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Hernia Repair: Before Your Child's Surgery

Locations of common types of hernias, with detail of a hernia protruding through the muscle wall

What is a hernia repair?

Most hernias are a weak spot in the belly muscles. This weakness can allow a piece of the intestines or the tissue around them to poke through. A hernia may hurt when your child strains with a bowel movement or lifts something heavy. It may also hurt when your child is active. But some hernias don't cause pain.

Sometimes an organ or tissue gets stuck in the hernia. This can cause serious problems. A hernia repair prevents that from happening.

There are several types of hernias. Umbilical hernias occur when intestine, fat, or fluid pushes through a weak spot in the belly near the belly button. Other types of hernias in the belly include epigastric (near the stomach), ventral (in the middle of the belly), and incisional (where a surgical cut was made). Inguinal and femoral hernias occur in the groin area. Some babies are born with a diaphragmatic hernia. It's an opening in the large muscle (diaphragm) between the lungs and belly.

A doctor can fix a hernia through a cut (incision). This is called open surgery. Or the doctor may make some small cuts and use a thin, lighted scope and small tools. This is laparoscopic surgery. If your child's hernia is bulging, the bulge is pushed back into place. The doctor then sews the healthy tissue back together. Sometimes a piece of material is used to patch the weak spot.

Open surgery will leave a bigger scar. Laparoscopic surgery leaves a few small scars. The scars will fade with time.

The time it takes for your child to heal depends on the type of hernia. Your doctor will tell you when your child can return to normal activity.

How do you prepare for surgery?

Surgery can be stressful for both your child and you. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for your child's surgery.

Preparing for surgery

  • Talk to your child about the surgery. Tell your child that the surgery will help the bump go away. Hospitals know how to take care of children. The staff will do all they can to make it easier for your child. Ask if a child life specialist is available.
  • Ask if a special tour of the surgery area and hospital is available. This may make your child feel less nervous about what happens.
  • Plan for your child's recovery time. Your child may need more of your time right after the surgery, both for care and for comfort.
  • Understand exactly what surgery is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • Tell the doctor ALL the medicines and natural health products your child takes. Some may increase the risk of problems during the surgery. Your doctor will tell you if your child should stop taking any of them before the surgery and how soon to do it.

The day before surgery

  • A nurse may call you (or you may need to call the hospital). This is to confirm the time and date of your child's surgery and answer any questions.
  • Remember to follow your doctor's instructions about your child taking or stopping medicines before surgery. This includes over-the-counter medicines.

What happens on the day of surgery?

  • Follow the instructions exactly about when your child should stop eating and drinking. If you don't, the surgery may be cancelled. If the doctor told you to have your child take his or her medicines on the day of surgery, have your child take them with only a sip of water.
  • See that your child has bathed. Do not apply lotion or deodorant.
  • Your child may brush his or her teeth. But tell your child not to swallow any toothpaste or water.
  • Do not let your child wear contact lenses. Bring your child's glasses or contact lens case.
  • Be sure your child has something that reminds him or her of home. A special stuffed animal, toy, or blanket may be comforting. For an older child, it might be a book or music.

At the hospital or surgery centre

  • A parent or legal guardian must accompany your child.
  • Your child will be kept comfortable and safe by the anesthesia provider. Your child will be asleep during the surgery.
  • The surgery can take about 30 minutes to 2 hours or more.
  • After surgery, your child will be taken to the recovery room. As your child wakes up, the recovery room staff will monitor his or her condition. The doctor will talk to you about the surgery.
  • Depending on the type of surgery, you may be able to take your child home after the surgery. For more involved surgeries, your child may stay in the hospital for a few days.

When should you call your doctor?

  • You have questions or concerns.
  • You don't understand how to prepare your child for the surgery.
  • Your child becomes ill before the surgery (such as fever, influenza (flu), or a cold).
  • You need to reschedule or have changed your mind about your child having the surgery.

Where can you learn more?

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