You’ve met with your doctor. You’re confident you’re ready for surgery. However, tons of other people have been in your spot before and were blindsided to discover what their doctors didn’t bother to share about umbilical hernia surgery recovery.
I remember meeting with my doctor to plan my umbilical hernia repair.
I was skeptical, Was this really necessary? Would it relieve my constant hip pain and help me get back to feeling like myself? Does mesh really have to be used?
I had tons of questions and my surgeon, the top in the department, was more than happy to sit with me and answer them.
In fact, he was so thorough that, when I walked out of the office, surgery scheduled and pamphlet in hand, I was 100% sure I knew exactly what surgery and surgery recovery would be like.
When my mom, a former nurse, asked me questions and made suggestions; I humored her and followed her advice to appease her.
She was giving me advice that wasn’t even remotely near what the doctor and I had talked about. At the time, it made her suggestions seem random and even kind of off-topic.
I think I even told her, “This surgeon is one of the very best, and he didn’t say anything about having to do that after surgery.” Having known a few surgeons herself, my mom persisted.
It turns out, as it often does, that my mom was right. Her suggestions ended up saving me a ton of pain and frustration.
Related: Want to find out what completely correct and relevant advice my mom gave me about umbilical hernia repair recovery? Check out The 3 Do’s and Don’ts After Umbilical Hernia Surgery You Need to Know.
And, I know not everyone has a head-strong, former-nurse for a mom; so I’m sharing my list of observations about the umbilical hernia surgery recovery process.
Also, whether you’re just gathering information about umbilical hernia surgery or have already had your repair done, you can download your FREE copy of The Beginner’s Guide to Umbilical Hernia Repair now. Plus, you’ll get tips to help build your strength and relieve pain after your repair!
Here are the top nine realizations that blindside people post-umbilical hernia repair.
1. There will be swelling.
This might sound odd, but I hadn’t really thought about swelling after surgery. I expected bruising, but I didn’t expect a bulged, multi-colored mass peeking out from around my bandages.
Just like you would in many other cases, you’ll want to apply ice or a cold compress to help reduce your swelling. Especially in your first day or so after surgery, ice is crucial.
Applying ice will not only reduce your swelling, it will also help reduce your pain.
2. This won’t be as easy as you think.
I can remember talking to my mailman Charlie the day before he went in for umbilical hernia surgery. He told me he was planning on having the surgery, taking a week or two off, and coming back to work.
My jaw dropped.
“Eh. You uh. You’re uh… No. You’re going to need all six weeks before you come back to work.”
He was surprised. To be honest, I was too when I was thinking about my post-umbilical hernia repair life.
How necessary could it really be to take off six weeks?
They told me to take off eight weeks after having my kids, and I was back to working with clients after four or five. I figured this would be a very similar situation where I wouldn’t actually be doing any work myself but would be able to talk clients through a workout.
I was wrong.
Your umbilical hernia surgery recovery is going to be unlike any other recovery process you’ve ever gone through. Personally, I was more exhausted, less able to focus, and less motivated to do anything other than rest.
3. Ask for help.
You’re not going to be able to drive. You’re not going to be able to pick up things, even things that aren’t particularly heavy. And, those are just the limitations you know about right now.
Before your surgery, have a plan for help from friends, family, or a mix of both. Umbilical hernia surgery recovery is a challenge, so be prepared to let someone else do the heavy lifting—literally.
4. Keep a pillow handy for protection.
When I went to sleep the first night, I had a strong urge to put a pillow across my belly, covering my incision. The feeling of that pillow was extremely comforting.
As I rolled in the night, the pillow protected me from accidentally pushing my swollen belly into the mattress. It also saved my bacon when one of my cats wanted to help me feel better by “fluffing” my post-surgical area.
When I got up the next morning, I decided to bring my pillow friend with me to the couch. With cats and kids, that quickly proved to be a great choice.
My only wish is that I would have brought my pillow with me when I rode in the car. With pressure from the seat belt, car rides can be extremely uncomfortable.
5. Avoid the stairs.
Avoid the stairs—this is the golden advice my mom gave me. My doctor hadn’t said anything about avoiding the stairs, but because my mom was insistent, my husband set up a bed on our main floor pre-surgery.
Honestly, I planned to just have that bed for show since my parents were staying at a hotel at night and coming to my house to help out during the day. I didn’t plan on using the main floor mattress at all.
Yet, after one trip up and down the stairs as my hospital-grade pain meds started wearing off, I knew I would be staying on the main floor for as much as possible for the next week.
What happens is, as you lift your leg, your abdominals gently squeeze to support your body. This ends up feeling like a post-surgical slap to the gut with every step you take.
By the end of a trip up and down the stairs, you’re exhausted and beaten, checking the clock to figure out when you can take your next pain pill.
6. Take your pain meds and laxatives.
Don’t try to be a hero. No one cares if you quit taking your pain meds days earlier than you doctor suggested.
What matters is that you try to stay ahead of your pain, particularly in the first week after surgery. Stay on schedule with when you are supposed to take your pain pills and laxatives.
Follow the directions. Be a good patient. It will pay off when you have to take your first post-surgical poop.
7. Your first poop will be horrible.
I can remember trying to poop after having my first child, a C-section. I was taking laxatives to help move things along and Tylenol for my pain. Still, even though I had been preparing, the first poop was painful.
Years later, I had a second child via C-section. I actually remember telling my husband that the post-birth poop was much worse than the surgery.
Then, about a year and a half later, I had my umbilical hernia repair. The doctor had mentioned that constipation is a common side effect of pain medication, so I prepared.
On the morning of my surgery, I took a laxative. Then, later in the day, I took another. I figured this would be just like the post-childbirth poops. Turns out I was wrong.
To this date, pooping for the first time after umbilical hernia surgery is the most pain I’ve ever been in. And, as a point of reference, I fell and broke my neck the year after surgery.
8. Feeling “normal” might take a while.
I thought I would be back teaching clients after just a week or two. Instead, I was a lethargic zombie. When I tried to teach, an hour of effort left me so drained that I would have to take long naps.
Then, once I was cleared to start exercise again, my body seemed confused about what exactly it was supposed to do. Everything old was new again as I had to relearn any exercise that involved the abdominals.
Think of having to teach yourself how to do a crunch because your body doesn’t know how. It blew my mind and frustrated me beyond belief.
I would say it took me a few months until I felt “normal.”
9. You might still have a little bulge later.
Sometimes, when people get their umbilical hernia fixed, they think the surgery will smooth out all the bumps and bulges in that area. Unfortunately, this isn’t necessarily the case.
In order to have a flat tummy, you’ll need to retrain and restrengthen your abdominal muscles.
Related: To learn the best exercises to retrain your abs post-umbilical hernia recovery, check out Ready to Exercise After Umbilical Hernia Surgery? Start Here.
Ready for surgery?
I know that can be a lot to digest—particularly if your umbilical hernia surgery is right around the corner.
Take a deep breath. Relax. It’s going to be okay.
Plain and simple, here’s what you need to do:
- Go buy some laxatives.
- Talk to friends and family about helping you out after surgery for a few weeks.
- Make sure you can avoid the stairs.
- Tell your employer you plan to stay home for as long as the doctor says you should.
By following these easy suggestions, you’ll experience less pain and frustration. Plus, you’ll be doing your best to ensure your surgery heals correctly and doesn’t rip.
Because no one wants you to have to do this a second time.
Want a handy, free guide to help you prepare for umbilical hernia surgery? Click here to get your copy of The Beginner’s Guide to Umbilical Hernia Repair now. Plus, you’ll get tips to help build your strength and relieve pain after your repair!