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Health & Fitness

Tummy Surgery After Pregnancy

A mother and her baby
A mother and her baby. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Pregnancy and motherhood are wonderful experiences for most women. However, the changes that occur after carrying a child can last a lifetime. Most women struggle to get rid of their ‘baby pots’ and often have to contend with living with them after multiple failed attempts at losing them.

A ‘baby pot’

This is a colloquial term used to refer to the large sagging belly that develops after one has had a baby. This saggy belly often develops after multiple pregnancies but some women also get it after their first baby.

The ‘baby pot’ is not an ordinary large belly. It is the end product of a combination of factors, namely:

Stretching of muscles away from the midline: The main muscles of the abdomen connect with each other at the middle of the abdomen. During pregnancy, these muscles are pushed apart and sometimes fail to come back together. This is medically known as ‘diastasis recti’. Increase in abdominal wall fat: Due to both hormonal and dietary factors, most women gain significant weight during pregnancy. Loose skin: Due to the excessive stretch during pregnancy, the skin can sometimes lose its elasticity causing it to feel softer than usual and look flabby and wrinkly.

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Women are not all the same

Not every woman will develop a ‘baby pot’. After childbirth, some women look like they did before pregnancy. Others look like they are still pregnant several months or years after giving birth. This is largely thought to be due to genetics and body type.

Why some baby pots do not respond to exercise

The ‘baby pot’ is different from the ordinary large belly found in overweight people. The latter responds very well to exercise and reduced calorie (food) intake.

Most women trying to get rid of a stubborn ‘baby pot’ will notice some reduction in size with exercise but it may not flatten completely.

In these cases, the exercise will have helped reduce the fat and may have toned the muscles. The problem is that the exercise may not be able to bring the separated muscles back together and tighten the skin.

A candidate for tummy tuck

• If you have tried to gain back your flat belly through exercise and healthy eating but are unsuccessful, then you can consider seeing a plastic surgeon to assess your suitability for a tummy tuck.

• If you have an underlying medical condition that may be causing your big belly, for example, due to fluid accumulation. This can be a sign of liver/kidney/heart disease, cancer.

• You need to be fit and be of good general health to get general anaesthesia. Remember, a tummy tuck is a cosmetic procedure and most doctors will not perform it on patients who risk having complications in theatre.

• Most plastic surgeons wait six months to one year (after childbirth) to perform the procedure.

• Some doctors do not perform tummy tucks on smokers because of complications of poor wound/tissue healing.

What happens during surgery?

A tummy tuck is medically referred to as an ‘abdominoplasty’. Usually, the plastic surgeon tightens the muscles and removes excess fat and skin.

The extent of the procedure is individualised depending on the woman’s needs. Usually, the incision used is in the bikini line so one cannot tell if there has been surgery done. The doctor will give you a compression garment (similar to a corset) to wear for a few weeks after surgery.

The initial recovery time takes about six weeks but the full effects of the procedure are appreciated after three to six months.

What are the risks of surgery?

These mainly occur during the procedure or within the first few weeks of surgery. They include:

Anaesthetic: There can be drug reactions and side effects related to anaesthetic drugs. Bleeding: This can occur even several days after the procedure (most of the time, the surgeon is in a position to deal with it). Infection: This can occur at the bikini incision or deep in the tissues operated on. Fluid accumulation: Sometimes, fluid may accumulate in the abdominal wall (rarely, this can become infected). Dark skin: There may be devitalisation and blackening of the skin and fat that is left behind, which is rare. Injury to intestines, bladder, uterus and stomach usually do not occur. Clot: Very rarely, a clot may form in the veins of the legs and enter the blood stream and land in the lungs, causing breathing problems.

Side effects of a tummy tuck

There is usually pain and swelling in the first few weeks after surgery. This usually resolves. Most people also report loss of sensation and numbness in the belly. The sensation gradually comes back.

Do we have professionals who can do this procedure in Kenya?

Yes, we do. There are several board certified plastic surgeons who can perform tummy tucks in Kenya. They are found in Kenyatta Hospital and most large private hospitals in Nairobi.

How much is it and will my insurance pay for it?

Tummy tucks cost of about Sh500,000. They are cosmetic procedures and most insurance companies will not pay.

The only exception to this is if your belly is causing you to have health issues such as back pain or recurrent skin infections (as is the case in people living with obesity).

Talk to your health insurance provider to find out if your cover entitles you to have a tummy tuck.

Does the big belly recur after surgery?

Yes, it can. Should you get pregnant or have significant fluctuations in weight, your belly will lose the flat appearance that you will get after the tummy tuck.

Send your health questions to [email protected] and [email protected]

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