Six questions to ask before booking a tummy tuck
There's no such thing as a silly question when it comes to your body and plastic surgery
Although a tummy tuck, also known as an abdominoplasty, may sound like a cute, breezy procedure to reconcile a bit of ab flab, it is a complex, multi-step plastic surgery procedure that addresses a stubborn, flabby pooch around and below the belly button.
"A tummy tuck is a surgical procedure for both men and women that addresses excess skin and fat in the abdomen while also repairing any abnormal muscle separation that may exist," explains Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, Charles Galanis, MD. "Although it's most commonly applied to post-partum women, both genders are candidates for this procedure."
The most common abdominal procedure, according to Manhattan-based plastic surgeon, David Shafer, MD, is an abdominoplasty with diastasis repair for postpartum women or patients who have lost a significant amount of weight, noting that a stomach's lingering round appearance or hanging skin, months or years after childbirth or weight loss, is due to the separation of the abdominal muscles and can only be restored surgically.
"There are a ton of variations to a tummy tuck procedure and what it's combined with," says San Francisco plastic surgeon, David Sieber, MD, who estimates that a tummy tuck alone could clock about four hours – serious, indeed.
If a tummy tuck is on your radar now or an idea you're toying with for down the road, here are the most important questions to ask yourself and your surgeon, according to four distinguished plastic surgeons.
Ask yourself: Do I know what a tummy tuck actually is?
Many patients incorrectly conflate a tummy tuck with a mommy makeover – a tummy tuck could be part of a mommy makeover, but a tummy tuck is a single procedure that is "performed through an incision that stretches hip to hip below the panty line," explains Galanis, adding that it's frequently partnered with other procedures, like liposuction.
Tacking additional procedures onto a tummy tuck requires careful consideration on behalf of the patient because the longer the procedure, the higher the risk for complications, cautions Dr. Sieber, who believes that although it may be inconvenient to schedule multiple surgeries, it's sometimes smarter and safer to separate the procedures to prevent being under anesthesia for too long.
Ask your surgeon: What will the scar look like?
A hip-to-hip incision is not for the faint of heart, and when it comes to managing the scar post-op, you'll be playing the long game.
"Scarring will differ from patient to patient based on factors, such as surgical technique, genetics, skin type and sun exposure," says Dr. Galanis. "I tell all my patients that you have to make peace with the fact that you will have a scar."
But it's not all gloomy: thanks to leaps in technology and research, there are plenty of scar reduction therapies for patients, according to Dr. Galanis, including microneedling, injectable treatments, scar gels and creams, laser therapy and re-excision and closure.
"Everyone scars differently," says Richard Brown, MD, who adds that scars take a full year to mature. "It will look lumpy and puckered from sutures initially."
Just like any surgery, post-op care and recovery isn't a two-month ordeal; you'll be recovering from the procedure for the rest of your life, in one way or another.
Ask your doctor: I had a C-section. Can I still get a mommy makeover?
In a word: Absolutely. "A C-section scar is often a reason why patients want a tummy tuck," says Shafer. "The C-section scar creates a point of adherence to the underlying tissue, which often leads to a shelf of loose tissue hanging over the skin," he says, adding that especially since no skin is removed during the C-section, it leaves the stretched skin to sag. "When I perform a tummy tuck or an abdominoplasty, I remove the C-section scar and work to make the incision at or below the level of the C-section incision," says Shafer
Ask yourself: How much time and help do I have for an extended recovery?
Dr. Sieber does not mince words when it comes to getting real about recovery: "It's a serious surgery with definite downtime and you're going to be very, very uncomfortable."
Both Drs. Sieber and Galanis explain that recovery varies from person to person, including their age and overall health, but all patients should expect to take narcotics for about two weeks post-op to ensure that the pain is tolerable. Dr. Sieber adds that patients "definitely need to plan" for the procedure and the extended recovery, while Dr. Galanis estimates that patients can resume most of their routine day-to-day activities after two weeks, but the gym is off-limits for at least two months.
Ask yourself: Are you planning to have more children?
A mommy makeover surgery is the most time, cost and recovery-effective if you have no plans for future children, according to Dr. Sieber.
Of course, surprises happen, but rest assured that a future pregnancy wouldn't disqualify you as a candidate for a mommy makeover, it would just reverse the results as the abdomen re-expands and body changes.
Ask your doctor: What anecdotal info can you share about your previous patients' experiences?
For Dr. Galanis, one of the most rewarding aspects of being a plastic surgeon is the ability to improve the lives of patients, and he delights in sharing his patients' experiences with a prospective patient who may be on the fence.
"I would relay what my patients tell me," he says, which is that this procedure "quite literally changes their lives." From a massive confidence boost to an improved quality of life, he sees patients who "are excited to wear clothing they never saw possible" and find themselves "more enthusiastic about life" in general.
"The best part of my job is having a front-row seat to these transformations – a transformation that goes beyond simply a change in the physical form."
To find a qualified plastic surgeon for any cosmetic or reconstructive procedure, consult a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. All ASPS members are board certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, have completed an accredited plastic surgery training program, practice in accredited facilities and follow strict standards of safety and ethics. Find an ASPS member in your area.