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Your Child & Surgery

Know What to Expect

Surgery is scary for anyone, but it can be particularly scary for a child – and sometimes even more unnerving for the parents of the little one.

When a child is scheduled for a surgical procedure, the entire team of medical professionals should be committed to making the preoperative, surgical, and post-operative periods as stress-free as possible. When it comes to childhood surgery, the whole family is the patient.

There are several common questions most families have when their child is facing surgery. If you don’t find answers here, it’s important to remember that procedures will vary by facility. As always, you’ll need to establish open lines of communication with your child’s healthcare providers.

Suppose my child has a cold?

If your child has an upper respiratory infection, whether or not she has surgery will depend on her overall condition. On the day of surgery, the evaluation by the medical team includes vital signs and a thorough exam of lung capacity. If it’s just a case of a runny nose, the surgery can proceed most of the time.

However, if there is fever, significant congestion, or the child is acting sick, manifested in a decrease in playfulness or oral intake, the surgery will most likely be postponed. Be assured, your doctor and other members of the staff will carefully evaluate the child and advise parents of the best course.

Suppose my child is on antibiotics the day of surgery?

If she has been on the antibiotic for longer than 24 hours, and the acute infection seems to be resolving, it is usually acceptable to proceed with elective surgery. The same criteria for wellness of the patient will apply as described above: no fever; clear lungs; normal appetite and fl uid intake. Ear and upper Respiratory infections are the most common reasons children are on antibiotics prior to outpatient surgery, and these tend to respond quickly to medication. Depending on the procedure and the nature of the infection, the surgery may or may not be cancelled.

Can I go back with my child to surgery?

In most cases, it is not prudent for a parent to accompany a child back to the operating room. We’ve found that parents’ anxieties can be transmitted to the child, resulting in a more anxious child, exactly what everyone wants to avoid. Your medical team is trained in alleviating the child’s anxieties, and will make the separation from parents, and arrival into the operating room an agreeable and even pleasant experience.

How long will my child’s anesthesia last?

Your child will be asleep as long as necessary to complete the surgery. However, recovery time after anesthesia depends on a few things. The length of the surgery and the type of anesthesia administered are the two most influential factors. At outpatient centers like MEDARVA at Stony Point Surgery Center, also called ambulatory centers, procedures tend to be shorter.At this kind of facility, children will most likely recover within hours. Children may either be sleepy or paradoxically, hyperactive while recovering. Both scenarios are normal. If pain medications are necessary in the post-operative period, length of recovery is typically extended.

When can my child eat after surgery?

In most cases, a child can eat or drink once she is awake enough to request something. We’ll usually start with apple juice and/or a popsicle. It is also fine to breast or bottle-feed in the early recovery Period. Liquids are more important than solids in the post-operative period. Do not encourage your child to eat if she isn’t hungry. There might be some queasiness, a hard-to-articulate sensation for some kids. The first meal should be light – soup, juice, jello, ice cream, or crackers, for example. However, it is imperative to follow post-operative instructions from the surgeon, which will take into account the limits and circumstances of the surgery.

What should we do about pain after surgery?

No child should leave the facility until she is comfortable and not in severe pain.The medical team is adept at deciphering the signs of an uncomfortable child, and if necessary, pain medicine will be administered during anesthesia recovery.Once you leave the center, you will have instructions from the surgeon for how to cope with post-operative pain. If medications are necessary, a prescription will be given to you at the time of your child’s discharge.


Children are not just little adults; they are a special group with special needs. Before choosing a surgery center, be certain the entire care team, from surgeons to anesthesiologists to nursing and support staff, is specially trained to care for the whole child. And keep in mind, in the case of pediatric surgery in particular, the patient is the whole family.

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