How to Help Your Child Fast Before Pediatric Surgery

Helping your child to fast before pediatric surgery is just one of the ways you’ll need to prepare them for the procedure. At Austin Pediatric Surgery, we’re here to help parents understand why fasting is so important, and learn some ways to comfort your child during this stressful time.

Why Fasting is Important Before Surgery

Have you ever had the feeling that something “went down the wrong pipe” after swallowing? That’s called aspiration – when something enters the airways or the lungs accidentally. Fasting is necessary prior to surgery with general anesthesia to avoid aspirating vomit, and which is why food is restricted for several hours before the operation. 

When we’re awake and conscious, we can react to aspiration by coughing or gagging to clear the obstruction. But under general anesthesia, muscles are paralyzed and the patient can’t take action to clear the airways. Because there’s also an endotracheal tube placed in the throat, there’s an even greater risk that instead of expelling the vomit, it could travel into the lungs.

Nausea is also a common occurrence after surgery, and the best way to prevent postoperative vomiting is to have an empty stomach prior to receiving anesthesia.

Fasting Rules Prior to Pediatric Surgery

It’s important to follow the specific guidelines laid out by your pediatric surgeon, but the general rules for fasting prior to pediatric surgery are as follows:

  • Solid food (including rice cereal and baby food) may be eaten up until 8 hours before surgery.
  • You can give your baby infant formula up to 6 hours before surgery, and breast milk up to 4 hours prior.
  • Your infant or older child can have clear liquids up to 2 hours before surgery. Clear liquids include water, apple juice, popsicles, or a prepared electrolyte beverage. Milk and formula are not clear liquids.
  • Remember to inform your doctor about your child’s regular medications to find out which may be taken prior to anesthesia, and don’t forget to mention any herbal or natural medicines you regularly give your child.

How to Explain Fasting and Anesthesia to your Child

Keep your child’s level of comprehension and maturity in mind when talking about the surgery and how to prepare for it, but don’t lie or try to hide information. You may be worried about frightening your child, but it’s scarier not knowing what is going to happen. It’s better that you have control of the narrative and are able to present it in a way that will keep fears to a minimum.

For example, when trying to explain what will happen during anesthesia, you could tell your child they will take a short nap. Instead of using scary words like “shot” and “pain,” try to soften your language with substitutes like “pinch” and “sore.”

When explaining fasting, you could let an older child know that it’s easier for the doctors to do their job when all food is completely digested or that they will feel better after the surgery if they have an empty stomach.

Younger children may not need an explanation. Just give them a healthy meal prior to the 8-hour deadline, and prepare to feed them formula, breast milk, or clear liquids within the allowed time frames.

Talk to your toddler 2-3 days ahead, while older children can have more of an advanced warning – 5 or 6 days. However, you know your child best and can make adjustments based on what you know about their tendency to feel anxious or worry.

It’s so important that, as a parent, you remain calm since your child will take cues from you. Listen to their concerns and be honest, but gentle. Be sure to let them know that the surgical team will do everything they can to make them safe and comfortable.

Ultimately, you know your child best. Some children benefit from touring the hospital or medical facility, while others may do best without thinking too much about the big day. Talk to your child to determine their level of anxiety, and provide as much information as needed to help them be ready for the big day.

Find a Pediatric Surgery Center in Austin, Texas

We know you’re concerned about your child’s health and safety. That’s why it’s important you choose a pediatric surgery center that has a reputation for providing the best care for infants, children, and adolescents.

At Austin Pediatric Surgery, our surgical specialists are trained and experienced in using the most advanced techniques and minimally invasive technologies and have been helping and healing children in the community for more than 20 years. Please contact us to learn more about how we can help reduce your stress and make the surgical experience safe and comfortable for your child and your family.