Post Op Recovery
The hours, days and weeks following surgery can be tricky and sometimes downright difficult. Every baby reacts differently, and some bounce back faster than others, but it is wise to be prepared no matter what. Here, we share parent tips on how to make it through post op recovery. These tips complement the parent tips we shared on Preparing for Surgery, so be sure to read through those as well! And remember, you are your baby’s best advocate – trust your mommy instinct and don’t be afraid to speak up if you think something is not right.
Parent Post Op Tip #1: Stay on top of pain meds.
This is key – in the beginning, many babies need them around the clock. Don’t wait too long because if you fall behind on managing pain it can be hard to get it back under control.
Stay on top of pain meds, and don’t be afraid to speak up. Nurses can get busy and it’s a good idea to remind them BEFORE meds are due because it usually takes them awhile to come back with them. I found some nurses wanted to be more lax with doses – so I demanded they get moving on them!
Stay on top of meds and use your instincts. If you can alternate Tylenol and Motrin then go for it. Narcotics can cause constipation which can make them refuse food and we all know how important eating/drinking is post op.
Keep your own med log – what/dosage/time given/time due. And then call the nurses before the next dose is due.
Tell them you want pain meds around the clock, not to wait to see if they need them!!
Parent Post Op Tip #2: Be persistent with fluids.
Hydration is very important post op, and it is not uncommon for some babies to fight fluids in the hours and days immediately following surgery. Be clear on what your surgeon does NOT allow (many don’t allow bottles for a period of time post op), and then be ready to try all other methods to get your baby to drink. This might be an open cup, a spoutless sippy with the valve removed, a syringe, a tendercare feeder, or a sideways spoon to name a few. Also, if you child is old enough to have purees, and your surgeon allows them post op, you can add formula/milk/pedialyte to the purees to get a little extra fluid in that way as well. It may be tough, but be persistent and keep trying different ways to keep your baby hydrated! And remember, this will pass!
The fluids IV during the hospital stay is important during surgery, but can also reduce their thirst. If your baby is still on the IV and refusing to drink, ask the nurses/surgeon about turning off the IV to help increase their thirst. It just might do the trick.
You may have to try something different than what your baby normally drinks. Try everything (age appropriate, of course) as in the beginning you just want some form of fluid intake! Pedialyte, formula, milk, apple juice, melted ice cream, soup broth, thin yogurt smoothies, etc. Play with consistency, play with temperature… you may find they want it totally different than usual!
Keep offering fluids – they will likely take much less than normal at each feeding, so you’ll have to offer it more frequently. Even if they are only taking a tiny amount at a time, it’s still something!
If you pump make sure you have a way to do it in hospital and maybe bring some milk with you.
Parent Post Op Tip #3: Get out for a walk.
Many parents agree it does mom and baby alike a lot of good to get out of the hospital room, whether it’s for a trip to the playroom, a walk in the hallways or even outside if you can swing it!
Don’t be afraid to request your baby be unhooked from the monitoring machines every once in awhile so that they — and you — can get out of the room. A change of scenery does wonders for everyone. A walk down the halls, even if just 5 minutes, can change your attitude and your baby’s.
Getting baby out and about, even OFF the floor, is helpful. My daughter had a blast riding in a push car the next day.
If you are there more than 1 night, get outside for a short period of time each evening (e.g., whomever is staying overnight goes on the dinner food run). Getting outside during the day is also helpful.
After palate repair, my little guy was most content when we paced the halls with him so we did a lot of walking that day and into the night! If you have a baby carrier, might be a good idea to bring it along!
Parent Post Op Tip #4: Follow your surgeon’s post op instructions!
Every surgeon has a different approach, a different technique, and therefore different post op instructions. It’s great to ask for advice from fellow cleft parents on many things, but when it comes to post op healing, you want to ensure you follow your surgeon’s specific instructions as outlined.
LISTEN to YOUR child’s surgeon. All of our surgeons do things differently…. That’s why recovery and restriction are different. We learned this the hard way.
Expect that the recovery won’t be easy. Try to enlist help if possible. For us it was almost like bringing home a newborn again – absolutely exhausting. Take it a day at a time and try not to get caught up on specific deadlines as they could change. Our son was supposed to wear his no-no’s for 3 weeks and I was counting down the days as he couldn’t have his pacifier either and would scream constantly. Well they changed it to 4 weeks at the 3 week post-op and I was a wreck. Please just try to take it a day at a time you can and you all will get through it. Some family and friends won’t understand, but that’s okay. You know what is best for your little one and will put their needs first.
Make sure to follow all of your surgeon’s directions and don’t be afraid to call him/her if you have questions! That’s what they are there. Remember that however hard it is to continue, the better you follow the after-care the easier it will be for your little one to heal.
A few more words of wisdom on post op recovery.
Those of us who have been through the surgery process have learned quite a bit through our experiences. Here are a few more great parent tips and pieces of advice to help you make it through your child’s recovery as best as possible.
Resist the urge to look in your child’s mouth post palate repair until you meet with surgeon a few weeks later. Otherwise you will panic and freak yourself out
Know that nothing can compare to the love you will feel when you’re holding your sweet child in that state. Nothing can prepare you for it, but your heart will burst with love.
Nothing prepares you for seeing your child in that state. Break down when you need to but you have to stay strong for them!
For lip repair outfits that zip work best and halo sleeper after surgery was amazing for us.
Snuggle Wraps are amazing!
Get a rocking chair in the room, lots of pillows for support. Take what you need to make yourself comfortable for hours of holding your baby. Silly thing, but I wish I’d had a bottle warmer to plug into the room (assuming your bottles fit). It was not always convenient to walk to a microwave to warm up water, or wait for hot tap water, and when your baby is refusing food you want milk at the *exact* temperature they are used to.
Be gentle and patient with yourself, your family and your child. Even weeks post surgery things can be tough!
The one thing that people won’t say a lot about when you seek advice for after surgery is the grieving process. While I was excited for her new smile in the recovery room, I was struck with a feeling of grief. I grieved the old smile and it was almost like saying goodbye to one child and welcoming another. After we got home from the hospital and got into a routine it got better. I now can’t imagine not getting to experience her first smile twice.
Make sure when you get home that you either have meals made up and frozen or have quick and easy food to eat!! Maybe have someone on hand to help with chores that can’t be pushed off. I could not put my son down, he had to be right with me for 2 weeks. It was hard to get rest. Rest as much as you can when they are sleeping. Just know it will get better as the days go on and you’re not alone in this journey. Remember, recovery for each child is different!
We used swaddle me blankets at night instead of no nos -she slept longer and more comfortably.
My best feeding advice would be to use squeezable food pouches post-op., especially following palate repair. This allows you to avoid putting a spoon in baby’s mouth after surgery. You can buy lots of pre-made pouches with fruit and veggie purees or they even make pouches you can buy and fill with your own purées.