Caring for Your Child’s Incision

Closeup of incision with sutures. Closeup of incision with Steri-Strips. Closeup of incision with staples.

You’ll need to help care for your child’s incision after surgery and certain medical procedures. To close an incision, your child’s healthcare provider used stitches (sutures), special strips of surgical tape called Steri-Strips, surgical staples, or surgical skin glue. Follow the tips on this sheet to help stop bleeding, speed healing, and prevent infection of your child’s incision.

Types of incision closures

  • Surgical stitches (sutures) are placed by sewing the edges of an incision together with surgical thread. Sutures are either absorbable or non-absorbable. Absorbable sutures break down in the body over time. Non-absorbable sutures need to be removed by your healthcare provider.

  • Surgical tape is made of sticky (adhesive) material to help hold the edges of an incision together.

  • Surgical staples are made of steel or titanium. They are often used to close shallow incisions. They are not used on certain body areas, such as the face and hands. This is because these areas have nerves that are close to the surface.

  • Skin glue is a special liquid glue that forms a strong bond between the tissues of an incision or cut (laceration). Skin glue is used to close minor incisions or cuts. It keeps moisture and bacteria from entering the cut or incision.

Home care

  • Always wash your hands before and after touching your child's incision.

  • Keep your child's incision clean, dry, and out of water. Tell an older child to keep the incision out of water.

  • Tell your child not to pick at the scabs. Scabs help protect the wound.

  • Your child should take a sponge bath to avoid getting the incision wet, unless your healthcare provider tells you otherwise. It’s OK to wash around the incision. But don’t spray water directly on it.

  • Pat stitches dry if they get wet. Don't rub.

  • Check the incision site daily for pain, redness, drainage, swelling, or separation of the incision edges.

  • If your child has a bandage (dressing) over the incision, leave the dressing in place until you are told to remove it or change it. Using clean hands, change the dressing as directed by your child’s healthcare provider. Always wash your hands before changing your child's dressing.

  • Make sure any clothing that touches the incision is loose-fitting. This will prevent rubbing. If the incision is on the head, keep your child from wearing caps or other head coverings. These may rub against the incision.

  • Keep your child from rough play, contact sports, or physical activities. This can put your child at risk of opening the incision.

  • Make sure your child avoids doing things that could cause dirt or sweat to get in or on the incision.

  • As your child’s incision heals, the skin may appear pink or red. It may also feel slightly bumpy or raised. This is called a healing ridge. Over time, the color should fade and the raised skin will become less noticeable.

Care for specific closures

Follow these guidelines unless your child's healthcare provider tells you otherwise:

  • Sutures or staples. Once your child no longer needs to keep these dry, clean the incision or wound daily. First remove the bandage using clean hands. Then wash the area gently with soap and warm water. Use a wet cotton swab to loosen and remove any blood or crust that forms. After cleaning, put a thin layer of antibiotic ointment on. Then put on a new bandage.

  • Skin glue. Don’t put liquid, ointment, or cream on your child's incision or wound while the glue is in place. Avoid activities that cause heavy sweating. Protect the incision or wound from sunlight. Do not scratch, rub, or pick at the glue. Do not put tape directly over the glue. The glue should peel off within 5 to 10 days.

  • Surgical tape. Keep your child's incision or wound dry. If it gets wet, blot the area dry with a clean towel. Surgical tape usually falls off on its own within 7 to 10 days. If it has not fallen off after 10 days, contact your child's healthcare provider before taking it off yourself. If you are told to remove the tape, put mineral oil or petroleum jelly on a cotton ball. Gently rub the tape until it is removed.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child's healthcare provider to ask how long sutures or staples should be left in place. Be sure to return for suture or staple removal as directed. If dissolving stitches were used in your child's mouth, these will not need to be removed. They should fall out or dissolve on their own.

If tape closures were used, remove them yourself when your child's healthcare provider tells you to if they have not fallen off on their own. If skin glue was used to close your child's incision, the glue will wear off by itself.


When to call your healthcare provider

Call your child's healthcare provider right away if your child has any of these:

  • More pain, redness, swelling, bleeding, or foul-smelling discharge around the incision area

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your child's healthcare provider

  • Shaking chills

  • Vomiting or nausea that doesn’t go away

  • Numbness, coldness, or tingling around the incision area, or changes in skin color

  • Opening of the sutures or wound

  • Stitches or staples come apart or fall out or surgical tape falls off before 7 days, or as directed by your healthcare provider