What your belly button (a.k.a. navel) looks like is a bit of a wild card. For starters, it can cave inward (hi, ‘innies’) or protrude outward (here’s looking at you, ‘outies’), and there are different degrees of each. When it comes to shape, the navel can be round or oblong. If yours isn’t a perfect circle, it may be more horizontal or vertical in nature. The more time you spend inspecting your belly button, the more odd it is likely to look.
While there is no ‘ideal’ navel, you may have strong feelings about yours. Additionally, pregnancy, weight changes, or injury can change the appearance of the belly button. So, whether it’s a major life event or simply the return of ‘90s-inspired crop tops that has you navel-gazing in the literal sense, we’re breaking down everything you need to know about the cosmetic procedures that can alter the shape and size of the belly button.
Why Consider a Belly Button Surgery
The navel is the remnant of the umbilical cord that connected you to your mother’s placenta during pregnancy. In case you don’t remember from your grade-school biology class, the cord delivers vital nourishment during gestation but is not needed after birth. As a result, it is clamped and cut and the remaining stump falls off a couple weeks later. What’s left in its place is your navel. “Although the belly button is only a scar from the placenta, as humans, we attach a high value to it,” says Melissa Doft, MD, a double board certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon in New York City.
For some, the benefits of belly button surgery are purely cosmetic. For others, it offers improved form and function. Below are some of the most common reasons people consider belly button surgery:
- Aesthetics: Not liking the way the navel looks is one reason to consider surgery. “Someone might be interested in an umbilicoplasty if their native belly button has always bothered them,” explains Asaf Yalif, MD, a board certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon in Alpharetta, GA. “Whether that means an outie rather than an innie or just that they feel that it is not aesthetically pleasing, [surgery] can address those concerns.” When it comes to what constitutes “aesthetically pleasing,” Dr. Doft finds that “most people wish to have a belly button that is narrow and taller than it is wide.”
- Correction: While aesthetics is the driving force here, too, some patients seek corrective belly button surgery after undergoing a previous procedure. “Most people seeking an umbilicoplasty have had a procedure before — whether it be laparoscopic, a tummy tuck, or even prior procedures like liposuction — that may have altered the appearance of their belly button,” shares Mark G. Albert, MD, a board certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon and umbilicoplasty expert in NYC. Such revision can improve the overall shape, size, and appearance of the navel.
- Umbilical Hernia: While not all people with ‘outies’ have an umbilical hernia, many do. As Dr. Doft explains, the belly button comes to protrude outward due to “a small hole in the fascia (the strength layer of the abdomen)” that “fat or intestine is pushing through.” In some cases, the hernia may cause pain or lead to functional concerns.
- Piercings: If that belly button piercing you got in high school or college hasn’t aged well, belly button surgery can help. The cosmetic procedure will remove any hangover or sagging skin left behind.
- Pregnancy: Needless to say, the body undergoes a host of changes during pregnancy, and the appearance of the belly button may be one of them. As the uterus expands and pushes the abdomen forward, the navel may ‘pop’ as well. This protrusion is normal and usually subsides within a few months of delivery, though your belly button may not look exactly like it once did. If your ‘outie’ lingers longer, it may be a sign of an umbilical hernia.
- Weight Fluctuations: As with most other parts of the body, significant weight changes may lead to extra skin around the belly button. Depending on your aesthetic goals, an umbilicoplasty or abdominoplasty can be performed to address this change in the shape and appearance (more on that below).
Since there may be medical reasons for why you are unhappy with the shape of your belly button, it is important to consult with a board certified plastic surgeon who will be able to evaluate the cause for the concern and recommend the appropriate treatment.
Types of Belly Button Surgery
Generally speaking, there are three types of belly button surgery that range from purely aesthetic in nature to medically necessary. Here is what you need to know about each:
“Umbilicoplasty refers to creating or changing the appearance of the belly button,” Dr. Albert says. It is a catch-all term of sorts, since, depending on the aesthetic goals of the patient, the surgery can involve reshaping and/or resizing the navel for an improved appearance. This procedure can be performed to address the look of a natural belly button or to revise the work of a previous procedure, the damage of a piercing, or the result of pregnancy or weight change (assuming a tummy tuck is not preferred).
Patients generally only experience a few days of acute recovery following an umbilicoplasty, although swelling can persist for up to a month depending on the person. Most candidates can return to work after a day or two and exercise can resume after two to three weeks. It should also be noted that, because it’s a relatively quick procedure, it can often be added on to other surgeries. “It is very easy and makes a lot of sense to combine umbilicoplasty with pretty much any other plastic surgery procedure,” Dr. Albert says.
2. Umbilical Hernia Repair
While you may have discovered you have an umbilical hernia because your innie became an outie, the reparative surgery is not about aesthetics. “In hernia surgery, we are repairing a defect in the fascia that allows tissue to escape through and ‘balloon’ out,” Dr. Yalif shares. “In repairing the defect, we are concerned mainly with ensuring no internal fat or organ can come out through the abdominal wall.” There is a functional benefit to the procedure. “Another way to say it is that, with hernia surgery, we are trying to functionally improve the abdominal wall, while in umbilicoplasty we are trying to make the belly button look better,” he adds.
Performed alone or as part of a tummy tuck, the procedure itself takes about 45 minutes, but there are greater post-op restrictions than umbilicoplasty patients face. If you have a desk job, you’ll probably be able to return to work after a couple of days, but you will need to avoid movement and activity that puts undue pressure on the weakened area as it heals. The biggest risk is that the hernia returns. Since there is a medical component to the surgery, it may be covered by insurance.
If you are consulting with a board certified plastic surgeon about an abdominoplasty (a.k.a. tummy tuck), don’t be surprised when your belly button comes up. Similarly, if you are in the office to talk about your belly button, the surgeon will likely look at the abdomen in its entirety. “By definition in a tummy tuck, the umbilicus must be addressed,” Dr. Yalif explains. “We can choose from a myriad of techniques to make the belly button look smaller, bigger, higher, lower — they are all essentially at our disposal.”
Addressing the belly button during a tummy tuck is often a good option for women after pregnancy or those who have experienced a significant weight loss, as the surgery addresses excess skin and fat, tightens the abdominal muscles, and reshapes the belly button. “We make sure to discuss this prior to surgery so we make sure we give you the belly button you want,” Dr. Yalif says. If a patient has an umbilical hernia, that can be corrected as well.
The most involved of the belly button surgeries discussed here, expect to refrain from strenuous activity for about six weeks after abdominoplasty.
The Results of Belly Button Surgery
The most common request of patients seeking belly button surgery? A natural result. In the hands of a skilled plastic surgeon, the work should barely be perceptible. “When performed correctly, an umbilicoplasty result should look exactly like a normal belly button with no visible scarring,” Dr. Albert shares. “The scarring can be hidden inside the belly button.”
Speaking of scarring, it should come as no surprise that Dr. Doft says patients “seek to have a belly button where the incisions are hidden.” While a scar is inevitable, you won’t necessarily be able to see it. “Any time I cut you with a knife, it will leave a scar,” Dr. Yalif notes. “That being said, the belly button is the first scar we ever make, so, hopefully, the incision within that scar will not be frankly visible.” Due to the anatomy of the area, incisions and, in time, scars are more easily concealed. “In the end, we try to camouflage scars and hide them in natural creases so that they are less visible,” he adds.
While the results of umbilicoplasty, umbilical hernia repair, and abdominoplasty are immediate (save for the post-op swelling subsiding) and permanent, they will be affected by pregnancy, weight changes, and age. Whether you have a medical concern, don’t like the aesthetic of the navel, or are interested in addressing the abdomen as a whole, consulting with a board certified plastic surgeon will ensure you get the best treatment for your anatomy and aesthetic goals.
More Related Articles
‘Try on’ aesthetic procedures and instantly visualize possible results with AEDIT and our patented 3D aesthetic simulator.