Your child is scheduled to have surgery. Learn about what to expect on the day of surgery so that you will be prepared. If your child is old enough to understand, you can help them prepare as well.
The surgeon's office will let you know what time you should arrive on the day of surgery. This may be early in the morning.
- If your child is having minor surgery, your child will go home afterward on the same day.
- If your child is having major surgery, your child will stay in the hospital after the surgery.
What to Expect Before Surgery
The anesthesia and surgery team will talk with you and your child before surgery.
You may have an in person or phone meeting with the anesthesia nurse or provider before the day of surgery. This is a good opportunity to ask questions about anesthesia. You will meet the anesthesia team who will be taking care of your child on the day of the operation.
You will have met with the surgeon before the operation. Having a discussion about surgery, recovery, and pain management is best done before surgery to allow more time for discussion. To make sure your child is healthy and ready for surgery, they will:
- Check your child's height, weight, and vital signs.
- Ask about your child's health. If your child is sick, the surgeon may wait until your child is better to do the surgery.
- Find out about any medicines your child takes. Tell them about any prescription, over-the-counter (OTC), and herbal medicines.
- Do a physical exam on your child.
- Ask you to confirm the location and type of your child's surgery. The surgeon will mark the site with a special marker.
- Talk to you about the anesthesia they will give your child.
- Get any needed lab tests for your child. Your child may have blood drawn or may be asked to give a urine sample.
- Answer any of your questions. Bring paper and pen to write down notes.
You will sign admission papers and consent forms for your child's surgery and anesthesia. Bring these items with you:
- Insurance card
- Identification card
- Any medicine in the original bottles
- X-rays and test results
What to Expect on the day of Surgery
Be prepared for the day.
- Help your child feel safe and secure. Bring a favorite toy, stuffed animal, or blanket. Label items from home with your child's name. Leave valuables at home.
- The day of surgery will be busy for your child and you. Expect that your child's surgery and recovery will take all day.
- Do not make other plans for the day of surgery.
- Arrange child care for your other children on that day.
Arrive on time at the surgery unit.
The surgery team will get your child ready for the operation:
- Your child may get some liquid medicine that helps your child relax and feel sleepy.
- You will wait with your child in a waiting room until the surgeon is ready for your child.
- The doctors and nurses want to make sure that your child is safe at all times. They will do safety checks. Expect them to ask you: your child's name, birthday, the surgery your child is having, and the body part that is being operated on.
Do not bring food or drink into the pre-op area. Children having surgery are not eating or drinking. It is better for them not to see food or drinks.
What to Expect Going into Surgery
Give your child a hug and kiss. Remind your child that you will be there as soon as you can when they wake up.
If you are staying with your child during the start of anesthesia, you will:
- Put on special operating room clothing.
- Go with the nurse and your child into the operating room (OR).
- Go to the waiting area after your child is asleep.
What to Expect During Surgery
In the operating room, your child will breathe in sleeping medicine (anesthesia).
Usually, after your child is asleep, the doctor will put in an IV. Sometimes the IV has to be put in before your child is asleep.
You can wait in the waiting area. If you need to leave, give your cell phone number to the staff so they know how to reach you.
What to Expect After Surgery in the Recovery Room
Waking up from anesthesia:
- After surgery, your child will go to the recovery room. There, the doctors and nurses will watch your child closely. As the anesthesia wears off, your child will wake up.
- You may be allowed to go into the recovery room when your child starts to wake up. If this is allowed, the nurse will come to get you.
- Know that children waking up from anesthesia can cry a lot and be confused. This is very common.
- If you would like to hold your child, ask the nurses to help you do this. You will need help with any equipment and how to hold your child comfortably.
Moving out of the recovery room:
- If your child is going home the same day, you will help them get dressed. Once your child can drink liquids, you can probably go home. Expect your child to be tired. Your child may sleep a lot throughout the rest of the day.
- If your child is staying in the hospital, your child will be moved to a hospital room. The nurse there will check your child's vital signs and pain level. If your child is having pain, the nurse will give your child pain medicine and any other medicine your child needs. The nurse will also encourage your child to drink if your child is allowed to have liquids.
Same-day surgery - child; Ambulatory surgery - child; Surgical procedure - child
Boles J. Preparing children and families for procedures or surgery. Pediatr Nurs. 2016;42(3):147-149. PMID: 27468519 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27468519/.
Chung DH. Pediatric surgery. In: Townsend CM Jr, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 67.
Zaydfudim VM, Hu Y, Adams RB. Principles of preoperative and operative surgery. In: Townsend CM Jr, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 21st ed. St Louis, MO: Elsevier; 2022:chap 10.
Review Date 8/22/2022
Updated by: Debra G. Wechter, MD, FACS, General Surgery Practice Specializing in Breast Cancer, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.