If your baby requires surgery

Premature or sick newborns can have a range of complex medical and surgical problems and many require specialised surgical procedures.

For some parents, the need for surgical intervention may have been discovered before their baby’s delivery, but although antenatal scans and tests can detect the possibility of certain abnormalities, it cannot detect all problems. Therefore, for some families the need for surgery may be discovered when the baby is delivered and for others, not until some time has passed since the baby’s birth.

If your baby requires surgery, you may be feeling a range of emotions including anger, shock, sadness and fear, and these feelings can become overwhelming in an already stressful situation. Talking about your feelings to your social worker, nurse or another NICU parent who has also had a baby in surgery can help you come to terms with any anxiety and stress you may be feeling.

How to prepare

Before any planned surgery, your baby’s health care team will spend time explaining what treatment your baby needs and why, how the surgery will be done and what the recovery period may entail. It is important that you know what to expect throughout the entire process, so use this time to ask as many questions as you need, and remember that no question is too silly or too small.

Think about creating a plan for the day of surgery. Would you like other family members with you? Will having their support be a good distraction from the operating room or would you prefer to go through the process alone? Can you occupy your mind with a book, crossword, music or by going for a walk?

Some parents find that keeping a journal in the lead-up and throughout the surgery can help express feelings and emotions that are otherwise difficult to verbalise.

During surgery

For many parents, having a child undergo a surgical procedure is the most heart-wrenching experience imaginable.

Hospital staff may encourage you not to wait around at the hospital, but to get out and about. You will be contacted as soon as possible to advise you of the outcome of the operation and if there were any complications, surprises or if all went according to plan.

You may receive an approximate time of surgery, but these are only estimates. Try not to worry if the surgery is taking longer than expected; it does not mean something went wrong. The staff will try to keep you as well informed as possible.

“Saying goodbye and watching him go to theatre was heartbreaking. I can't explain the sheer fear and sadness I felt waiting for him to come out of that surgery. I expected him to not survive and felt physically sick.” – Naomi, mum to Caden born at 29+2 weeks and Eli born at 25+4 weeks

Recovery

Usually your baby’s surgeon or a member of their health care team will meet with you immediately after the surgery is completed. It can then take some time for your baby to be settled back into the NICU or SCN before you are finally reunited. After surgery, your baby may look very different and may require additional equipment to help with their recovery; it is important to be prepared to help make these changes as bearable as possible.

The post-operative period can be physically exhausting for parents as well as their babies, so remember to talk to a trusted nurse or request a social worker at any point in your child's recovery period to ensure you are also maintaining your health and wellbeing.

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