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Learning About What to Expect at Home After Your Child's Surgery

What do you need to know when your child leaves the hospital after surgery?

Each child recovers from surgery at a different pace. Your child's discharge plan will outline the care your child needs. And it will tell you about the things you'll need to do at home.

Make sure you get the plan in writing. It should include:

  • What your child's medicines are and how your child takes them.
  • When your child needs to see the doctor again or get any follow-up tests.
  • What your child can eat and can't eat.
  • How and when to change bandages and dressings.
  • Any special equipment your child may need.
  • When your child can go back to school or daycare, sports, or other activities.
  • What to do about any pain or infection.

What do you need to know about giving medicines?

Your doctor will talk with you about restarting any of your child's medicines and starting any new medicines.

If the doctor gave your child a prescription medicine for pain, give it as prescribed. If your child is not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if your child can take an over-the-counter medicine.

How can you take care of an incision?

If your child has a cut (incision) from surgery, follow your doctor's instructions to care for it. If you did not get instructions, follow this general advice:

  • Your child may have a bandage over the cut. A bandage helps the incision heal and protects it.
    • Change the bandage every day if the doctor tells you to.
    • When your doctor says it's okay to get the area wet, wash it daily with warm water. Pat the incision dry.
    • If your child has strips of tape on the cut, leave them on for a week or until they fall off.
    • If your child has stitches or staples, do not remove them. The doctor will tell you when to come back to have them removed.
    • If there is skin adhesive (liquid stitches) on the cut, leave it on until it falls off.
  • Your child may shower 24 to 48 hours after surgery. But don't let your child swim or take a bath until the doctor says it's okay.

When can your child be active?

How soon your child can return to normal activities depends on the type of surgery your child had. The doctor will give you instructions on when your child can do sports or exercise. The doctor will also tell you when your child can go back to school or daycare.

If the doctor says it's okay, help your child get up and move around several times a day. But sometimes children feel better quickly and are too active before it's safe. It's better if your child takes it easy until the doctor says it's okay to move more.

What should your child eat after surgery?

Follow the doctor's instructions about what your child can eat or drink. The doctor may suggest that you give clear liquids for the first several hours until any nausea has gone away.

Then you can give small amounts of your child's usual foods. You can also try foods that are low in fat and fibre. These include applesauce, baked chicken, crackers, and yogurt. When you're sure that your child is doing well with those foods, then your child can eat and drink his or her normal diet.

For a baby, the doctor will tell you if you need to change anything about your breastfeeding or bottle-feeding.

What can you do about infection or pain after surgery?

Infection

If your child has signs of infection, call your doctor. These signs include:

  • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
  • Red streaks leading from the incision.
  • Pus draining from the incision.
  • A fever.

Pain

Also call the doctor if your child has pain that doesn't get better after your child takes pain medicine. A baby or child in pain may show certain signs. A child with severe pain will have more of these behaviours and may be harder to comfort. Look for:

  • Changes in usual behaviour. Your child may eat less or be fussy or restless.
  • Crying that can't be comforted.
  • Grunting or breath-holding.
  • Facial expressions. Your child may have a wrinkled forehead, closed eyes, or look angry.
  • Sleep changes, such as waking often or sleeping more or less than usual.
  • Body movements. Your child may make fists, protect a part of the body (especially while walking), kick, cling to someone who holds him or her, or not move.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

Where can you learn more?

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