Care After Heart Surgery

For information on post-surgical care for your child, please see below. 

Avoid people who have active colds or illnesses. Encourage hand washing with all visitors and family members.

Your child should continue sternal precautions for six weeks following surgery:

  • For children over 1 year old, lift them with a scooping motion instead of under the arms. It is okay to lift children who are under 1 year old from underneath the arms or with a scooping motion. If they seem uncomfortable being lifted under their arms, lift them with a scooping motion
  • It is OK for the child to lay on their stomach and to put their arms above their head
  • Avoid supporting body weight with arms
  • No lifting/pushing/pulling more than 10 pounds
  • No wearing a backpack
  • No contact sports, rough play or activities that could lead to a blow to the chest—this includes no gym class
  • No swimming
  • No driving
  • No sitting in the front seat of a car with an airbag

In the car, your child should wear their seatbelt per usual over their chest; if your child is in a car seat they should strap into the car seat per the manufacturer's recommendations.

Your child can return to school as early as one week after coming home from the hospital. At your follow-up visit, ask about the return to school. Consider starting with a half day and working up to full days.

We recommend keeping your child out of day care for at least two weeks, preferably four weeks, to avoid exposure to common illnesses, like colds and the flu.

Your child should not participate in physical education for at least six weeks, or until a doctor or advanced practice provider gives them the OK to do so.

Your child may eat the same foods they did prior to surgery unless otherwise specified. It is a good idea to limit the amount of salt in the diet, which causes the body to retain water.

  • Your child should shower and let soap and water run over their incision.
  • Your child may sit in a bath with water up to their belly button and you can pour water on their incision.
  • Do not scrub the incision and do not submerge the incision under water for more than a few minutes for 6 weeks after surgery.
  • There may be a layer of surgical glue over your incision. This will fall off on its own, do not pick at the glue.
  • Do not put any lotions or creams on the incision for 6 weeks after surgery.
  • If there are any bandages still on the child they should be removed 48 hours after discharge from the hospital.
  • Once the dressings are removed, you can cover the chest tube incisions with band aids if there is drainage. If there is no drainage the incisions do not need to be covered. The band aids should be changed daily and are no longer needed after 3 days.

  • If your child has pain on the day he or she goes home from the hospital, you may give pain medication as directed throughout the day and night or as needed for the next few days.
  • Giving the pain medicine at regular times (for example: every 4 or 6 hours, depending on what your provider ordered) will help your child hurt less.
  • After the first couple of days, when your child has less pain, you may give the pain medicine only when he or she complains of pain or seems to need pain relief.

  • Your child may be discharged home with a prescription for stool softeners such as Colace® (docusate) or Miralax® (polyethylene glycol).
  • These stool softeners should only be given as needed for constipation or if your child is taking narcotic pain medication (examples of narcotic pain medicine: oxycodone, norco, hycet).
  • If your child is experiencing diarrhea, you should not give them stool softeners.

  • Your child may resume their normal vaccine schedule 6 weeks after surgery.
  • Seasonal vaccines such as the influenza vaccine or Synagis can be given any time after surgery during the appropriate season.

When to Call Us

Please call us should your child develop any of the following:

  • Fever greater than 100.5
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Redness or swelling of the incision
  • Drainage from incision
  • Increased work of breathing
  • Difficulty feeding or sweating with feeds
  • Severe pain
  • Chest pain, palpitations, dizziness, fatigue, or other changes in status  

Should your child experience any of these symptoms, please call us. If you feel your child needs immediate attention, please go to the nearest Emergency Department, or call 911.

Phone Numbers

You can call the CV surgery office 312.227.4240 from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

If you are calling after these hours or on the weekends, please call 312.227.4000 and ask to speak to the cardiology fellow on call.