Discharge Instructions: After Your Child's Heart Surgery

Discharge Instructions: After Your Child's Heart Surgery

Your child just had surgery to treat a heart problem. This procedure required an incision down the chest or sternum (breastbone) or between the ribs. Following are general guidelines to care for your child at home after heart surgery. If needed, your child's doctor and nursing staff can answer questions and give you more information.

Caring for Your Child's Chest and Incision

  • Don't lift your child under the arms for at least 4 weeks after surgery. Lifting stretches the chest and can cause pain at the incision site.
  • Keep the incision clean and dry.
  • Don't submerge your child in water for a bath for at least 2 weeks after surgery. It's OK to clean and wash around the incision, but don't spray water directly on it.
  • Check the incision site daily for redness, drainage, swelling, or separation of the skin, and monitor your child for pain. Itching is normal, but call the doctor right away if you notice any of the signs listed below.
  • Keep your child in loose-fitting clothing to prevent rubbing against the incision.
  • Don't allow your child to lift any heavy objects for at least 6 to 8 weeks.
  • Keep your child from rough play or contact sports for 2 to 3 months (discuss this with your doctor).
  • If your child is a teenager with a driver's license, don't allow him or her to drive for at least 2 weeks.

Other Home Care Considerations

  • Your child may feel pain while recovering at home. It's important for your child's healing to control the pain. Give your child over-the-counter or prescribed pain medications as directed by your child's health care provider.
  • Most children return to a normal diet while they are still in the hospital. Infants or newborns recovering from heart surgery may have a harder time with feeding. Breast milk or formula should be given to your child as directed by your child's health care provider.
  • Protect your child from infections during healing. You should wash your hands often with soap and water. So should anyone else who takes care of your child. Limit contact with visitors and avoid crowded public areas. If people in the household are ill, try to limit their contact with your child.
  • Your child will need to rest 1 to 2 weeks at home before going back to normal physical activity or returning full-time to school. It's important not to push your child until he or she is ready to return to a normal routine. But getting up and walking several times during the day is good for your child's recovery.
  • Your child has just gone through a stressful experience and may be unhappy or moody after heart surgery. It's important to be patient and support your child during this time.


You'll need to make an appointment with your child's cardiologist and surgeon. Follow-up tests may be done to check how well your child's heart is working.

When to Call the Doctor

After heart surgery, call the doctor right away if your child has:

  • Increased pain, redness, draining, swelling, or bleeding at the incision site
  • A fever:
    • In an infant under 3 months old, a rectal temperature of 100.4?F (38?C) or higher
    • In a child 3 to 36 months, a rectal temperature of 102?F (39?C) or higher
    • In a child of any age who has a temperature of 104?F (40?C) or higher
    • A fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under 2 years old, or for 3 days in a child 2 years or older
    • A seizure caused by the fever
  • Chest pain
  • Increased tiredness
  • A poor appetite
  • Decreased fluid intake
  • Prolonged nausea and vomiting
  • A cough that won't go away
  • Trouble breathing
  • An irregular heartbeat
  • You do not think your child is improving