How To Handle Your Drain Tubes After Your Tummy Tuck—A Quick And Realistic Guide

One of the most difficult parts of dealing with a tummy tuck isn't the pain—it's the drain tubes. Drain tubes are inserted in one or more spots to help prevent a buildup of fluid behind the surgical site. If you haven't had them before, you need to learn a few tricks for handling them as quickly as possible.

1.) Ask for a waistband while you are in recovery.

If you're lucky, a quick-thinking nurse will have an elastic waistband ready for you that has velcro straps in strategic areas—but don't count on it. Immediately after your abdominoplasty, the drain tubes will be taped to you and tucked in a pair of surgical, sterile panties to help hold them in place. However, these won't last past the first couple days, at which point you'll need the belt with the velcro enclosures. Make sure that at least one (two if you can get them) goes home with you. Two makes it easier to shower—otherwise, you have to dry the waistband between each shower and your movement is really limited without it in order to keep the tubes in place.

2.) Start using the waistband immediately. 

Your skin won't be that sore after the surgery—just the muscular structure underneath—so having the waistband on won't be painful and it will help keep the drain tubes in place. Since the tubes are inserted into holes in your body and only loosely sutured in place, with a drain bulb attacked at the end, they can be pulled out of position really easily. If you pull one out too soon, you'll have to go back under anesthesia to have it reinserted so this is not something you want to risk.

Put the waistband on and use the velcro enclosures to give the tubes extra support. The drain bulbs are pretty light-weight plastic, but they get quite heavy as they fill up, so you need the support. Another trick is to put on a pair of "granny" panties—the high-waisted, basic cotton undies that you won't mind throwing away when this is all over. Tuck the actual drain bulbs inside the top of the granny panties for additional comfort and they'll be easy to keep in place. Some of the tubes have extra latches that you can use to hook on the granny panties, but it's easier to just tuck them inside.

3.) Ask for a handful of sanitary wipes and extra measuring cups.

The recovery room nurses may or may not think to send you home with extra sanitary wipes that you can use to clean the opening of the drain tube when you empty them. Having extra measuring cups means that you don't have to clean them after each use, which can be messy. Use the wipes on the opening cap of the plastic drain bulb as soon as you open it to remove any bacteria and fluid that's gathered there and wipe it again after you are done draining the bulb. If bacteria gets into the bulb it can travel up the tub and into your surgical site, causing infection.

4.) The changes in the color of the draining fluid are normal.

The fluid you'll collect in the drain bulbs for the first few days will mostly be bright red blood. That will gradually darken and even take on a yellowish cast as the blood is replaced by other fluids. One tube may drain more heavily than others. You'll be asked to empty the tubes at set times at each day and measure the fluid. The little cups that come from the hospital are marked, so it's an easy task. Mark down the color as well. 

There's no set time limit for how long you have drain tubes after a tummy tuck—the best answer is "as long as you need them." As the fluid draining decreases and lightens in color, you're getting closer to having them removed. Your doctor doesn't want to rush things—removing them too early could lead to fluid buildup under your skin that's painful and potentially full of infection, so be patient. You can expect to have the tubes for up to four weeks, though they'll hopefully be gone much sooner.

5.) If one does fall out, don't panic.

Despite your best efforts, those loose sutures and the elastic belt may not be enough to keep them in place. It isn't uncommon for someone to accidentally pull out the tube while sleeping or showering, especially after a week or two when they may have gotten tugged on a few times. Don't panic. Your surgeon isn't going to try to reinsert them unless you show signs of swelling in the area. A "wait and see" approach is best.

Drain tubes are probably the least comfortable part of your tummy tuck—the pain from the surgical site will probably diminish within a couple of days, but the tubes will be with you for a few weeks. Use these tips, however, and you'll be able to function like normal without worrying that you'll pull them out during your normal routine. For more information, talk to a professional like Laufer Institute of Plastic Surgery.