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Surgery to Repair a Congenital Heart Defect in Children: What to Expect at Home

The heart

Your Child's Recovery

A congenital heart defect is a problem with how a child's heart formed. The doctor fixed your child's heart defect through a cut, called an incision, in the chest.

Your child will probably get tired easily for several weeks after coming home. He or she may have a low fever at first. This usually goes away in 1 or 2 days. Your child's chest will be sore for the first few weeks. The doctor will teach you how to take care of your child's incision. The incision will leave a scar that will fade with time.

Your child will probably need 1 to 2 months to fully recover.

Surgery to repair a congenital heart defect can be stressful for you and your child. Your child's recovery will depend on the type of heart defect he or she had. Your child may need more than one procedure or surgery to fix the problem. He or she may need to take medicines and see a heart doctor throughout life. But many children lead a normal, active life after the defect is fixed.

This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for your child to recover. But each person recovers at a different pace. Following the steps below can help your child recover as quickly as possible. Your child's doctor also will give you care instructions.

How can you care for your child at home?


  • Have your child rest when he or she feels tired.
  • Allow the area to heal. Don't let your child move quickly or lift anything heavy until he or she is feeling better.
  • For 4 to 6 weeks or until the doctor says it is okay:
    • Your child should not ride a bike, play running games or contact sports, or take part in gym class. It is okay for your child to walk and play with other children or play with toys.
    • Your child should not do activities that could cause a blow to the chest, such as wrestling or playing catch with a ball.
    • Do not pick up your child by his or her arms. This can put stress on the chest incision. Scoop up your child by putting your arms under your child's rear end.
  • Your child may shower 24 to 48 hours after surgery, if the doctor okays it. Pat the incision dry. Your child should not swim or take a bath for the first 2 weeks, or until your doctor tells you it is okay.
  • Your doctor will tell you when your child can go back to school or daycare. Your child will probably have to spend at least 1 week at home.
  • For about 1 week, 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 his or her normal diet. If your child's stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt.
  • If your child's bowel movements are not regular right after surgery, you can help him or her to avoid constipation and straining. Have your child drink plenty of water. The doctor may suggest fibre, a stool softener, or 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.
  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • 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 the doctor if your child can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, be sure your child takes them as directed. Your child should not stop taking them just because he or she feels better. Your child needs to take all the 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

  • Your child will have a dressing over the cut (incision). A dressing helps the incision heal and protects it. Your doctor will tell you how to take care of this.
  • If your child has strips of tape on the cut (incision) the doctor made, leave the tape on for a week or until it falls off.
  • Change the bandage every day.
  • Wash the area daily with warm, soapy water, and pat it dry. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol. They can slow healing.
  • 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.
    • A fever.
  • Your child has loose stitches, or the incision comes open.
  • Bright red blood has soaked through the bandage over the incision.
  • Your child has sudden weight gain in 2 to 3 days. Your child's doctor can tell you how much weight gain to watch for.
  • Your child has increased swelling in his or her legs, ankles, or feet.

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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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.