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What Can Your Child Eat Before Surgery?

What Can Your Child Eat Before Surgery?

Guest Post By Genevieve Kane, MSN, RN

 It is stressful when a child needs to go under anesthesia or sedation for a procedure. Besides concerns over the procedure itself and any discomfort the child may experience afterward, a parent or caregiver may also worry about preparing the child for the procedure.

Preparation for a surgery typically includes instructions about what a child can eat or drink before the procedure. The general rules about what kids can eat or drink before procedures differ from adults. And they also differ between age groups for children. 

What Can Your Child Eat Before Surgery?

What Can Your Child Eat Before Surgery? 

If you’re wondering what your child can eat and drink before surgery, we break down the general recommendations here. Of course, your child’s circumstances may be different from these general guidelines. So always check with your child’s healthcare team about their specific requirements.

Why Limit What My Child Can Eat Before Surgery?

One of the main goals of any healthcare procedure is safety. The entire healthcare team strives to ensure that kids are kept safe. And part of keeping kids safe includes limiting what children eat before surgery.

Kids can feel nauseous before or after procedures. The medications used to put kids to sleep can sometimes cause tummy upset. Your healthcare team will work to provide anesthesia that reduces nausea and vomiting and also offer additional medications, if appropriate, that relieve nausea and vomiting.

However, it can be dangerous if a child vomits while they are under anesthesia. This is because they could aspirate stomach acid into their lungs. Stomach acid doesn’t belong in the lungs, and can cause serious problems.

So, providers limit what your child can eat and drink before surgery to avoid aspiration due to nausea and vomiting.  

What Your Child Less Than One Year Old Can Eat Before Surgery

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) explains differences in what your child can eat before surgery depending on their age. If your child is under a year old, they can generally follow these guidelines:

  • Stop solid foods 8 hours before surgery
  • Stop infant formula 6 hours before surgery
  • Stop breast milk 4 hours before surgery
  • Stop clear liquids 2 hours before surgery

It’s important to consider that while some infant purees and pouches may seem like liquid, that they are considered solid foods.

What Your Child One Year And Older Can Eat Before Surgery

The general guidelines, per the AAP, for children a year and older, differentiate between solid foods and clear liquids. Similar to infants a year and younger, older children should not eat solids once they reach 8 hours before surgery.

And, also similar to infants a year or younger, they should stop clear liquids 2 hours before surgery. Clear liquids include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Apple juice
  • Clear soda
  • Water
  • Electrolyte solutions such as PedialyteⓇ

Generally, you will find that many facilities go by similar requirements for all ages regarding formula, milk, and breastfeeding. It is likely that your child will be asked to stop eating milk or formula 6 hours before surgery and stop nursing 4 hours before surgery. Although some facilities may allow you to nurse closer to the surgery time.

What Can Your Child Eat Before Surgery?

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, for example, allows breastmilk up to two to three hours before surgery time, depending on the facility. While the AAP provides general guidelines for what your child can eat and drink before surgery, it is important to check in with your healthcare institution about their specific requirements. There may be slight differences with the timelines for what your child is allowed and not allowed to eat before surgery.

Other Dietary Considerations

Your child may have a medical condition that requires them to eat a certain diet or take certain medications. It’s important to clarify ahead of time if there are changes you need to make to your child’s food or medication routine prior to surgery.

For example, there may be medications your healthcare team does not want you to give your child before surgery and other medications that are perfectly fine to give. This is because some medications can interact with the anesthesia or cause differences in how blood clots.

While the healthcare team should have an up to date list of medications your child is on and should go over this with you in a pre-op appointment, it is a good idea to write it down ahead of time. You may be nervous the day of surgery. Having a medication list with what times the medications were last given is helpful to your surgery team.

Also, keep in mind that supplements are considered medications. So, it is important that you discuss any supplements that you have your child on prior to surgery, so you know if you need to pause those as well.

You may hear your medical team use the term, NPO. This is an abbreviation for a term that means nothing by mouth. So, at a certain time before surgery, your child will likely need to be NPO, or have nothing by mouth, prior to surgery.

Looking for more tips on caring for kids during procedures? You’ll find these helpful:

What Can Your Child Eat Before Surgery?

Key Takeaways Over What Your Child Can Eat Before Surgery

The main takeaway regarding what your child can eat before surgery, is to have a clear line of communication between you and your child’s healthcare team. Make sure their team understands your child’s general diet and what medications (including supplements!), if any, your child is on.

Medications to mention also include over the counter meds, such as TylenolⓇ, that you may give your child for pain or fever management.

And because Dr. Noze Best cares about your child and wants you to feel informed about your child’s health, Dr. Steven Goudy put together a great visual on TikTok about what your child can eat before surgery.

Know that it is normal for you to feel nervous before your child’s surgery. It is also normal for your child to feel nervous too. However, asking questions ahead of time, especially as they pertain to what your child can eat or drink, can help to alleviate some of the anxiety.

Remember, these are general guidelines. Your child is unique and your child’s healthcare team may have different guidelines about what your child can eat before surgery. So make sure to ask any questions, and know that your child’s team is there to help both of you feel comfortable and confident. 

Genevieve Kane, MSN, RN, is a mother of four and a registered nurse with a background in pediatrics. When she's not working, you can find her cooking up tasty family dinners or keeping up with her kids on a hiking trail in her home state of Colorado.

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