What to expect in the hospital for a child with a congenital heart defect

If your child is born with a heart defect, you might have to take many trips to the hospital or doctor's office. And one or more surgeries may be needed.

While in the hospital for surgery, your child's treatment may involve:

  • Receiving intravenous (IV) fluids until he or she wakes up after surgery and can eat.
  • Having oxygen levels in the blood measured with a pulse oximeter.
  • Making adjustments to help make breathing easier. Your child may have the head of the bed or crib raised, be given oxygen (through a hood, tent, or face mask), or sometimes be given treatment with a breathing machine called a ventilator.
  • Draining fluids from the chest after surgery. Pressures within the body also may be measured.

It is normal to be frightened and worried about your child being in the hospital. Ask questions about any procedures that you don't understand or any special care that is needed. In general, try to be with your child as much as possible.

The following are suggestions to help your child while he or she is in the hospital:

  • Take some of your child's familiar things to the hospital. Favorite toys or blankets will help the child feel more at ease.
  • If you cannot stay with the child, visit often.
  • Take some pictures of the family. Place them where your child can easily see them. Talk about what is happening with other family members or sing favorite songs.
  • Tell the nurses about your child's habits, typical routines, and general preferences.
  • Tell the nurses about any special words that your child may use to tell others what he or she needs.
  • If your child is a newborn, hold and touch him or her often to promote bonding.
  • As much as possible, help the hospital staff with your child's care. Find out whether you will be responsible for any treatments at home. Take this time to learn how to do these treatments while the hospital staff is there to teach you.

Last Updated: October 12, 2009

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