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General Anesthesia for Your Child: What to Expect

by Brett Mills

Pediatric surgery often requires children to be completely relaxed to achieve a successful procedure. General anesthesia allows your child to sleep through the surgery. When your child awakens, they will have no memory of the event. You can ease your worries—and your child's—by learning about the anesthesia process. Follow these instructions for preparing for surgery to help ensure a positive outcome.

Eating and Drinking Before Surgery

People under anesthesia should not eat or drink after a certain time the day before surgery. Children over 1 year old should not eat any solid food or drink milk, formula, or non-clear juices after midnight. Children may have water or clear juice until 2 hours prior to their check-in time.  Parents of babies younger than 12 months may continue to feed their child formula or breastmilk past midnight. Parents may give formula up to 6 hours before the child's arrival time at the hospital. Breast-fed babies may consume breast milk until 4 hours before arrival.

Administering the Anesthesia

The anesthesiologist may administer the sleep medication to teens or older children intravenously, like adult anesthesia. Because younger children and infants can become upset by needles, little ones wear a mask that delivers anesthesia via inhaled gas. The gas can be scented to smell pleasant for the child. If the child is anxious about the IV or the mask, the staff may first give them a liquid sedative to help them relax.

During the Procedure

The anesthesia staff monitors your child's temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing throughout the procedure. Some children may need a breathing tube inserted to assist with respiration during surgery. If a young child or infant requires an IV, it will be administered after the child goes to sleep. 

Waking up From Anesthesia

A child coming out of anesthesia often feels groggy and sleepy. Other common reactions include fussiness or crying. The anesthesia medicine may upset your child's stomach, so your child may feel nauseous or vomit upon waking.  A sore throat occurs if your child has had a breathing tube inserted during surgery.

Preventing Complications

To avoid potential problems with anesthesia, parents should closely follow the schedule and instructions given to them by the nurse the day before the scheduled procedure. Parents should postpone surgery if their child is unwell. Children with symptoms such as fever, congestion, or cough should not undergo anesthesia. Do not give your child ibuprofen or aspirin within the two-week period prior to surgery. Consult your Pediatric surgeon if you have any other concerns or questions.