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My child needs a procedure in which they will use anesthesia. What's the best way for all of us to prepare for this?

Any time a child requires a hospital visit, it can cause anxiety - for both parent and child. This especially may be the case when the visit involves any type of procedure that might require anesthesia.

Prepare Your Child

Begin talking about the hospital visit 5 to 6 days in advance for older children, and 2 or 3 days ahead for toddlers. Be honest with your child. Depending on your child's age, use familiar words such as "sore" for pain or "taking a nap" for being put under anesthesia.

Explain that the sleep from anesthesia is different from sleep at home. During anesthesia a person does not feel pain. Your child will not wake up in the middle of the procedure. At the end of the surgery, test, or treatment, the anesthesiologist will take away the medicine that provides this type of "sleep" and your child will awaken and return to his family.

Children between the ages of 3 and 12 may not be ready to hear about the risks of surgery or anesthesia. Often, they understand enough to be scared, but not enough to be reassured. Your anesthesiologist may want to tell you about the risks when your child is not present.

If your child becomes worried when you talk about what anesthesia will be like, explain that it is OK to be scared. Point out that the anesthesia care team will work hard to make your child feel safe and comfortable. You can help keep your child's fears to a minimum by being calm and reassuring.

Some hospitals offer special programs that explain the anesthesia and surgery process to children and families. Ask for books and videotapes that can help you prepare your child and yourself.

On The Morning That Your Child Is To Receive Anesthesia

  • Be sure to follow the instructions given to you, especially any fasting (not eating) instructions.
  • Dress your child in loose-fitting, comfortable clothes.
  • Give any medications (that your anesthesiologist has approved) with a sip of water.
  • Bring a favorite comfort object such as a blanket, stuffed animal, or toy.
  • Be a calm and reassuring parent for your child.

Often, sedatives (medications to help your child relax) are given before the start of anesthesia to help reduce fear and worry. The choice of whether to provide a sedative will depend on your child's age, level of anxiety, medical condition, and your hospital's practices. Sedatives may be given through the mouth, nose, or rectum (the anal opening), or as an injection.

How Anesthesia Is Given

Most children get to choose one of the following ways for anesthesia to be started:

  • By breathing anesthetic gases through a mask
  • Through a needle that is put into a vein (IV)
  • Through a needle that is put into a muscle (an injection)

When a mask is used, there is no need for shots and no pain is involved. However, some children do not like having masks placed on their faces. An injection can be briefly painful and frightening to a child. However, it is quick and does not require your child to remain still. If an IV is used, the use of local anesthetic (numbing medicine) at the IV site will make this less painful.

If a mask will be used to start anesthesia, talk to your child about this before the day of the surgery, test, or treatment. Explain that the mask contains special air that helps children feel sleepy. The mask may be treated with a special smell to make the process more comfortable. This method may not be used in certain cases, such as for some emergencies, in the case of stomach or bowel problems, or if your child has eaten recently.

Once a child reaches about 10 years of age, anesthesia usually is started by IV. No matter how anesthesia is started, your child will be kept comfortable and asleep with a combination of gas and IV anesthetics. Your child will not awaken during the surgery, test, or treatment. She will awaken once the procedure is completed, unless there is a need for intensive care at that time. If your child needs this type of care, your anesthesiologist will explain this to you.


If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to discuss them with your anesthesia care team, your pediatrician, or other doctor(s) who are involved. These health care professionals are trained to ensure your child's comfort and safety throughout the process.


Last Updated
Anesthesia and Your Child (Copyright ┬ę 2001 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.