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Heart Defect Repair in Children: What to Expect at Home

The heart

Your Child's Recovery

Heart defect repair is surgery to fix a heart problem that prevents blood from flowing normally through the heart.

You can expect the cut (incision) in your child's chest to be sore for a few weeks. The doctor will take the stitches out of the incision about 1 to 3 weeks after surgery.

Your child will probably feel more tired than usual for several weeks after surgery. Your child may be able to do many of his or her usual activities after 6 weeks. But your child may need 2 to 3 months longer to fully recover.

Some children find that they feel sad or more emotional while they are recovering after this surgery. This may last for up to 6 weeks after surgery. Talk with your doctor if this sadness continues or you have concerns about how your child is feeling. Treatment and other support can help your child feel better.

This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for your child to recover. But each child recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to help your child get better as quickly as possible.

How can you care for your child at home?


  • Make sure your child rests when he or she feels tired. Getting enough sleep will help your child recover.
  • Try to have your child walk each day. Start by having your child walk a little more than he or she did the day before. Bit by bit, increase the amount your child walks. Walking boosts blood flow and helps prevent pneumonia and constipation.
  • Make sure your child avoids strenuous activities, such as bicycle riding, jogging, weight lifting, swimming, or aerobic exercise, until your child's healthcare team says it is okay.
  • For at least 6 weeks, make sure your child avoids lifting anything that would make him or her strain. This may include a heavy backpack, heavy grocery bags and milk containers, or bags of cat litter or dog food.
  • Have your child hold a pillow over the incision when he or she coughs or takes deep breaths. This will support your child's chest and decrease the pain.
  • Have your child do breathing exercises at home as instructed by your healthcare team. This will help prevent pneumonia.
  • Don’t pick up your child by their arms. This can put stress on the chest incision. Lift up your child by putting your arms behind your child’s shoulders and under your child's rear end.
  • Your child may shower with water running lightly down their back. Make sure the water doesn't hit the incision directly. Pat the incision dry. Do not let your child take a bath or soak the incision for the first 2 weeks, or until your child's healthcare team tells you it is okay.
  • Your child may be able to go back to school 1 to 2 weeks after they leave the hospital. Ask your care team for more information.
  • For the first week after surgery, it’s a good idea to keep your child away from large crowds and people that you know have a cold or the flu. This lowers your child's chance of getting an infection.


  • Your child can eat a normal diet unless directed otherwise from the care team. If your child's stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt.
  • Your child may not feel as hungry as usual. Or food may not taste as good as it usually does. This is common after surgery and usually gets better with time. If your child does not feel like eating, you may want to have him or her drink liquid meal replacements for extra calories and protein. This can help your child keep up his or her strength and prevent weight loss.
  • Make sure your child drinks plenty of fluids (unless your child's healthcare team tells you not to).
  • You may notice that your child's bowel movements are not regular right after the surgery. This is common. To avoid constipation and straining with bowel movements, you may want to give your child a fibre supplement every day. If your child has not had a bowel movement after a couple of days, ask your doctor about giving your child a mild laxative.


  • Your doctor will tell you if and when your child can restart his or her medicines. The doctor will also give you instructions about your child taking any new medicines.
  • Give pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • 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.
  • If you think the pain medicine is making your child sick to his or her stomach:
    • Have your child take the medicine after meals (unless your doctor has told you not to).
    • Ask your doctor for a different pain medicine.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics for your child, give them as directed. Do not stop using them just because your child feels better. Your child needs to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • If your child takes a blood thinner, be sure to get instructions about how to take this medicine safely. Blood thinners can cause serious bleeding problems.

Incision care

  • If your child has strips of tape on the incision, leave the tape on for a week or until it falls off.
  • It’s best to leave the incision alone to heal. If it gets dirty, use a cup of tap water and let it run down over the incision until it’s clean. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can slow healing. Pat the incision dry. Don’t rub the incision.
  • Don’t use any lotions, oils, or creams on the incision until it completely heals. You may cover the area with a gauze bandage if it weeps or rubs against clothing. If your child needs a dressing, follow the care instructions from your child’s healthcare team.
  • The skin on the incision is brand new and can burn easily. Keep the incision covered and use sunscreen once the skin has healed to protect it from the sun.
  • Keep the area clean and dry.

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.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child passes out (loses consciousness).
  • Your child has trouble breathing.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child is dizzy or light-headed.
  • Your child is sick to his or her stomach or cannot keep fluids down.
  • Your child has pain that does not get better after he or she takes pain medicine.
  • Your child has signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the incision.
    • Pus draining from the incision or wound sites.
    • A fever.
  • Your child has loose stitches, or the incision comes open.
  • Your child is bleeding from the incision.
  • Your child has swelling, such as swollen or puffy eyelids.
  • Your child has symptoms of a blood clot in the leg (called a deep vein thrombosis), such as:
    • Pain in the calf, back of the knee, thigh, or groin.
    • Redness and swelling in the leg or groin.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if your child has any problems.

Where can you learn more?

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