Women's and Children's Hospital, Adelaide
Anaesthesia and Your Child

Anaesthesia and Your Child

Information for Families


Your child needs to have an operation and we are aware that this can be a stressful time for you. It is the aim of this pamphlet to explain the role of anaesthesia in your child’s care, and in doing so answer some of your questions and help to reduce any fears that you may have. To help us plan your child's admission please return the completed health questionnaire that you were given by your doctor OR click here to send us the information by Email.

What is Anaesthesia?

Anaesthesia is used to make surgery possible and to keep your child comfortable and pain free. There are various forms of anaesthesia which your child may receive, depending on the operation your child is to have.

General Anaesthesia causes loss of consciousness, meaning your child will be asleep during the operation. This may be started either by way of injection of medicines into an intravenous needle / drip, or by breathing anaesthetic gases. This will then continue until the end of the operation.

Regional / Local Anaesthesia refers to the injection of local anaesthetic agents around nerves or into the skin to block sensation to the area being operated on.

Whilst in adults this may be used as the sole type of anaesthetic, in children it is usually combined with General Anaesthesia to provide the best possible pain relief.

Your Child’s Anaesthetist

Your child’s anaesthetist is either a fully qualified specialist doctor in anaesthesia, resuscitation and pain control, or a specialist in training. He or she is responsible for your child’s overall care during the time of surgery and will provide appropriate anaesthesia for your child throughout the operation and be involved in the provision of post-operative pain relief.


Having food or drink in the stomach can be dangerous both during and after the anaesthetic, as stomach contents may enter the lungs. For this reason, the hospital has general guidelines stating when children should stop eating and drinking.

These are as follows:

Children older than 6 months of age:

  • Fast from food or milk for 6 hours.
  • Cordial or water may be given until 2 hours before the scheduled time of the procedure.

Babies less than 6 months of age:

  • Fast from breast milk or formula for 4 hours.
  • Sweet / clear fluids or water may be given until 2 hours before the procedure

NB. Your child’s circumstances may vary from this and you will be specifically advised about fasting times before the day of procedure.

On the Day of Operation.

Your child’s anaesthetist will meet with you and your child before the operation. He / she will ask about your child’s medical history and about any problems with anaesthesia that your child or other family members may have had, and will briefly examine your child. He / she will outline the type of anaesthesia to be used, and will welcome any questions you may have. A premedication may be ordered at this time. This usually takes the form of a medicine to be swallowed that will provide pain relief, sedation or both. If it is planned to start the anaesthesia by injection, local anaesthetic cream can be put on at this time to numb the area of skin where the intravenous needle / drip is to be put in.

Anaesthesia is usually started in a special room next to the operating theatre. It is usually possible to go with your child into this room.

There are some situations where this may not be appropriate, for example, with babies less than 6 months old - the anaesthetist will explain this to you. If you do not wish to be present, please be assured that it is not necessary for you to be with your child all the time.

If your child is to have anaesthesia started by injection, an intravenous needle / drip is put in at this stage, otherwise your child will breathe anaesthetic gases to go off to sleep. Apart from becoming drowsy, you may notice other changes in your child at the start of anaesthesia. Children commonly go through a brief period of restlessness before becoming very floppy. It is also common for your child’s eyes to roll back, as it is for them to have noisy breathing at this time. Once asleep, your child will be taken into the operating theatre and prepared for surgery, whilst you will be escorted out of the theatre suite.

During the operation, the anaesthetist will continually watch over your child, particularly their breathing and circulation, supporting and controlling them as necessary. He / she will be aided by the use of sophisticated equipment which constantly monitors your child. Anaesthetic gases are usually breathed to maintain anaesthesia and are adjusted to ensure your child is safely asleep throughout the operation.

When surgery is finished, the anaesthetic gases are breathed away and your child will wake up in the recovery room. This is an area next to the operating theatre where specially trained nurses will look after your child while they wake up. For safety reasons parents are not allowed into this area. We are, however, keen to reunite you with your child as quickly as possible and as soon as it is safe to do so the recovery nurse will escort your child back to the ward.

Anaesthetic Side-Effects and Risks

Following anaesthesia some children may experience minor temporary side-effects. The more common of these include sore throat, hoarse voice and bruising at the site of the intravenous needle / drip.

Nausea and vomiting may occur as a result of the surgery or anaesthesia. Certain operation / operations have a greater chance of this happening and your child may be given medications while asleep to try and help prevent this.

Any operation or anaesthetic carries some risk depending on the child’s overall health and the type of operation. In Australia, with well trained anaesthetists and modern equipment, the chance of a child having a serious or life-threatening complication is extremely unlikely.

However, as the specific risk varies with each child, your anaesthetist will willingly discuss any concerns you may have.

Pain Relief

Children and their parents are often worried about pain after an operation. The amount of pain is related to the type of surgery, and your child’s surgeon and anaesthetist will tailor pain relief in response to this.

Types of pain relief include:

  • Oral medication
  • Rectal Paracetamol (Panadol)
  • Local anaesthetic
  • Intravenous medication (either delivered by nurse or special pumps)

The result of these measures, is that whilst your child may experience some discomfort after surgery, it is usually mild and controllable.

Private Patients

By electing to be admitted as a private patient, your child’s anaesthetic will be administered by a Specialist Children's Anaesthetist.

The account for anaesthesia services for patients who are eligible members of a private health fund will be covered in full by Medicare and your family / child's private health fund.

The account for anaesthesia services for patients who are not members of a private health fund but have elected to be admitted privately to hospital will be sent to the person financially responsible for the patient. Medicare will rebate 75% of the government's recommended schedule fee for anaesthesia services, leaving approximately 25% which must be paid in full by the person financially responsible for the patient.

WCH page link iconBack to Paediatric Anaesthesia

last modified: 11 Apr 2017