Surgery can be stressful for babies, but unlike older children caregivers cannot fully explain to the infant what will be happening. For this reason, it is important for caregivers to understand some of the reasons that infants may feel stress and ways they can help provide reassurance and comfort.
Infants may feel stress or anxiety because of:
- separation from caregivers and their home environment
- having many different medical professionals
- seeing strange sights, sounds and smells
- new and different routines
- interrupted sleep
- day and night confusion
- hunger due to fasting
- cold temperatures
- potentially invasive procedures (for example measuring vitals).
Preparing for Surgery
Because their children are so young, caregivers may feel that there is little they can do to prepare their infants for surgery. Fortunately, there is quite a bit that can be done for both the child and family that will help make the surgery process a lot less stressful for everyone.
- In the days prior to surgery, it is important to keep baby’s routine the same and make sure the baby and family are well rested for the day of surgery.
- Bring the baby’s favorite security item(s) to the hospital. This will help create a more familiar environment. We recommend limiting the security items to one or two of the baby’s favorite items. Patients may not be able to take their security items with them into the operating room.
- Let the nursing staff know the baby’s usual schedule, including sleep patterns and feeding habits.
- Make plans for at least one parent or guardian to be with the baby as much as possible so that he or she will have a familiar touch, voice and smile.
- The brief period before surgery when the baby cannot eat or drink can be difficult. Plan to distract, rock, walk, and comfort him or her during this time.
- Caregivers need to take care of themselves during this stressful time as well by asking friends and relatives for help and trying to remain positive. Being positive and focused on the patient will reduce the baby’s anxiety.
- Perhaps most important, caregivers should to remain calm. Babies can easily sense if their caregiver is frightened or stressed. Caregivers can reduce their stress related to surgery by reading all of the information we provide on preparing for surgery and what to expect the day of surgery.
It is normal for patients to be not quite “themselves” after surgery. Babies may cry more or be fussy during this stressful time. The baby may also be very clingy and become hard to comfort and console. With a lot of love and reassuring, things will return back to normal within a short amount of time.
Breastfeeding and Surgery
When a baby is having surgery, it can be a frightening experience for the family and the child. Breastfeeding provides both mother and child comfort and a sense of calm when things are stressful. Because all patients must fast (not eat) prior to surgery, breastfeeding must be delayed for a period of time prior to surgery. Please see our NPO guidelines for more information on eating and drinking before surgery.
In most cases, babies are able to return to breastfeeding once awake enough to drink liquids without problems. The patient’s nurse or doctor will let mom know when the baby is ready to nurse. Mothers should speak with their OBGYN or a lactation consultant about pumping and keeping up their milk supply while the baby is fasting and in surgery. If families have breast milk that needs to be refrigerated while the child is fasting or in surgery, please let one of our nurses know and we will be happy to refrigerate the milk.