Preparing your child for surgery

Going to hospital for surgery can sometimes be scary for children and their parents. There are some things you can do to help prepare your child and knowing what to expect can also help.

Before surgery

Getting clean

Your child needs to be clean for surgery to reduce their risk of getting an infection. They can have a bath or a shower, but you’ll need to make sure they’re washed all over using soap.

Make sure you give these areas a good wash:

Areas of the body to clean before surgery
  • Hair – important if your child is having a head or face operation
  • Chest or tummy area – important if this is where the surgeons will operate
  • Underarms – this is a moist area where germs can grow
  • Elbow crease – this is a common place for infusions
  • Groin or nappy area – sometimes used for a urinary catheter (thin plastic tube placed in the bladder) after an operation
  • Hands and feet – veins in the hands and feet are often used for giving medications and fluids
  • Navel (Belly button) – is a moist area where germs can grow and sometimes used for keyhole surgery
  • Neck and behind the ears – some children will receive fluids or medicine through a vein in the neck

You’ll also need to check your child’s hair for head lice. If you find any, please treat them before going to hospital.

Also check your child’s skin for any infections, cuts, and abrasions. This includes things like nappy rash, or a scrape from falling off a bike. Let us know if you find any in case we need to cover them for surgery.

Fasting before surgery

Make sure your child doesn’t eat or drink anything, other than clear fluids, for a number of hours before surgery. This includes chewing gum and lollies.

They can still take their regular medication with a sip of water or another clear fluid when they’re fasting.

The clear fluids we recommend are:

  • Water
  • Clear (pulp-free) fruit juices and cordials – i.e. apple juice
  • Non-carbonated drinks – i.e. Powerade, Gatorade
  • Ready-to-mix sugar and electrolyte powders – i.e. SOS, Poly-Joule, Carb Plus, Hydralyte.

Please avoid giving you child other types of drinks that are not recommended above.

One of our nurses will call you the business day before your child’s surgery to give you an approximate time their surgery is booked in for. They will also tell you when your child will need to start fasting.

Read more about fasting and why fasting before surgery is important.


Don’t stop any of your child’s usual medications unless your doctor or a nurse has told you to. Bring a list of their medications to hospital, including herbal medicines and supplements.

There are some medications your child shouldn’t take before surgery.

  • If your child is having ear, nose, throat or eye surgery, don’t give them Nurofen®/ibuprofen in the 72 hours before their surgery.
  • Don’t take any fish oils and garlic supplements at least one week before surgery.

If your child takes aspirin regularly, your surgical team will let you know when it’s safe for them to have it.

Talking to your child about surgery

Explaining what’s going to happen in hospital can help children feel more comfortable and less anxious.

There are some things you can do to help reduce your child’s anxiety before surgery.

They can also watch our My Trip to Hospital video to learn more about what to expect when coming for an operation.

What to wear

Dress your child in clean, loose-fitting clothing with no metal buttons or zips. It’s better if they wear a t-shirt and shorts or pyjamas as they’re easier to take on and off. Put something warmer over the top if they need it.

They’ll need to wear shoes inside the hospital.

What to bring

Make sure you bring your hospital admission forms with you. It’s also a good idea to bring something for them to do, such as a book or colouring in pencils as there’s usually a wait before surgery.

Our hospital bag checklist will tell you what to pack for you and your child and what to leave at home.

When you get to hospital

Your hospital admission letter will tell you which part of the hospital to go to. When you get there let reception staff know you’ve arrived. We’ll then ask you to fill in your admission forms.

We’ll do some other health checks before surgery, such as taking your child’s blood pressure, heart rate and temperature. You can stay with them while they have these done.

Your child’s clinical team, including the anaesthetist and doctor, may then see your child.

Going to theatre

When it’s time for your child’s operation, one parent or carer will be given a gown or clothes to put on to take them into theatre.

During the operation you’ll be able to wait in a parent lounge. We have surgical information boards in the lounges and the hospital food court so you’ll be able to see when their surgery has finished.

One parent may be able to join them in the recovery area afterwards. After recovery, they’ll be moved to a ward.

Useful resources

Contact us

If your child has a fever, diarrhoea, wheezing, or vomiting in the days leading up to surgery, please call us. We’ll let you know if their surgery may need to be delayed or if there’s other treatment they may need.

If you need to cancel a booking or if your contact details have changed, call us on 07 3068 1125 (7am to 5pm, Monday to Friday)

For after hours and on the weekend, please contact 07 3068 1111 and ask to speak with the After hours Nurse Unit Manager.

If you’re running late on the day of your appointment, please call our surgical admission lounge on 07 3068 1790.