When Your Baby Needs Surgery

“Parents and caregivers can prepare for their baby’s surgery by understanding what their baby’s problem is,” says Dr. Mustafa Kabeer, a CHOC pediatric surgeon. “Parents should talk to their physician so they understand the problem and what steps will be taken to correct it. This helps parents feel comfortable with the procedure and have confidence in who is doing the surgery. Parents and caregivers need to educate themselves. It’s a team effort.”


Because all patients, including babies, can’t eat before surgery, breastfeeding must be delayed for a period of time prior to surgery. In most cases, babies can return to breastfeeding once they are awake enough to drink liquids without problems. The baby’s nurse or doctor will let the mother know when her baby is ready to nurse. Mothers should speak with their doctors or a lactation consultant about pumping and keeping up their milk supply while their babies are fasting and in surgery. “If the mother can pump and save the breast milk, our Neonatal Intensive Care Unit will save the milk for when the baby can eat. Breast milk has huge immune system benefits that can’t be mimicked by alternatives,” says Dr. Kabeer.


“Most of our babies that end up needing an operation are born with a specific problem that needs surgical intervention,” says Dr. Kabeer. “We see babies, for example, with a disconnected esophagus or ruptured intestine that requires an operation to connect it. Some babies have reflux and need surgery to correct that. Premature babies are at high risk for health problems and many surgeries are performed on these babies. We do many types of surgery in our Surgical Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.”

Meet Dr. Kabeer - Expert in Pediatric Surgery

An innovator in medicine, Dr. Mustafa Kabeer has been a leader in the research of surgical robotics and was the first physician to perform robotic surgery at CHOC. He has since performed many different types of operations using robotics. Dr. Kabeer completed both his internship and his residency training at Indiana University and served his fellowship at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan. Dr. Kabeer, with Dr. Irfan Ahmad, a neonatologist, are the co-directors of the Surgical Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at CHOC. Dr. Kabeer also is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Surgery at the University of California, Irvine, Medical School.

Dr. Kabeer’s philosophy of care: “I treat all of our kids as if they were my own child. It’s one big extended family.”

University of Missouri School of Medicine, Columbia, Missouri

Pediatric Surgery
General Surgery
Surgical Critical Care

Mustafa H. Kabeer

Mustafa H. Kabeer
CHOC Pediatric Surgeon

CHOC’s Surgical NICU Offers Pioneering Coordinated Treatment

Infants needing surgery require special attention, and a unique feature of CHOC’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) provides just that.

CHOC’s Surgical NICU, one of the only two Surgical NICUs like it at any children’s hospital in the country, is a dedicated space within the NICU that uses a comprehensive approach to care for these tiny patients. A coordinated treatment protocol – used in many adult intensive care units nationwide – has shown to result in fewer patient complications, better outcomes and faster discharges. And, CHOC’s Surgical NICU physicians and staff continue to research new ways to make the care even better.

Baby in the surgical NICU

More from our experts about caring for your infant.

The Top 10 Questions Every Parent Should Ask Their NICU Care Team
Dr. Vijay Dhar, medical director of the CHOC NICU, understands the fear and anxiety experienced by parents of NICU patients. As a neonatologist with 28 years of experience, Dr. Dhar advises parents to ask their care team the following questions to help alleviate some of that anxiety.

CHOC NICU at St Joseph Hospital Virtual Tour
Just steps away from St. Joseph Hospital’s postpartum unit, our 13-bed, level II neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) keeps newborns and parents close together. The CHOC NICU at St. Joseph Hospital is staffed by CHOC’s premier team of neonatal experts—and is specially equipped to care for newborns with low to moderate medical needs.

A Guide for Preparing Infants for Surgery
Surgery can be stressful for babies, but unlike older children, caregivers cannot fully explain to the infant what will be happening. Read this guide to understand some of the reasons that infants may feel stress and learn ways you can help provide reassurance and comfort.

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