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When Your Baby Needs a Test, Procedure, or Surgery

When Your Baby Needs a Test, Procedure, or Surgery

(Ages newborn to 12 months)

Your baby is too young to understand what is going on right now. But you are likely scared and upset by what's happening. Your little one can sense your unease and stress. For you, then, being prepared for the test or procedure will help you stay calm and supportive when your child needs you.

What your child understands

In the first 8 months of life, babies mostly rely on others to meet their needs for touch and comfort, food, and sleep. In later infancy, babies begin to develop a fear of strangers. They become more aware of separation from their caregivers.

Crying is a normal response in infants to being separated from a parent. Crying doesn't always mean that your baby is in pain or uncomfortable.

Talk with your baby's healthcare provider about being present as much as possible for the test or procedure. Child development experts say it's best to keep to a minimum the amount of time your child is separated from you at this age. Check that your child has a blanket or stuffed animal to help soothe them for those times when you must be apart.

Here are other stress-reducing ideas for your baby:

  • Pacifiers

  • Swaddling for very young babies

  • Rocking

  • Music

  • Speaking in a low, soothing voice

  • Visual stimulation, such as a book, picture, or toy

In the hospital, babies and young toddlers (8 months to 2 years) may return to more immature behaviors. They may seem to lose the strides they made in their development. This is normal and is often only short-term (temporary) for short hospital stays.

Keep in mind that restraints may be used during a test or procedure. These are used to help keep your child safe and so that the test can be done correctly.

Questions to ask your baby's healthcare provider

You are the most important member of your baby's healthcare team. No one knows your baby better than you! Let your baby's healthcare provider know that you want to be a part of the treatment process.

Here are questions to ask before the test, procedure, or surgery:

  • How long will the test, procedure, or surgery take?

  • What are the risks involved?

  • Will your child feel pain or discomfort?

  • Will restraints be used? If yes, what material is used?

  • What outcomes have you seen with this medical condition?

  • Who in addition to you is involved? Can I meet the healthcare team?

  • What type of medical equipment will be used?

  • What does this equipment look, sound, and feel like? Can I see it?

  • Does my baby have to go without eating or drinking beforehand? If so, for how long?

  • Will my baby be awake for the procedure or surgery?

  • What should I expect just before the procedure?

  • What do you see as my role?

  • When will I be allowed to be with my baby during and after the procedure or surgery?

  • How long will my baby have to stay in the hospital?

  • After the procedure, what problems should I watch for and when should I call you?

  • How many follow-up visits do you anticipate?

After the test, procedure, or surgery

  • Did my baby feel pain? If so, how long is it expected to last?

  • How is this discomfort or pain being managed?

  • If anesthesia was used, how long will it take to wear off?

  • What medicines are prescribed for my baby? What are the side effects?

  • How should I expect my baby to act now?

  • Do I have to restrict my baby in any way or prevent them from doing any activities?

  • How long can I anticipate until my baby is "back to normal"?

Easing your stress

When your child is sick, you may feel overwhelmed by stress and anxiety. Here are some things you can do to ease your stress:

  • Learn everything you can about your baby's illness and treatment.

  • Set up a trusting relationship with your child's healthcare provider.

  • Visit the hospital, if your baby has to stay there.

    • Take a tour.

    • Get any resources available.

    • Meet the staff members who will be involved in your child's care.

  • Check out support groups so you can talk with other parents who have been through what you are facing. Some hospitals host them, or look online for these groups.

  • Lean on friends and family. Have at least one other person with you during the procedure or surgery, if possible.

  • Keep a diary of your thoughts and feelings.

  • Try exercise and relaxation techniques:

    • Meditation

    • Yoga

    • Tai chi

    • Positive visualization

    • Controlled breathing

If you are having trouble controlling your stress, talk with your healthcare provider right away. Your baby needs you.

Child life program

Many hospitals have child life programs. A child life specialist is often part of the healthcare team. When working with you and your child, this specialist can help you:

  • Understand the medical information presented to you so you have accurate descriptions of what will be done for your child

  • To support your child, as well as help you and your family cope with and adjust to your child's illness

  • Decrease your child's overall anxiety and feeling of pain¬†

Reviewed Date: 08-01-2023

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Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your child's physician. The content provided on this page is for informational purposes only, and was not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your child's physician with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical condition.