How to manage when your infant needs surgery

September 12, 2023 in Family Caregiving
infant and mother

There are many reasons infants may need surgery, from hernia repair and hydrocele surgery to operations for serious conditions like biliary atresia (a defect in the bile ducts that damages the liver) and surgery for congenital problems like heart defects. Of course, learning your baby needs surgery is stressful for any parent or caregiver, but there are strategies that can help you and your baby prepare and better manage the experience.

Infants can sense when their parents or caregivers are stressed, which in turn can increase their stress level, so it’s good for both you and your baby to take steps to manage your stress and anxiety.

  • Get a second opinion: Knowing that your baby’s diagnosis is accurate and the best treatment approach has been recommended can give you peace of mind and lower the risk of misdiagnosis.
  • Connect with other parents whose children have the same diagnosis: Ask the hospital if they have any support groups or look for one online.
  • Ask for help: Find family members or friends who can provide emotional and practical support like bringing food while you’re at the hospital, picking up prescriptions, or being there when you just need to talk.
  • Try stress management techniques: Mindfulness or meditation, exercise, or listening to music may help you quell your anxiety.

There are also things you can do to help make the experience of surgery and being in the hospital less stressful for your baby:

  • Leading up to the surgery, keep your baby’s routine consistent and help him or her get enough rest.
  • Bring your baby’s favorite soothing item, like a blanket, toy, or pacifier, to the hospital to provide something calming and familiar.
  • Spend as much time as possible with your baby in the hospital and talk to him or her, sing, or read a story so the baby feels more at home and secure.
  • Share your baby’s sleeping and feeding schedule with the nursing staff so they can follow the usual schedule when possible.

Questions to ask the doctor and hospital

Learn everything you can about the diagnosis and recommended surgery, physician, and hospital. Being well informed can help you understand what to expect and make you feel more in control and in the loop. A health advisor or health navigator can provide evidence-based information about your baby’s condition, the surgery, and the surgeon and hospital and can also connect you with specialists who have expertise treating your child’s condition.

Here are some questions you may want to ask:

  • What is my baby’s prognosis?
  • Are there effective treatments other than surgery?
  • Is this an inpatient or outpatient procedure?
  • What are the potential complications of the surgery?
  • How often do you perform this surgery and what are your outcomes?
  • How long will the surgery take?
  • How long will my baby be in the hospital?
  • How will my baby’s pain be managed after surgery?
  • What type of care will the baby need when we go home?
  • How long is the recovery process?
  • What symptoms should I watch for that could mean there’s a complication?