Bariatric Surgery Recovery: Timeline, Pain, Diet, & Activity

Reviewed by:  

John M. Rabkin, MD, FACS

Last Updated:  

11/01/2017

Your bariatric surgery recovery time depends on which procedure you choose. Following are the ranges to expect:

  • Timeline Range: from 3 days to 6 weeks to full recovery
    • Hospital Stay: from outpatient (return home same-day) to 3 days
    • Back to Work: from 3 days to 3 weeks
  • Pain Range: from mild discomfort to manageable with medication
  • Diet Range: from no restrictions to slow transition from clear liquids to solid foods
  • Activity Range: from no restrictions to slow transition back to regular activity and exercise

Click the sections below for more details.

01Recovery By Procedure
  • Gastric sleeve
  • Gastric bypass
  • Lap-Band
  • Duodenal switch
  • Gastric balloon
  • vBloc Therapy
  • AspireAssist

Bariatric Surgery Recovery

Review the chart below to compare recovery for all procedures.

Recovery By Procedure

 Gastric BalloonGastric SleeveGastric BypassDuodenal SwitchLap-BandvBloc TherapyAspireAssist
Outpatient2 to 3 days2 to 3 days2 to 3 daysUp to 1 dayOutpatientOutpatient
3 – 4 days~2 weeks~2 weeks~2 weeks~2 weeks3 – 4 days2 – 3 days
3 – 4 days (no incisions)4 to 6 weeks4 to 6 weeks4 to 6 weeks4 to 6 weeks4 to 6 weeks4 to 6 weeks
Gradual transition from clear liquids to solid foodsGradual transition from clear liquids to solid foodsGradual transition from clear liquids to solid foodsGradual transition from clear liquids to solid foodsGradual transition from clear liquids to solid foodsNo transition; back to regular meals immediatelyEase into eating full meals
Mild discomfortManaged in hospital with IV medication, then managed at home with prescription and over-the-counter medicationManaged in hospital with IV medication, then managed at home with prescription and over-the-counter medicationManaged in hospital with IV medication, then managed at home with prescription and over-the-counter medicationManaged in hospital with IV medication, then managed at home with prescription and over-the-counter medicationManaged at home with prescription and over-the-counter medicationManaged at home with prescription and over-the-counter medication
3 to 4 day transition back to regular activity4 week transition back to regular activity4 week transition back to regular activity4 week transition back to regular activity4 week transition back to regular activity2 week transition back to regular activity2 week transition back to regular activity

To learn more about recovery for each procedure, follow these links:

02Recovery Timeline
  • Day 1 through Week 6 After Surgery

Bariatric Surgery Recovery

Weight loss surgery recovery for the less-involved procedures is reviewed on the following pages:

The weight loss surgery recovery timeline below applies only to the more-involved procedures, including:

  • Gastric sleeve
  • Gastric bypass
  • Lap-Band
  • Duodenal switch

Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS)

For the more-involved procedures, patients who use the enhanced recovery after surgery (ERAS) protocols included below have (1)(2):

  • 1 day shorter hospital stay, on average
  • Lower costs
  • Possible lower risk of complications

Before moving forward with surgery, ask your surgeon if they are familiar with ERAS protocols. Share this link if they are not, and note that this page adds to the protocols based on additional best practices.

2+ Weeks Before Surgery – Education & Goal Setting

Learn as much as possible about the procedure, including how to prepare and what to expect over the short- and long-term.

1 Week Before Surgery – Tour Hospital Facilities

Becoming familiar with the hospital and facility where your surgery will take place will help to reduce any anxiety of being in an unfamiliar place on the day of surgery.

2 Days Before Surgery – No Food, & Drink Clear Liquids Only

Stop eating all foods and drink only clear liquids during the 2 days before surgery. This will clear out your digestive system before surgery.

Clear liquids include :

  • Clear broth (beef, chicken, or vegetable)
  • Jell-O (sugar free)
  • Juice without pulp or added sugar (such as apple juice or pulp-free orange juice)
  • Popsicles (sugar-free)
  • Tea (caffeine-free, unsweetened)
  • Water

Do NOT eat or drink:

  • Food of any kind
  • Thick or pulpy drinks of any kind
  • Caffeinated drinks
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Sugary drinks

2 to 4 Hours Before Surgery – Check In at Hospital – Ask About Carbohydrate Drinks

Your surgeon will tell you what time you need to check in.

This is already a big day, so do everything you can to eliminate any other forms of stress. Do your best not to rush around. Set your alarm early to give you more time, and leave your house with plenty of time to spare for any traffic issues.

Talk with your surgeon about taking pre-operative carbohydrate (CHO) supplements (usually in drink form). While some studies show no benefit, others have found it to result in (3)(4):

  • Shorter hospital stays
  • Quicker return of bowel function
  • Less loss of muscle mass

The ERAS protocols referenced above include 2 carbohydrate drinks in the hours leading up to surgery.

Surgery – 1 to 4 Hour Procedure Time

On average, your procedure will take between 1 and 4 hours to perform, depending on the procedure:

  • Gastric sleeve: About 2 hours
  • Gastric bypass: About 4 hours
  • Lap-Band: 1 hour or less
  • Duodenal switch: About 4 hours

If following ERAS protocols, before and during your procedure your surgical team will:

  • Give you 8 mg IV dexamethasone at the same time anaesthesia is given
  • Use standardized anaesthesia
  • Use intraperitoneal local anaesthetic (injection directly into the body cavity)
  • Avoid prophylactic nasogastric tubes and abdominal drains

0 to 2 Hours After Surgery – Immediate Post-Op Care

After your procedure, your surgical team will:

  • Observe you closely to make sure you are comfortable
  • Use standardized pain and nausea management medications
  • Use standardized methods to prevent deep vein thrombosis

    Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a risk after any surgery, bariatric or otherwise. It happens when a blood clot forms inside a deep vein (such as those found in the leg or pelvis).

    DVT can be life-threatening if the blood clot comes loose then travels to and blocks the the arteries in your lungs. It is especially concerning for patients with a history of blood clotting problems.

    Your surgeon should talk with you about standard preventive measures, including:

    • Blood thinners
    • Compression stockings

2 to 24 Hours Post-Op – Pain Management – Start Moving

You’ll be under close observation during the first day of your recovery time after weight loss surgery:

  • Pain: Pain and nausea will be managed with IV medication
  • Diet: No food or drink
  • Activity:
    • You may feel weak or tired, which will start to pass as you transition to your new diet and exercise routine.
    • Start moving around by sitting up, hanging feet off of bed, and standing

1 Day Post-Op – Start Clear Liquids & Basic Exercise

Here’s what to expect the day after weight loss surgery:

  • Pain:
    • You may feel pain in your incision or discomfort from how you were laying during surgery. Some neck or shoulder pain is also common.
    • Each day after surgery you will notice less pain. Pain and nausea will continue to be managed with IV medication (you will be able to self-administer the medication as needed with a button).
  • Diet:
    • Gastric sleeve, gastric bypass, & duodenal switch: Start drinking clear liquids after you pass your “leak test” to confirm that your stomach staple line is not leaking
    • Lap-Band: Start drinking clear liquids (no leak test required because no staple line)
  • Activity:
    • Get out of bed and walk around at least 3 times per day
    • Hourly leg and breathing exercises

1 to 3 Days Post-Op – Leave Hospital – Start Small Soft Meals

Most patients leave the hospital between 1 and 3 days after surgery, depending on the procedure:

  • Gastric sleeve: 2 to 3 days
  • Gastric bypass: 2 to 3 days
  • Lap-Band: 1 day
  • Duodenal switch: 2 to 3 days

After returning home, your recovery plan will continue as follows:

  • Incision Care and Observation:
    • Keep clean: Gently wash with soap and water (no scrubbing), then dry gently but thoroughly
    • Keep covered with sterile bandages
    • Normal healing includes swelling, bruising, and leaking of bloody fluid
    • Contact surgeon if warning signs present, including:
      • Bright red skin around incision
      • Excessive leaking
      • Leaking fluid changes color or thickness
  • Pain: Take prescription pain medication as needed
  • Diet: Continue clear liquids only
  • Activity: Continue your walking, leg, and breathing exercises

4 Days Post-Op – Phone Call with Surgeon

Day 4 after weight loss surgery will be similar to day 3:

  • Incisions: Continue care and observations
  • Pain: Continue prescription pain medication as needed
  • Diet: Continue clear liquids only
  • Activity:
    • Continue your walking, leg, and breathing exercises.
    • Follow up phone call with surgeon

5 Days Post-Op – Showers & Light Activity OK

You’ll probably be able to shower and start light activity 5 days into your bariatric surgery recovery.

  • Incisions: Continue care and observations
  • Pain: Continue prescription pain medication as needed.
  • Diet: Continue clear liquids only
  • Activity:
    • Continue your walking, leg, and breathing exercises.
    • Can start light physical activity (lift no more than 10 lbs/4.5 kg)
    • Can start taking showers or baths (avoid hot tub or jacuzzi)

1 Week Post-Op – Over-the-Counter (“OTC”) Pain Medications – Start Liquid/Smooth Foods – 2nd Surgeon Call – Start Driving

The 7-day mark is a big day for weight loss surgery recovery as you will begin to eat again and can resume driving.

  • Incisions: Continue care and observations
  • Pain: Should no longer need prescription-strength pain meds. Switch to over-the-counter pain medicine like Tylenol and take as needed.
  • Diet:
    • Add thicker drinks and smooth foods (no chunks) (timing varies by surgeon)
    • Nausea or vomiting is common during the first few months following surgery. Some patients also experience constipation, diarrhea, or gas. Adjusting what you eat and how you eat will usually make you feel better.
  • Activity:
    • Continue your walking, leg, and breathing exercises.
    • Continue limiting yourself to light physical activity only (lift no more than 10 lbs/4.5 kg)
    • Gastric sleeve, gastric bypass, and duodenal switch: 2nd follow-up phone call with surgeon.
    • Lap-Band: 1st follow-up appointment to adjust band fill amount. Several more adjustments will be needed before the band is “perfectly tight” for the best level of “restriction”
    • Start driving again (unless you are taking any prescription pain meds)
    • Start attending weight loss surgery patient support group meetings through your surgeon’s office (studies show quicker recovery and more weight loss for those who do!)

2 Weeks Post-Op – Pain Gone – Start Pureed/Soft Foods – Follow-Up Appointment – Return to Work

After 2 weeks, the most difficult part of your bariatric surgery post-op recovery will be behind you:

  • Incisions:
    • Should be healing nicely and may no longer need bandages, but may still be a bit puffy, itchy, or irritated.
    • Continue care and observations.
    • After the wounds have closed completely, apply special lotions (and sunscreen when exposed to the sun) to minimize scarring.
  • Pain: Should be mostly gone. Continue over the counter medication as needed.
  • Diet: Slowly test pureed & soft solid foods (timing varies by surgeon)
  • Activity:
    • Continue your walking, leg, and breathing exercises.
    • Continue limiting yourself to light physical activity only (lift no more than 10 lbs/4.5 kg)

3 Weeks Post-Op – Start Solid Foods

You’ll get to resume eating solid foods during the 3rd week of your bariatric surgery recovery:

  • Incisions: Continue care and observations.
  • Pain: Probably no longer an issue by this point. Take OTC meds if needed.
  • Diet: Slowly test solid foods (timing varies by surgeon)
  • Activity:
    • Continue your walking, leg, and breathing exercises.
    • Continue limiting yourself to light physical activity only (lift no more than 10 lbs/4.5 kg)

4 to 6 Weeks Post-Op – Incisions Healed – Heavy Lifting OK – Start Normal Diet – Noticeable Weight Loss

During weeks 4 to 6 of your bariatric surgery recovery time, you’ll transition into your “new normal.” Heavy lifting can resume, and you will begin your new diet and exercise maintenance routine.

  • Incisions: Should be mostly healed.
  • Pain: Probably no longer an issue. Take OTC meds if needed.
  • Diet: Start full long-term maintenance diet (timing varies by surgeon)
  • Activity: Back to normal daily activities and exercise, including heavy lifting

By this point, you will already be noticing significant weight loss.

To learn what to expect after bariatric surgery recovery, see our Diet & Life After Weight Loss Surgery section.

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03Incisions
  • Cleaning instructions
  • Warning signs
  • How to minimize scarring

Bariatric Surgery Recovery

Do not rush back into your normal daily routine immediately after surgery, and don’t lift anything heavy for at least a few weeks. Having sex is okay as soon as you feel up to it, but be extra careful with your healing incisions.

Incision Cleaning Instructions

Keep your incisions clean and covered by:

  1. Gently washing them with soap and water (no scrubbing or soaking)
  2. Air dry them or pat dry with a clean towel
  3. Dress the incisions with sterile bandages/wound dressing

Warning Signs

Swelling, bruising, and leaking a little bloody fluid is normal. But contact your surgeon if you see any of the following warning signs:

  • Bright red skin
  • Excessive leaking
  • Leaking fluid changes color or thickness

Minimize Scarring

After the wounds have completely closed (usually takes about 2 weeks), use the following tips to finish the healing process and minimize scarring:

  • Apply special lotions to minimize the scarring
  • Use sunscreen on your scars when they are exposed to the sun

04Pain During Recovery
  • Managed with IV, prescription, and over-the-counter medication
  • Completely gone in 2 to 3 weeks

Bariatric Surgery Recovery

The pain experienced after weight loss surgery is similar to what you would experience after any laparoscopic surgery (surgery with small incisions):

  • In-hospital: Right after surgery, pain will be controlled with IV pain medication. You will probably have the ability to “self-administer” your meds as needed by pressing a button.
  • 1st week home: After you leave the hospital, your pain will be managed with prescription pain meds.
  • 2nd week home: After the first week, pain should have subsided enough for you to switch to over-the-counter pain medicine like Tylenol.
  • 3rd week home: Your pain should be mostly gone. Continue over-the-counter meds as needed.

05Diet During Recovery
  • Diet transition schedule
  • Water & fluid guidelines

Bariatric Surgery Recovery

Your diet during bariatric surgery recovery will start with clear liquids and slowly transition back to solid foods. However, the speed at which you will transition varies widely by surgeon. In addition, each procedure has specific dietary restrictions. Click below to learn more.

Diet Transition Schedule

Conservative Diet Transition

  • Day 1: Nothing to eat or drink
  • Days 2 through 7: Clear liquids only
  • Week 2: Add thicker drinks & smooth foods (no chunks)
  • Week 3: Slowly test pureed & soft solid foods
  • Weeks 4+: Slowly test solid foods

Aggressive Diet Transition

  • Day 1: Start clear liquids and possibly test thicker drinks and smooth foods (no chunks)
  • Day 2: Test pureed & soft solid foods
  • Day 3: Test solid foods

Talk with your surgeon to find which transition schedule they recommend.

See our Bariatric Diet section for more information about what you will eat after surgery.

Water & Fluid Guidelines During Recovery

It is important that you drink a lot of fluids – between 48 and 64 ounces per day. That’s equal to about 8 cups or 1/2 a gallon. You may find this tough to keep up with considering the smaller size of your stomach (or stomach pouch after Lap-Band).

Use these tips to keep your water intake up and prevent problems:

  • Keep a low-calorie drink next to you and sip a little every 15 to 20 minutes
  • Designate a special container, measure out your daily amount of fluids every morning and put it in the fridge. Spread your consumption throughout the day so that the container is empty before you go to bed.
  • Do not drink any liquids during your meals or within an hour afterwards. This can flush your meals through your new stomach which can cause you to eat more and contribute to vitamin deficiency.

Not just water!

If you only drink water, you may develop electrolyte abnormalities such as water intoxication syndrome. Make it a point to mix in low-calorie liquids such as unsweetened, caffeine-free herbal tea.

Talk with your team for recommendations specific to you, but most patients are instructed to limit water to no more than half of all fluid intake.

06Activity During Recovery
  • 4 week transition schedule

Bariatric Surgery Recovery

It will take anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks to transition back to normal activity after weight loss surgery.

  • Day 1: Start simple movements, leg, and breathing exercises as soon as possible: sit up, hang your feet off the bed, and stand.
  • Day 2: Start walking
  • Day 5: Start light physical activity (lift no more than 10 lbs./4.5 kg), and start taking showers or baths (no hot tub or jacuzzi)
  • Day 7: Start driving
  • Day 14: Can start using hot tub or jacuzzi
  • Weeks 4 to 6 (depends on patient): Back to normal daily activities and exercise, including heavy lifting

Note that Lap-Band patients usually have a quicker recovery than gastric sleeve, gastric bypass, and duodenal switch because the Lap-Band procedure does not alter the digestive system.

07Challenges During Recovery
  • Nausea
  • Digestive issues
  • Body changes

Bariatric Surgery Recovery

At first, you may experience discomfort in a number of areas which may sound unpleasant, but these side effects will usually pass with time or changed behavior…

  • Nausea or vomiting is especially common within the first few months following weight loss surgery. After your stomach is fully healed, you’ll quickly learn what your stomach can and can’t handle. How you eat is as important as what you eat when it comes to preventing nausea and vomiting… avoid eating and drinking too quickly or too much, take small bites and chew your food thoroughly. (See our Bariatric Eating page to learn about proper eating techniques that will avoid problems.)
  • Body aches – should pass with time. If they become too uncomfortable, talk with your doctor about which pain relievers are safe. You should typically avoid NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen or Aleve.
  • Weak or tired feeling – should also pass with time, especially once your new bariatric diet is in place and, as soon as you are feeling up to it, begin your exercise program (bariatric diet discussed here).
  • Feeling cold – this is caused by metabolism and weight loss and the fact that you have less fat insulating your body.
  • Constipation – drinking more fluids, eating fibrous foods or taking fiber supplements and moving around regularly should help.
  • Diarrhea or loose stools – usually diet related and requires the avoidance of “trigger” foods that disagree with your stomach.
  • Gas – also diet related.
  • Dumping syndrome, especially after gastric bypass, is caused by rapid emptying of your stomach after a meal. Symptoms include weakness, dizziness, flushing and warmth, nausea and palpitation immediately or shortly after eating.  If you don’t adopt the right habits, this problem can continue over the long-term.  See our Dumping Syndrome page for more details.
  • Gurgling noises – not necessarily uncomfortable, but it’s worth noting. Gurgling noises are completely normal and are due to the different way your new digestive system pushes air through. The best way to prevent gurgling noises is to avoid swallowing air (i.e. avoid carbonated beverages, sipping through a straw, eating or drinking too quickly and chewing gum).
  • Thrush (yeast infection) – this can be a side effect of the antibiotics you are on to prevent infection. Symptoms include changes to your tongue such as a white coating, redness or inflammation. Thrush is easily cured with medicine, so let your doctor know if it starts to develop.

Your emotional state may also be a little shaky immediately following surgery. It’s common for patients to feel scared, uncertain or moody due to hormonal changes and to the emotional effects of adjusting to a new life after weight loss surgery. The Support Group section found here will address the best way to overcome any difficult emotional issues.

Other things you may experience include…

  • Skin changes such as acne or dry skin occur with some patients. The right bariatric diet and bariatric vitamins are your best defense. There are also many over the counter creams and lotions that can help. Worst case, partner with your dermatologist to find a treatment that works.
  • Hair loss – this can be an alarming side effect of rapid weight loss, but it is only temporary. It happens in about half of all patients in the year following surgery. Proper nutrition is the best defense, including protein and the right bariatric vitamins. Several other treatments can also help, including the application of special shampoos and oils (Nioxin shampoo, flax seed oil, biotin tablets or powder).

It typically takes patients anywhere from two to six weeks to start feeling balanced and back to normal again.

After getting through the bariatric surgery recovery phase, following are the ways that your life after weight loss surgery will be permanently changed.

See our Life After Weight Loss Surgery section to learn what to expect in the months and years ahead.

08Help & Support
  • Support groups
  • Ask the expert
  • Patient experiences

Bariatric Surgery Recovery

Click below to learn about support groups, to ask our experts a question, or to share your experiences.

Support Groups: Quicker Recovery & More Weight Loss

Regular weight loss surgery support group participation has been found to:

  • Reduce post-op recovery time
  • Lead to as much as 12% more weight loss

Expert and peer feedback during support group meetings help with countless post-surgery challenges including:

  • Fear before surgery
  • Questions about the future
  • Temptations and how to overcome them
  • Impatience or frustration regarding how quickly the weight is coming off
  • Learning how to interact with the world in your new body
  • Overcoming depression relating to your new diet and changes to existing relationships (both in and out of the home)
  • Diet and recipe tips
  • Relationship advice for at-home and work relationships

Ask a Question, Share Your Experiences, & Read Stories from Other Patients

Have questions about what to expect during recovery? Use the form to submit your question, and please be as detailed as possible with your question and circumstances so we can get you the answers you need.

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* Disclaimer: The information contained in this website is provided for general information purposes and your specific results may vary depending on a variety of circumstances. It is not intended as nor should be relied upon as medical advice. Rather, it is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient/site visitor and his/her existing physician(s). Before you use any of the information provided in the site, you should seek the advice of a qualified medical, dietary, fitness or other appropriate professional. Read More