Nurture Information Hub
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. Other ways to cope include focusing on what you may need to do practically to prepare for the surgery. This includes preparing siblings, grandparents and others. In everything, your wellbeing and your partners remains important.
How to prepare
Before any planned surgery, your baby’s health care team will spend time explaining what treatment your baby needs, how the surgery will be done, what is the expected outcome or goal for the surgery 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. Ensure that you are eating well and maintaining a healthy diet including plenty of fluids. Trying to get the necessary sleep your body needs and using relaxation techniques to reduce anxiety and stress can be helpful during this time. If you are breastfeeding, these tips can also help maintain your supply through this stressful time.
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 estimations. Try not to worry if the surgery is taking longer than expected; it does not mean something went wrong. Every hospital has their own way of keeping parents informed, including through a Surgery Liaison. The staff will try to keep you as well informed as possible.
Use your relaxation techniques
Talk with your support person
Take a walk but ensure you tell the staff person or volunteer you are leaving
Eat if you skipped a meal
“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
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. Proper nutrition and rest along with support and relaxation techniques are just as important for parents after surgery. Plan ahead so someone can relieve you, whether your baby is recovering at home or in the hospital. You will need time to refresh yourself, sleep or have time to be alone and breathe! Rely on a close friend or relative you trust for this break time.
Whilst your baby is still in hospital, your baby’s nurse will be able to assist you as well. Talk with them about your needs and develop a plan to work together to meet your needs as well as your baby’s needs. Taking care of yourself helps you take better care of your child.
Take advantage of talking with a trusted nurse, request a social worker or speak to another parent who has been there (we can help) at any point in your baby's recovery period.
Need support? NurtureConnect allows you to connect with our NurtureProgram support team.