Preparing your child for anesthesia

Preparing your child for anesthesia

At American Family Children's Hospital, getting ready for a surgical procedure or a diagnostic procedure that requires anesthesia begins well before the day of the appointment.

Both children and parents have many questions about what will happen that day. This website will direct you to sources for information. If you have any questions, please contact us using the information on this page.

Anesthesia pre-operative clinic

Any child or family who would like to meet with one of our pediatric anesthesiologists before the day of surgery is welcome to visit our Pediatric Anesthesia Pre-Operative Clinic. The clinic is open Monday to Friday from 8:00am—4pm and is located just outside the pediatric operating room, on the American Family Children's Hospital 3rd floor. You can easily set up an appointment in the pre-op clinic the day you are at your surgeon's office by having your surgeon's office call us.

Your child needs to have a history and physical examination completed within 30 days of the sedation, anesthetic or surgical procedure that is planned. We need to know about your child's medical history and current active medical issues, so that we can administer appropriate care. It is always helpful to bring a copy of the history and physical examination with you on the day of the procedure.

Arrival at the hospital and check-in

You and your child will check in on the 3rd floor of American Family Children's Hospital. Your family will be escorted to a room in our pre-operative area where you will meet your nurse and change into a hospital gown. Your nurse will check your child's height, weight, pulse, blood pressure, breathing and temperature.

Your nurse will ask you many routine questions, which you may be asked again by other members of your health care team (such as your anesthesiologist or surgeon). Repeating the questions is for the safety of your child and is required.


Before your child goes into the operating room, you will meet with one of our physician anesthesiologists. All of our pediatric anesthesiologists have completed specialized training in anesthesia care for children in addition to training in anesthesia care for adults.

After taking a medical history and examining your child, the pediatric anesthesiologist will talk to you about the best way for your child to receive the anesthetic. Many children benefit from pre-medication, which is medicine to help your child feel more relaxed before they go to the operating room. The medication can be given as a drink (most common), a tablet or an injection.

Many children find it comforting for a parent to accompany them to the operating room along with a favorite toy, stuffed animal or blanket. It is not required for a child to receive pre-medication or for a parent to accompany a child to the operating room.

You can discuss your child's anesthesia plan with your anesthesiologist and make a plan together that you think would work best for your child regarding pre-medication and accompanying your child to the operating room. We do not have parents accompany children to the operating room when they are under 10 months of age, and the benefit of having a parent accompany a child decreases as the children approach adolescence. Our objective is to make the anesthetic induction as safe and comfortable for our patients as possible.

When offered by the anesthesia team, parents will be encouraged to accompany their child to the operating room, and will leave the OR at the appropriate time, as determined by the anesthesiologist.

The two most common ways for your child to receive an anesthetic are: 

  • Breathe the anesthetic gas through a clear plastic mask that is placed over your child's nose and mouth.

  • Place an intravenous (IV) catheter (a tiny plastic hollow tube) in your child's vein, and then get the anesthetic directly through the IV tubing.

Sometimes, for safety reasons, it is important to choose one method over the other. Your anesthesiologist will discuss this with you in detail.

Placing an IV in children is easier now than it was 5 or 10 years ago. We have "numbing" cream that makes your skin numb where we place the lV. We also have a special device "Buzzy Bee," which uses cold and vibration to minimize the needle sensation from IV placement. Many children find that the IV is a very pleasant way to receive anesthesia.


Your surgeon will meet you and your child in the pre-operative area to talk to about the surgery that is planned and to answer any last minute questions that you may have. Your surgeon will also mark the place where the surgery will be done using a marking pen.

Child Life

Our Child Life department has many wonderful toys, games and videotapes for your child to play with when they come for anesthesia and surgery. All of our Child Life staff has extensive training in helping children and families use toys and games and other techniques to cope with the unfamiliar operating room areas. Many children find playing an electronic game on an iPad or watching a movie helpful to decrease anxiety when they go to the operating room for anesthetic induction.

Our Child Life Team will meet with you when you come to the preoperative area, to show you the different options that they have available.

How can you help? In both the pre-operative room and in the operating room:

  • Stay calm

  • Hold your child if possible

  • Hold your child's hand

  • Talk softly and reassure your child that you are with them

  • Distract with toys, movies, video games