Anaesthesia for kids

Q. When will I meet with the anaesthetist?

We will send you information about your anaesthetist prior to the procedure. You will receive this via text or email. Included in this information is an important health survey we ask you to complete.

On the day of surgery, your anaesthetist will generally meet you and your child after they have been admitted. On rare occasions this may not be possible, so your anaesthetist will meet you in the anaesthetic room.

Q. How will the anaesthetic be given?

For younger children, they will usually breathe the anaesthetic through a mask to help them “fall asleep". Some children get upset, so we encourage one parent to stay until your child is asleep to provide reassurance. If your child is not cooperative, we may ask you to help by giving them a cuddle. After they are asleep, the anaesthetist will put a drip in to give medications and fluids.

Children 10 years old and over will have numbing cream applied to the back of their hand. Instead of using a mask, a drip is placed in the numb skin, and they are then given medication through it to fall asleep. This is usually more pleasant in this age group as the anaesthetic gas can smell unpleasant to older kids.

Regardless of the method, it takes less than a minute for them to fall asleep. As soon as they are asleep, someone will show you out of the anaesthetic room so we can look after your child.

Q. What happens after the procedure?

Your child will be taken to the recovery room where they are monitored and kept comfortable by a nurse. You can see them when they are awake. Some children take longer to wake than others, which is fine. Younger children may wake upset despite being comfortable, but this usually settles down quickly.

Depending on the procedure and whether your child is going home or staying in hospital, the drip is usually removed before leaving recovery. If your child requires medications or fluids on the ward, the drip will remain in place.

Q. What are the risks of anaesthesia?

Due to extensive specialist medical training, as well as modern equipment and medications, anaesthesia undertaken in Australia is very safe. There is, however, a level of risk associated with every part of our daily lives, and undergoing anaesthesia for a procedure is no different.

Uncommonly, your child may experience nausea and vomiting after their procedure. Should your child have vomiting, allow an hour to pass before giving fluids slowly, and building up to solid food. Dental damage and a sore throat related to insertion of breathing devices is also uncommon.

Your child will be given pain medication while they are asleep to help with their comfort after the procedure. They will be given further medication if they are sore in recovery. If you are going home after your child’s procedure, your anaesthetist will discuss and arrange appropriate pain medications for you to use at home.

Your child may wake up in an agitated or upset condition from an anaesthetic unrelated to any pain or discomfort. This is common, particularly in children aged 2 to 6. This will usually settle over the first hour and does not require any further intervention aside from support and reassurance from a parent.

Serious adverse effects, such as those that will cause permanent injury or threat to life, are very rare in children undergoing anaesthesia. Should your child be at an increased risk, your anaesthetist will discuss this with you after assessing your child.

Q. Can my child eat and drink before the procedure?

Food and drink in the stomach is a safety risk when undergoing anaesthesia. While we appreciate that withholding food and fluid from children can be stressful, it is important that you follow the following guidelines.

Child under 6 months of age:

Morning procedure - Finish breast feeds by 0500 or formula by 0400. Your child may have water until they arrive at the hospital.

Afternoon procedure - Finish breast feeds by 1030 or formula by 0930. Your child may have water until they arrive at the hospital.

Child over 6 months of age:

Morning procedure - Finish all food by midnight prior. This includes milk products and orange juice. Please encourage clear fluids (water, cordial, clear apple juice) until they arrive at the hospital.

Afternoon procedure - Finish all food by 0730. This includes milk products and orange juice. Please encourage clear fluids (water, cordial, clear apple juice) until they arrive at the hospital.

Q. What should I bring?

You should bring any comfort items that your child usually likes, including dummies, special blankets or teddy bears. A change of clothes for smaller children is also a good idea.

Occasionally there may be a delay in your child’s surgery, so iPads with games or TV shows can help pass the time away.

Bottle feeds and favourite snacks for after their procedure will help them feel comfortable. Please remember that it is important for your child’s safety that they do not eat prior to their surgery, so ensure these are hidden away and not accessible.

Q. How can I explain anaesthesia to my child?

The following video is a great way to explain what will happen when they come to hospital.