healing timeline + tips for recovery (breast explant, lift, and abdominoplasty surgery)

[Warning: the reals + wrinkly stomach pics ahead. Proceed with caution] 

Hi friends! Thank you again for all of your kind wishes and comments on the post about my surgery. I was overwhelmed with all of your support and genuinely appreciate those who took time to leave a comment here, on Instagram, and Facebook. It can always been a little daunting to put yourself out there on social media, especially when you feel vulnerable, and you always wrap me up in kindness and love. Thank you for being so wonderful.

You can read more about why I got my breast implants removed and diastasis recti repaired here. (<— classified as a full abdominoplasty because my ab separation was all the way up, and I had loose skin above and below my belly button.)

While I was recovering, I chipped away at this post with some things that came to mind. There are some tips mixed in with my personal experience, and as always, please remember that only we can make the best decisions for ourselves and our health, with our doctor’s guidance. 

MY OTHER RECIPES

Day 1 (Day of surgery): I’m shaking as my alarm goes off. Quickly, I shower, get dressed (in a plaid shirt and comfy shorts I’ll end up wearing for 2 days), and head with Tom to the surgery center. The Dr marks me up with Sharpie, we take pictures, and before I know it, I’m on the operating table, getting my happy juice before I doze off to Dreamland. My body tends to want to fight off anesthesia, so the second they start “lightening” the amount, I WAKE UP. On the OR table. Every around me assures me that it’s over, but I’m still trying to talk (I have no voice from the tube that was down my throat) and also trying to Hulk myself off the table. (My wrists are strapped down.) I’m pretty sure people wake up in recovery? I was wide awake as they lifted me onto the other roll table thing -I did watch Grey’s Anatomy but my brain isn’t helping me remember what it’s called- and wheeled into the recovery room. Tom comes in to keep me company, and my entire body is shaking from the anesthesia. I tell the nurse that I’m in a lot of pain, and she gives me Demerol. It relaxes me a little TOO much, my blood pressure starts to plummet, and they have to quickly give me fluids. In a few minutes, I’m feeling ok again, and talking to the Dr.

Good thing Tom is there because I can’t remember a single thing we discussed. I just remember my blood pressure crashing, getting the fluids, the shaking/doom feeling going away, and drinking ginger ale. I hadn’t had ginger ale in SO LONG and it’s pretty much the best post-surgery drink ever. So bubbly, sweet, and refreshing.  

We head back to the hotel where a wheelchair is waiting, and straight into bed for a long nap. When I wake up, I’m actually feeling pretty great. I eat some nice and salty gluten-free crackers, drink more ginger ale, and we order room service and watch movies.

My recovery timeline:

Day 2-4: The very hardest days. In the middle of the night after my first day post-op, I wake up in SEARING pain. I’d stayed on top of all of my pain pills and muscle relaxers, and wake up having to count down until my next dose. It was pretty terrible. These couple of days are a blur of naps, reading a bit, and watching movies, in addition to getting up every hour or so (hunched over) to walk around the room for 5 minutes so I can move my legs. (<— Doc suggested this to prevent blood clots, and Tom also has to give me daily Lovenox injections to prevent clots for 7 days.) We order a lot of room service and Postmates, since I don’t end up leaving the hotel room the entire time we’re there.

Hotel reading

(I’ve never watched so much TV in my entire life)

We have my post-op appointment on day three, and drive home. We stop every hour and walk around -it’s quite a sight hunched over with my compression socks on- and make it home to madre and the girls. The girls know I have an owie and can’t pick them up yet, and they’re super gentle and sweet. I’m SO thankful my mom can stay with us for two weeks. She and Tom end up doing everything around the house and for Liv and P, while also taking care of me. Every time I think about everything they’re doing, it makes me start to tear up because I feel so overwhelmed with gratitude and how fortunate I am to have them in my life. There’s literally no way I can do anything functional at this point; I need help getting out of bed and shuffle around, either to the kitchen, the bathroom, or back to bed.

Day 5-10: Each day, I start to feel a little bit more *normal* and can stand a little more straight. I spend a lot of time on the couch (the girls can snuggle with me and I’ll read them books or watch movies with them), or in bed taking naps. By this point, I’m starting to get bored, and also missing be able to spend all day going on adventures and playing with the girls. I take a break from my binder and super tight sports bra each night to let everything air out, and massage my belly with arnica gel and coconut oil. We watch a lot of movies, and I sleep a lot. 

Tom also takes the drains out from my breasts, which is intense. It’s almost like minor surgery haha. The doctor showed him how to do it since he wanted to spare us another drive to Atlanta and back, and as soon as the drains are gone, I feel RELIEF. It makes it much easier to move around and take a shower. I still have my belly drain, but 1 drain compared to 3 is pure bliss. 

Day 10, I make the switch to Tylenol because I only have 2 pain pills left -I feel like I need to save them in case the pain gets worse- and it’s kind of a rough day. I’m extra sore and tired. I spend a little more time lying on the couch, snoozing, and taking breaks to walk around and shake my legs out. I’m glad I switch to Tylenol because the pain meds were seriously messing up my stomach. (I won’t go into details but I took probiotics twice a day, Colace 3x a day, ate prunes and drank Smooth Move tea.. and things were still not ok.)

By Day 13: I feel SO much better. I feel more mobile, I’m able to contribute more to our family (I can make quick snacks and meals for the girls.. and for myself) and we took my belly drain out, so I’m drain-free! Taking a shower minus the drains is AMAZING. We head to my post-op appointment and get so much good news. Everything is healing as it should be, and I can start to transition carefully towards move normal activities. I can also ditch the binder and wear Spanx instead (I order a couple of these from Amazon), drink alcohol (YEAH), start to add in gentle walking around the block, and massage everything with Vitamin E. This appointment makes me feel so relieved that everything is doing what it should be.

Week 3: I continue to feel better, but feel tired and swollen by the end of the day. I’m wearing these Spanx during the day, and my binder during the night. I’m surprised by how awesome it feels to have my abs back together. Everything feels like it’s back in place. Before it felt like my stomach was always pushing out. I thought I’d be sad that I can’t work out by this point, but I can’t even imagine going to the gym. (Not that I would go early, but I thought I’d feel good enough that I’d be sad I’d have to wait. Nope. Not even close to feeling ready.) 

Week 4: I’m back into my daily activity levels, and it feels awesome. I’m still walking pretty slowly, and tend to do almost everything in slow motion, but I can take Liv to school and pick her up, make all of the girls’ meals, fold and put away laundry, and get some computer work done without feeling like I need a nap halfway through. I’m still wearing my Spanx (starting to transition to that at night instead of the binder), and my sports bra, and using arnica and coconut oil on my torso. I’m waiting for my surgical glue to come off until I start using the Vitamin E on my incisions.

I take a walk around the block.. in slow motion… and am super tired afterwards.

Week 5: I’m cleared to lift P again, and life changes. I feel like I can do everything I need to do -it was SO HARD to have to bring P to the couch every time she wanted me to pick her up and hold her. She’d have to crawl onto my lap instead- and while I’m still being careful, I’m pumped about it. I start to walk around the block more often, because I’ll be cleared to exercise the next week, and will need to start teaching again the week after that. I feel like I can definitely teach at this point, and will just need to spend way more time coaching than doing the actual exercises.

Week 6: I’m cleared to work out again! The doc said to take it easy to start, and avoid super heavy weight lifting, dedicated core work and insane things for another 6 weeks. For now, I’m just excited to do some jogging and barre. He also says I can stop wearing Spanx 24/7 and just wear it during workouts and if I feel more swollen/puffy that day. This is my first week teaching, and while I only do maybe 10% of the class, it’s really hard. I’ve lost a lot of my strength and flexibility. 

Week 7-8: Since we evacuate to Atlanta to escape Hurricane Irma, I book an appointment just to get everything checked out and have a couple of questions answered. There is a small part on the center of my scar he might revise next year -apparently revision is no big deal and done with local anesthesia and very little downtime, but I’m REALLY hoping it flattens out on its own- as well as two small dog ears. These are hard to avoid, and it’s like a puffy/fatty area at the ends of the incision. I’d prefer to stay far away from a scalpel from now on, so I’m crossing my fingers that I heal well and all of the residual scar puffiness goes the heck away.

The good news is that I’m cleared to lift weights again (wahoo!) and everything is healing as it should be. He gives me some silicone strips to try out for scar healing, so we’ll see how they go. 

From now on, I just hope everything continues to heal well and that I continue to feel better and more normal. <3 

Let’s talk about a few things:

-Pain pills. Whenever I have a medical procedure, I take the pain pills for a couple of days and then wean onto Tylenol instead. I have a pretty high pain tolerance. I ended up needing almost every single pain pill they gave me. I took them for 9 days, and took all of my muscle relaxers, and can’t imagine taking anything less. This recovery stuff is not for the birds.

-Recovery smoothie. I didn’t have much of an appetite for the first few days, but even after I was eating like normal-ish again, I continued to have this smoothie almost every day:

Fab 4 smoothie

-1 1/2 cups almond milk

-1 scoop vanilla protein 

-1 scoop collagen

-spinach

-1-2 tablespoons almond butter (or 1 tablespoon almond butter + 1 tablespoon MCT oil)

-1/2 cup frozen cauliflower

-lots of cinnamon

-ice

It was so refreshing and was an easy way to pack in a lot of nutrients at once. 

-Drains. I’m in a couple of Facebook groups so I can lurk/learn about these procedures, and so many people would complain about their drains. The first day, I was like, “Why are they complaining? The drains are kind of annoying but not so bad.” By like Day 2, I got it. They were terrible. They ached at night and it was so hard to get comfortable. The sites where the drains came out ached whenever they were bumped or moved, and draining them was just nasty. Thankfully Tom did it for me for at least the first 5 days since he’s not grossed out by that stuff. Something that helped me shower was to get a lanyard, clip the drains to it, and they would just hang around my neck. Showering is terrible for the first couple of weeks. Since I couldn’t lift my arms -I got a lift with my explant- my mom and Tom had to help with washing my hair or scrubbing myself. The things we do.

-Must-haves. Extra sports bra (I had to keep them compressed for 2 weeks after my explant and lift), an extra belly binder to wear while you’re washing the other one, and soft camisoles. The binders are SO itchy, and you can wear a camisole underneath. I also rubbed arnica gel on my stomach (not by the wounds) and top of my chest to help with swelling. I also highly recommend Arnica gel for bruising and swelling. Pineapple contains bromelain, which is also supposed to help with swelling. I didn’t take the bromelain supplements, but made an effort to drink pineapple juice and eat fresh pineapple in the first few days.

I also had this wedge pillow for sleeping in bed and it was clutch. (For tummy tucks, they generally recommend sleeping in a recliner or reclined chair position with knees bent and head/shoulders elevated. We don’t have a recliner, but the wedge pillow was perfect. I just used that with a regular pillow on top, and two pillows under my knees.)

All of my must-haves for each type of recovery are listed at the bottom of this post. 

-Recovery and time sleeping/resting. This is so crucial, and as mamas, it can be SO hard to do. This is why it’s important to enlist help during this time. You don’t want to try to be a hero, do too much, and set yourself up for complications (like fluid build-up or tearing muscle repairs). It’s boring and hard to sit still. Also, I found that even though I was sitting and resting a lot, I didn’t have a ton of mojo to get work done or write. It’s different to be resting when you need to rest compared to resting because it feels good to just chill.

I had a lot of help with the girls since I couldn’t lift P for 5 weeks. Madre was here for the first 2, then we had a babysitter while Tom was at work. The good news is that our babysitters are amazing, so it never felt awkward with them here while I was here. When P was napping and Liv was at school, we’d chat and watch Netflix together. It was SO HARD to not pick up my babies, and childcare backup was expensive, but worth it to avoid complications. The good news is that even though I couldn’t lift the girls, we could still snuggle together. We spent a lot of time on the couch, curled up in a blanket, or I’d sit on the floor and read books or play dolls with them. 

-The roller coaster of emotions. My doctor told me that my muscle repair would hurt so much that I wouldn’t even notice my breast pain, and he was exactly right. My breasts felt awesome immediately after getting the implants out. I knew I made the right decision, despite the large scars and the drains. They had ached and burned for so long that the pain from surgery was nothing compared to how I felt before! It was sweet, sweet relief. I felt light, pain-free, and SO happy.

With my abdominal repair, I doubted myself around day three. I still couldn’t easily get out of bed by myself, could hardly walk, had sneezed (THE WORST), had an enormous scar, and was wondering if I’d made the right choice. It got into my head a little -I just wanted to feel good and be able to take care of the girls- but within a few days, as the scar began to heal and I realized how awesome my abs feel together again, I knew it was worth it. The smooth skin is a welcomed improvement, and I’m glad I decided to go for it. 

Before and After pics

I wasn’t originally planning on posting before/after pics, but in my last post, I received quite a few requests to share them. While I was researching these procedures, it helped me tremendously to see pictures of the healing process, so I’m going to share them for those who have asked. It was also helpful for me to see pics of people who had this procedure who had loose skin from childbirth, and ab bulging from the DR. When I saw these types of pictures, and read their stories about how great they felt afterwards, it was reassuring to me. 

Please keep in mind that I’m a human, with real feelings. While dissenting opinions and thoughtful conversation is always encouraged on the blog, comments that are posted for the sake of personal attack (against myself or others who weigh in) will be removed. 

My stomach before (facing forward):

Tummy tuck before and after

Close up… I like to think it looked like the bottom of a burrito (which really is the best part of a burrito)

Wrinkly skin postpartum

Side view:

Tummy tuck on fit person

Relaxed side view at the end of the day (the pressure on the connective tissue all day made me super bloated):

Diastasis recti protrusion

After:

5 weeks post op (belly button is still healing/swollen):

5 wpo tummy tuck

Side view, relaxed: (5 weeks post up):

5 wpo tummy tuck 2

[Sorry for the bad lighting in these pics, but I didn’t want to edit any of them. Sorry, no boob pics. lol.]

So there ya go!

Thank you so much for reading. Cheers to everyone working on a happier and healthier version of themselves; whatever that looks like for each of us.

xoxo

Gina

My must-haves:

Breast explant and lift:

Zipper sports bra

Arnica

-Coconut oil (I get mine from Thrive Market)

Pure Vitamin E

-Button-up shirts. I especially loved these button up pajamas.

Wedge pillow (while drains are still in, or until Dr says you can lie flat)

Soft camisole to wear under the compression bra

Bralettes and wireless bras (after healing and Dr gave the ok to ditch the sports bra. This is my very fave.)

Abdominoplasty:

Wedge pillow

Spanx camisole

Spanx leotard (I got two of these and LOVE them)

-Faja (this one can be strapless which is nice if you want to wear an off-shoulder top or dress. It’s also very tight and supportive. Not as soft and comfy as the Spanx but does the trick.)

Vitamin E

-Coconut oil

-Foods on hand that don’t need to be prepared (or were prepped in advance and frozen!), and snacks, like dried fruit, ginger ale, coconut water, and bars

Arnica

-Soft leggings and comfy pajamas

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95 Comments

  1. Deanna on September 28, 2017 at 9:54 am

    My stomach looks like your before picture. I have dr as well and am going to pt for it. For some reason I feel like mine is looking worse now? I sure hope I can get it healed with pt because I think I’d be too much of a baby to have the surgery you described. Yikes! That sounds like a lot of pain. Thank you for being honest about it. I hope you heal quickly. Best wishes

    • Fitnessista on September 28, 2017 at 10:28 pm

      mine looked worse over time, too. i think as everything settled into what would be its new *normal* the skin just kind of hung there and was super loose. i don’t have good elasticity at all
      i hope that PT is successful for you!!

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