Preparing Your 0- to 12-Month-Old for Surgery

Woman giving toy to baby in carrier.Your infant is having surgery. You may have concerns about how you and your infant will cope with this experience. Knowing what to expect can help you feel better about surgery. Read this sheet to find out ways you can help prepare your infant for surgery.

How will your infant cope with surgery and being in the hospital?

Infants use their senses to learn about what’s around them. They can also sense feelings and emotions. The following are things associated with hospitals and surgery that can upset your infant:

  • Young infants may be startled by loud noises, and sights and smells that they aren’t used to.

  • A healthcare professional will instruct you not to feed your infant for a certain amount of time before surgery. This may cause your child to become fussy or cry. A pacifier may help your child cope during this time.

How can you help prepare your infant for surgery?

  • Take a tour of the surgery department if the hospital has this option. This can help you become more comfortable with the hospital setting before your infant’s surgery.

  • Keep your emotions under control. If you’re upset, your infant may respond in a similar manner. Try to stay calm and relaxed.

  • Participate in the care of your infant as much as possible when in the hospital. If your infant needs soothing, do what normally works. This may include the following:

    • Hold or rock your infant.

    • Touch or stroke your infant’s hair.

    • Speak or sing to your infant. Your familiar voice is comforting.

  • Bring your infant’s favorite item, such as a stuffed animal or security blanket, with you to the hospital. Keep it with your infant at all times. This familiar object can help soothe your infant.

  • Have items ready, such as a rattle or musical toy, to soothe or distract your infant when needed.

What is a child life specialist?

Many hospitals have a child life specialist. This person is specially trained to help children understand and cope with their hospital experience. Families can arrange to see a child life specialist when their child is scheduled for surgery. The child life specialist uses age-appropriate items such as books, dolls, and toy medical or hospital equipment to explain surgery. Parents and siblings are encouraged to attend and be involved in these sessions. In the case of infants, a child life specialist can meet with parents and/or siblings of infants to help them understand and cope with surgery.