work out.  Do core training.  See what you can do.  Then evaluate if a tummy tuck is the right surgery for you.  When these patients come in for a consultation, I take out my very sophisticated advanced medical tool: a black sharpie pen.  And I draw (shhhh. don’t tell my kids) on your skin where I think your scar will go.  Then you go home and try on your clothes and stare at yourself in the mirror.  Imagine your skin is tighter; your belly flatter; and ohmy you have a waist again.  How do you feel about the scar?

Tummy tucks are big surgeries with a high “price”- they are painful, have bigger scars, and longer recoveries.  Don’t do it unless you need to.  Some women are just plain blown out after babies- hanging skin, stretch marks, or they look 5 months pregnant all the time.  These women really benefit from a tummy tuck.  But these women are not in the grey zone.