Taking Care of your Infant / Child after Heart Surgery

After heart surgery you will be receiving a lot of education before coming home from the hospital.  We want to address some of the common questions parents have.  Keep in mind these are general answers and you may have been given specific instructions that differ from these.  If you were told something different by your Surgeon you should always follow their advice first. 

How should I bathe my child the first few weeks after coming home from surgery?

Bath time is the best time to look for signs of infection (redness, swelling, drainage).

Bathing daily is important, especially while the special bandages called "steristrips" are still on. 

Showers are the best method for infants and children.  Do not let the incision immerse under water until it has fully healed and steristrips have fallen off.  You can make a shower for your infant by placing them in the tub and NOT plugging the drain, using a sponge to gently let water run over them.  Never leave your infant alone in the bath. 

Wash the incision last using a clean washcloth by squeezing the fresh soapy water over the incision, then rinsing the area with clean water and patting dry.  Do not rub directly against the area.     

Once the incision is completely healed you can resume normal bathing / showers.  This is once the steristrips have fallen off and the incision has healed over (usually about 2-3 weeks but may vary).  

Do not apply lotions or ointments to the incision while it is healing.

Rubbery ducky is optional.

How do I keep the surgical incision protected in the first few weeks?

Wear clothing that doesn't have buttons or zippers that will lay on top of the incision as this may irritate the area.  Plain t-shirts are preferred.  

For infants have them wear a bib when eatng to keep the area dry. 

Itchiness is common as the incision heals, you should try to prevent scratching as much as possible.  

What are some long term things I can do for my child's scar?

Avoid direct sun exposure to the incision for at least 1 year after surgery.  Sunscreen or a shirt will help and this should improve how the scar looks in the future.  

Applying Vitamin E or Cocoa butter after the scar has completely healed and the steristrips have fallen off may help reduce the appearance of the scar.  It is not necessary to do this more than once daily.

How should I hold my infant after surgery?

Do not pick up your child under from under their arms for 6 weeks after surgery

You may lift your infant by placing one hand under the head and the other hand under their bottom.  

What kind of activity can my child do after surgery?

Avoid activities where your child is at risk for a fall or trauma to the chest for at least 6 weeks after srugery.  Even though the incision usually heals in 2-3 weeks, the sternum takes longer and usually heals in about 6 weeks.  

Infants are generally okay to roll, pull to stand or have tummy time after discharge home from surgery.

Always have your child / infant travel in an appropriate car seat.  Do not add padding as this may make the seat unsafe.  

Your child should not participate in gym, contact sports, ride bikes or lift heavy things for 6 weeks after surgery.  

When can my child go back to daycare / school?

Generally 2 weeks after discharge from the hospital your child can return. 

How long should I keep my child away from crowds?

For at least 2 weeks they shoud avoid crowded places and people with possible illness.  

When should I be concerned and call the Cardiologist?

Your surgeon usually will give you a phone number for one of his providers in case you have concerns about the incision that you may call.  But you may also feel free to call our office if you cannot contact them.

If your child develops any of the following in the first 4-6 weeks after surgery you should call:

Fever >101
Signs of infection (redness or drainage)
Difficulty Breathing
Cannot tolerate feeds 
Uncontrollable pain not improved with pain medication

When should I see Tri-City Pediatric Cardiology again after surgery?

A follow-up about 2 weeks after surgery is recommended.  You should typically have an appointment made by the hospital before discharge.  If you lose the information please contact our office directly.  This follow-up is important to see how well your repair is doing.