Recovering from surgery

Recovering from surgery

Recovery is a long process that follows a different course for everyone. While there are common stages of recovery, your body will heal in its own way. 


It is important to follow your surgeon’s instructions for aftercare. The information here does not replace the information you receive from your surgeon. If there are any differences, you should follow the advice provided by your surgeon.

What to expect while you heal

After surgery, you’ll likely be prescribed painkillers to make you comfortable and antibiotics to reduce the chance of infection.

During the healing process, you can expect:

  • Discomfort in your belly
  • Pain in your upper chest and shoulder area, due to the gas used to inflate your abdomen
  • Pink, brown or yellowish-brown discharge from your internal genitals (vagina An internal organ located between the legs. A person may be born with a vagina or have one surgically created. When referring to genitals, the Trans Care BC website uses "internal genitals (vagina)" for trans people assigned female at birth (AFAB), and "vagina" or "vagina with vaginoplasty" for trans people assigned male at birth (AMAB), but there are many different terms that individuals may use. ) for 4–6 weeks
  • Possibility of passing some stitches (this is normal)
  • Incisions that may be red with some bruising (this will slowly go away)
  • Incisions that will be closed with Steri-strips, sutures Sterile medical threads, also called stitches, used to close surgical incisions. or staples; your surgeon will let you know how these will be removed if needed

When to get medical help

You should contact your primary care provider A person’s main health care provider in non-emergency situations such as check-ups and referrals. Family doctors, general practitioners (GPs) and nurse practitioners (NPs) are all primary care providers. or surgeon if you experience any of the following:

  • Excessive wound redness
  • Excessive bruising or swelling
  • Excessive abdominal pain
  • Yellow or green pus-like discharge
  • The area around the incision is hot or hard and painful to the touch
  • Chills or a fever over 38.5 degrees Celsius (101.3 Fahrenheit) by mouth
  • Pain that is not relieved by prescribed medications or gets worse a few days after surgery
  • Excessive bleeding from the vagina

Tips to help recovery

Your recovery is affected by your body’s reaction to the surgery and other factors. In general, many people begin to feel better within two weeks and a full recovery will likely take four to six weeks. Proper rest helps speed this process.

We’ve provided some general information regarding how to recover well from surgery, but it’s important to follow your surgeon’s instructions. 

Caring for your incisions

Your incisions will require care. Your surgeon will provide you with instructions on how to do this. Wound care is something new for most people so don’t be shy to ask questions. Your surgical team wants to support you to feel comfortable and knowledgeable. 

Manage your pain

It is normal to experience a moderate amount of pain during the first few days after your surgery. Take your pain meds on time to keep your pain under control, manage stress, promote healing and decrease complications.

You may wish to use this pain medication tracking chart.

If your pain is not adequately controlled, call your primary care provider.

Manage constipation

Constipation is a common side effect of pain medication. If you experience this, try increasing the number of walks you take, drinking more water, eating more fruits and vegetables, eating prunes or taking a stool softener. Get protein from food sources other than dairy. If constipation continues for several days, call your primary care provider.

Wash hands frequently

Always wash your hands with soap before and after touching the parts of your body that are healing. This will help prevent infection.

Minimize the risk of infection 

Wear a high quality mask, ensure up-to-date influenza and COVID-19 vaccinations with boosters. You can also request COVID-19 testing and masking before visiting with others. Coughing after surgery can cause complications and infections can slow down postoperative healing. 

Get lots of rest

Plan to do less activity during the day and allow yourself to nap. Your body needs extra sleep while you are healing.

Relaxation techniques can help your body heal from surgery, too. They reduce the effects of stress on your body, letting your body’s systems focus on the healing process

Move gently to promote healing

Go for little walks after your surgery. Walking increases your blood flow, which speeds up the healing process.

If walking is not an option for you, or if you are lying down for long periods of time, leg exercises and breathing exercises will also increase your blood flow and support your healing.

Leg exercises

  1. Keeping the heels of your feet on the bed, point your toes down toward the end of the bed.
  2. Return to a normal resting position.
  3. Point your toes back towards your chin.
  4. Return to a normal resting position.
  5. Keeping the heels of your feet on the bed, point your toes and move them in a big circle to rotate your ankles. Move your toes clockwise a few times, then counter clockwise a few times.
  6. Rest for a short time.
  7. Repeat steps 1–6 four more times.

Deep breathing exercises

Deep breathing exercises help your breathing, clear your lungs and lower your risk of pneumonia.

  1. Sit or lay comfortably and rest your hands on your abdomen.
  2. Take a deep breath in through your nose: imagine filling the bottom of your lungs first, then the middle, then the top. You might feel your lungs expand.
  3. Hold your breath while you say in your head, “This will help my body heal” or any meaningful word, phrase or sound.
  4. Blow the air out completely, including pushing the last bit of air out from the bottom of your lungs. Pursing your lips can help you control your breath.
  5. Repeat 3 times.
  6. Take a little rest.
  7. Repeat steps 1–5 another four times (16 breaths total).

Enjoy foods that promote wound healing

Your body will need extra calories, proteins and nutrients to heal so look for foods that contain:

  • Protein (meats, eggs and nuts)
  • Zinc (whole grains, spinach, nuts)
  • Vitamin A (carrots, broccoli, eggs)
  • Vitamin C (strawberries, peppers). 

If you have questions, you may find it helpful to speak with a dietitian. You can contact a dietitian by calling 8-1-1 (HealthLink BC).

Drink lots of water

It’s important to drink lots of water and empty your bladder regularly. This helps prevent urinary tract infections. Your urine should be clear or pale yellow.

Avoid alcohol and nicotine

Avoid consuming alcohol and nicotine. If you have any questions about this, speak with your surgical team.

Attend your check-ups

You will likely be asked to visit your surgeon 4–6 weeks after your surgery to ensure you are healing as expected. You can also see your primary care provider about any concerns in the postoperative period.

When you visit your surgeon or primary care provider, they should check your surgical sites to make sure there are no infections or wound healing problems. They will also ask questions about pain, bleeding, discharge, urination, bowel movements, fever and how you are feeling physically and emotionally.

Mindfully return to activities

Many people feel comfortable within 2 weeks and begin returning to their daily activities gradually over the next 4–6 weeks. Some activities, such as driving, heavy lifting and exercise, will likely be restricted in the postoperative period. Your surgeon will give you advice about when it is okay to resume the following activities. These instructions will help keep your incisions and surgical site safe while it is going through the different stages of healing.

We’ve provided some general information on returning to activity below, but it does not replace the information you receive from your surgeon. If there are any differences, you should follow your surgeon’s instructions. 

  • Taking a bath or shower
  • Going to work
  • Driving a car
  • Swimming
  • Participating in a sweat
  • Having a sauna
  • Playing instruments
  • Lifting more than 10 pounds
  • Exercising
  • Participating in rituals and ceremonies
  • Dancing
  • Sunbathing
  • Sexual activity

You may find that your energy, stamina or tolerance for different activities and sensations are affected by your surgery or pain medications. This is a normal part of your healing journey.

First 10 days after surgery

Avoid activities that can disrupt your healing, cause pain or bleeding, or lead to elevated blood pressure. Increased blood pressure post surgery increases the risk of internal bleeding (hematoma). This includes:

  • Having any kind of sex (alone or with a partner)
  • Having an orgasm
  • Running 
  • Biking
  • Driving 
  • Walking a dog 

First 4–6 weeks after surgery

  • Keep in mind that any activities involving another person (or a pet) are less predictable than those done on your own. 
  • Avoid activities that can cause rubbing on the incisions. This can cause infection or inflammation of incisions.
  • Be careful about activities where a repetitive motion causes a garment to subtly rub over the healing tissue (such as running, walking and biking).
  • Avoid activities that can lead to internal or external bleeding, compromised blood flow and injury to nerves and healing tissues. This includes:
    • Tiring and repetitive movements
    • Activities that could stretch or tear incisions (inner or outer) 
    • Sudden or vigorous movements
    • Lifting more than 10 pounds
    • Strenuous activity (including certain kinds of sexual activity)
    • Bondage, suspension, pinching, squeezing, vigorous massage
    • Giving or receiving percussive activities, including flogging, spanking and paddling 
    • Very hot and very cold temperatures

Returning to sexual activity

Lots of people have questions about returning to sexual activity after surgery. This includes masturbation and sex with other people. The above recommendations apply to sexual activity. As with all other activities, speak with your surgeon about when it is safe for you to be sexually active after surgery. 

It can be helpful to speak with your surgeons before starting any kink or BDSM activities in the months after surgery. Your surgeon will likely welcome these questions. If you are shy, you can be creative and ask about returning to full contact sports, swinging a tennis racket, receiving vigorous massage, riding a horse, using a heating pad or wearing restrictive or tight body-shaping clothing, etc.

More tips on returning to activity after surgery

  • Ease back into your regular activities (shorter and less intense).
  • Pay attention to whether your swelling or tenderness increases after activity. If it does, you may want to wait a bit before trying that activity again.
  • You may find that your energy and stamina are reduced. This is normal and will balance out over time.
  • You may find that your tolerance for different activities and sensations is affected by your surgery or pain medications. This is also normal and will balance out over time.
  • Stop or take a break if you feel pain, anxiety or fear. 

Dealing with post-surgery depression

Many people experience a wide range of emotions following surgery. Medications, limitations on activity, and your healing body can contribute to depression after surgery. This can include feelings of low mood, loss of appetite, difficulty concentrating and even self-doubt. This is a temporary and normal part of the healing period. 

Here are some suggestions for making it easier.

  • Putting your self-care plan into action.
  • Make a list of things you enjoy and reflect on how you can experience these sources of joy. Examples of these include:
    • Eating foods you love
    • Surrounding yourself calming smells and inspiring sounds
    • Keeping a journal
    • Writing letters of thanks to those who have helped you
  • Speak with a family member, friend, counsellor or other health care professional about the feelings you are having.
Need support?

Contact our team of experienced health navigators for information about gender-affirming care in B.C.