Anaesthesia is relatively safe and can be given to children of all ages, including newborn babies. The anaesthetist’s role is to ensure your child is comfortable and pain free. The anaesthetist will stay with them at all times during the operation and monitor them closely.
Special skills are required to anaesthetise the very young and those with underlying illnesses. Operations will be carried out only in hospitals appropriately staffed and equipped to anaesthetise and operate on these children. Some hospitals will not accept children younger than a certain age and others do not perform surgery on children at all.
There are many things that you can do to prepare your child for coming into hospital. All children (except infants too young to understand) should be told that they are going into hospital, they will be having an operation or investigation and some basic information about what will happen to them when they are in hospital. Everything should be explained to your child in a way that he/she can understand.
Children between 2 and 3 years of age should be told 2 – 3 days before and again on the day of admission. Children between 4 and 7 years of age should be told 4 – 7 days before the day of admission. Older children will usually be involved in making decisions about the operation or investigation and discussion can take place a few weeks before.
SOME IDEAS OF WHAT TO SAY:
Explain that the operation or investigation will help your child to get better. Use simple words your child understands. Encourage your child to talk about the operation and ask questions. Tell your child when he or she will have the operation or investigation and how long their stay in hospital will be.
DAY OF ADMISSION
FASTING – NOTHING TO EAT AND DRINK (‘NIL BY MOUTH’)
It is very important for your child to follow these instructions. If there is food or liquid in your child’s stomach during the anaesthetic, it could come up into the back of the throat and damage his or her lungs.
THE LATEST TIME THAT YOU SHOULD GIVE YOUR CHILD ANYTHING TO EAT OR DRINK:
- Up to 6 hours before your child can have a light meal with milk, water or fruit juice. Bottle fed babies can have formula feed.
- Up to 4 hours before babies can have breast milk.
- Up to 2 hours before all children and babies can only have a drink of water.
For example: If your procedure is at 8 am your child must not eat after 2am, no breast milk after 4 am and no water after 6am.
A nurse from the ward will accompany you and your child to the operating theatres.
Your anaesthetist will discuss your child’s anaesthetic. The anaesthetist will ask also about your child’s general health, previous experiences with anaesthesia, any medicines your child is taking and any allergies. This is a good time to ask questions or raise any particular concerns you have.
If you wish, you will usually be able to stay with your child until he or she is unconscious. However, there are a few circumstances when this will not be possible.
Your child’s anaesthetic may be given as a gas to breathe or by an injection. Both methods are safe. The anaesthetist will monitor your child closely throughout the entire procedure, ensuring that he or she is safe and fully unconscious. Following the procedure your child will go to a recovery room until he or she has regained consciousness and is comfortable enough to return to the ward.
SIDE EFFECTS AND COMPLICATIONS
Modern anaesthesia is very safe and serious problems are uncommon. Most children recover quickly and are soon back to normal after their operation and anaesthetic. Some children may suffer side effects like sickness, headache or a sore throat. These usually last only a short time and there are medicines available to treat them if necessary. The risk of complications depends on your child’s medical conditions and on the nature of the surgery and anaesthesia your child needs. The anaesthetist can discuss this with you in detail at the pre-operative visit.