In this Article

What are the Benefits?

Surgery can be used to cure or help your child if they have a condition or injury that can’t be treated with medicine or other treatments alone. Surgery might help reduce symptoms or the causes of a condition. For instance, surgery to remove a cancerous tumor might help get rid of cancer in your child’s body, or it might slow down the growth of the cancer.

How do I Prepare?

To keep your child safe, the doctor will advise when your child should stop eating or drinking before surgery. Anesthesia [ann-ess-THEE-see-uh], the medicine that helps your child sleep during surgery, also causes the stomach to relax. When the stomach is relaxed, whatever is in the stomach can come up and cause your child to choke or possibly have stomach contents go into their lungs. To keep your child as safe as possible, the doctors and nurses will tell you when to stop feeding your child before their surgery. If your child eats or drinks within a short time before surgery, the surgery will have to be delayed or cancelled.

Children of all ages have questions and fears when they come to the hospital, especially before surgery. They may feel confused, overwhelmed, and frightened. Some children have fantasies and worries about what will happen at the hospital. These fears are often more frightening than what will happen. You can help your child by knowing what to expect when they have surgery.

Be sure to:

  1. Learn as much as you can about your child’s surgery. Parents who are well prepared are also able to cope more effectively and are able to support their child better.
  2. Consider when and how to start preparing your child for surgery. If you have a younger child, you can play with toys like pretend doctor kits. If your child is older, you can start talking to them about the surgery a few days or weeks before.
  3. Talk with your child, and answer their questions. One of the best ways to prepare your child for surgery, especially after you have learned as much as possible, is to talk about it. Begin by asking your child or teen what they know and understand about the hospital or the surgery. For example, “What sorts of people work there?” and “What will happen there?” Children and teens may ask the same questions again and again. This means they are working hard to make sense of their surgery. It is helpful if you respond each time with simple, honest answers.
  4. Make arrangements for your family before the day of surgery. If you have other children in your family, find someone to care for them on surgery day. This will allow you to focus on your child in the hospital rather than worry about what is happening at home.
  5. Come prepared the day of surgery. Make sure your child follows all the instructions your doctor and surgeon gave you before the surgery, like not eating or drinking.
  6. Know what to expect of your child’s behavior. It is common for children’s behavior to change before, during, and after surgery. This is true even if the child spends only 1 day in the hospital. Some children or teens may seem angry with parents and hospital staff. They may refuse to talk or play with you or the staff. This is normal behavior.

How is it Done or Administered?

When it is time for the surgery, the anesthesiologist [ann-ess-THEE-see-AH-loh-JIST] will either carry your infant or toddler to the operating room, or your child can choose to walk or go with the anesthesiologist to the operating room in a wagon, a wheelchair, or tricycle if they are older.

Once in the operating room, the nurses will cover them with a warm blanket. The anesthesiologist will then help your child fall asleep with medicine called anesthesia. The doctor may give anesthesia medicine using a mask your child breathes through or by inserting an IV into a veins. If the doctor gives your child medicine with a mask, your child can choose a scent, such as root beer, grape, or bubblegum, to smell through the mask. Your child will drift off to sleep in about 1 minute.

The anesthesiologist may decide, because of your child’s age or medical condition, that it is safest to give the medicine into a vein. To do this, the doctor will place an IV. An IV is a tiny, flexible tube inserted into a vein. The doctor will use it to give your child fluid or medicines before, during, and after your child’s surgery. Once your child receives the medicine, they will drift off to sleep in about a minute.

When Will I Know the Results?

Sometimes, you will know the results of your child’s surgery right away, but other times it might take longer for your child’s doctor and surgeon to know if the surgery was a success. This depends on the reason your child had surgery. For example:

  • If your child had a broken bone that needed to be set or a tumor that needed to be removed, the surgeon will know that the surgery was successful once it’s done.
  • Your child might need physical therapy after a surgery so they can learn how to do the things they could before. This can take weeks or months.
  • If the surgery was for another kind of disease, it could take months or years to know if the surgery stopped or slowed the problem.

What are Follow-up Requirements and Options?

For some surgery, your child might need physical therapy, which can help them relearn how to do the things they could before surgery. Your doctor will talk to you about whether or not your child needs this therapy. Your child may feel sick to their stomach (nausea) after surgery and may also vomit.. There are many reasons a child has nausea after surgery, such as:

  • Medicine given to help a child sleep during surgery (anesthesia) may cause an upset stomach.
  • The movement of the car can cause motion sickness and vomiting.
  • Some surgeries may make your child more likely to vomit. If your child has had surgery that involves the middle ear, eye muscle, teeth or mouth, or has had a tonsillectomy [TAHN-sill-EK-tuh-MEE], orchiopexy [OR-KEE-oh-PEKS-ee], or umbilical [uhm-BILL-ik-UHL] hernia repair, they may have more problems with nausea and vomiting.
  • Some pain medicines given after surgery can cause nausea and vomiting.

You can control nausea and prevent vomiting by helping your child to lie down quietly and decrease movement. You can also wait to have your child drink until they feel less sick to their stomach.

What is Surgery?

Surgery is a procedure where a specially trained doctor (a surgeon) cuts or changes a patient’s body to help diagnose, treat, and cure diseases and injuries. Doctors use surgery to work on problems that can’t be fixed by medicine, physical therapy, or other treatments. Some types of surgery your child might need to have include:

  • Exploratory surgery. Sometimes surgery can be used to diagnose a condition or look for problems in part of your child’s body.
  • Body-part surgery. A specific part of your child’s body, like the heart or lungs, might have a problem or injury that can be fixed with surgery.
  • Laparoscopic [LAP-ruh-ska-pic] surgery. This is a kind of surgery where a very small cut is made in your child’s body, and surgical tools go into and out of the body through the cut. This surgery is easier to recover from.

Depending on the kind of surgery your child has, the surgeon might use anesthesia, a medicine that helps numb your child’s body. Local anesthesia only numbs the part of the body the surgeon is operating on, while general anesthesia numbs your child’s entire body and also puts them to sleep so they don’t remember or feel pain during the surgery.

What are the Risks and/or Side Effects?

While specific risks depend on the kind of surgery your child needs to have, there are some risks that are shared for all kinds of surgery:

  • Infection. Because surgery involves cutting the body, there is always a risk of infection at the site where the surgeon makes the cut. Infection risks are low, but you should talk to your child’s doctor if you think your child might have an infection from surgery.
  • Damage. Some surgery can cause damage to the part of the body that the surgeon is operating on.
  • Doesn’t help. Sometimes, surgery won’t help your child with their symptoms or the condition for which they are having surgery.

All surgery has risks, but most are safe and effective and can be the best treatment for your child. Some conditions can make surgery harder. If your child already has an illness that affects their heart, lungs, liver, or kidneys or if they have a weakened immune system, their surgery might have more risks.