700 Children's® – A Blog by Pediatric Experts

What Can Kids Eat Before and After Surgery?

Oct 04, 2023
Baby sitting at a table with a bowl

Preparing your child to have surgery can be a stressful time. Information about what to expect before and after surgery can help alleviate some of this stress.

Before Surgery

The surgery department should be in contact approximately one to three days before your child's procedure to review when your child should stop eating and drinking before surgery. The instructions provided during this phone call are essential for your child's safety.

Children should have no solid food eight hours before surgery. Children should also avoid chewing gum because it will delay surgery, and rescheduling may be required if swallowed.

For all general surgeries, formula or non-human milk will be discontinued six hours before, and breast milk will be discontinued four hours before. However, if your provider has recommended a bowel prep before your child's surgery or procedure, please follow your provider's recommended instructions on when to discontinue breast milk.

Breast milk must be avoided during a bowel prep as it produces stool and may delay your child's surgery if continued. If your child is going through a bowel prep, please avoid foods that are hard for the body to process, such as corn or beans. Avoiding these foods will allow for an easier bowel prep. Bowel preps are typically recommended for children when surgery is performed on their abdomen or with any procedure involving the intestines and rectum. Your provider will notify you if your child's surgery requires a bowel prep and the proper steps.

After Surgery

Children should wake naturally and be alert before giving them anything to eat or drink. The type of surgery affects when your child may be allowed to eat or drink.

For outpatient surgery, once your child is awake, they will be offered something to drink, such as water or apple juice. If they tolerate this, they will be allowed to go home.

If your child is admitted to the hospital after surgery, your healthcare provider will advise when to drink and eat. If your child has abdominal surgery, they will likely not be allowed to eat or drink until they have passed gas or stool. Anesthesia can cause your bowels to be "sleepy" and last up to 24 to 48 hours. Eating or drinking too early or too quickly after surgery can make your child nauseous, or they may vomit. The goal is to avoid this.

After surgery, the best thing your child can do is WALK! Walking promotes the return of bowel function, helps with gas pain, promotes healing, and decreases the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT). DVTs are blood clots in the legs, which can occur when someone is not as active as they are on a typical day. Your child does not need to walk far, but a little activity out of bed is beneficial during recovery.

The safety and well-being of your child is your healthcare team's top priority. Your care team will provide clear guidelines on when it is safest to feed your child and when to walk after surgery.

Surgical Services at Nationwide Children's Hospital
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Featured Expert

Erin Cornelius
Erin M. Cornelius, MSN, FNP
Urology Surgery

Erin Cornelius, MSN, FNP is a Pediatric Urology Nurse Practitioner at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.