Tommy's PregnancyHub

If your premature baby needs surgery

It’s natural to feel worried if your premature baby needs surgery. The healthcare team will do all they can to support you and care for your baby.

You may face some difficult situations, especially if your baby is very sick and they need life-saving emergency surgery. But your healthcare team will be there to support you.

Giving your consent for surgery

The healthcare team will always try to do what is best for your baby. If your baby needs surgery, the surgeon will ask you to give permission (consent) for the operation to go ahead. They will explain why your baby needs surgery and what the risks are. 

You can ask the surgeons, doctors or nurses to explain anything you’re worried about or are unsure about. The team will always try to give parents time to ask questions before giving your consent.  

What if I don’t agree to surgery?

It’s important to raise your concerns early on so you have time to discuss them with the healthcare team. They will talk through your worries with you and answer your questions. You may want to ask a family member or friend to be there to support you when you speak to the healthcare team. 

If you can’t reach an agreement, you can ask for a second medical opinion. If you have cultural or religious concerns about your baby’s treatment, you may want to speak to a community or religious leader for advice and support.

In cases where the baby’s parents don’t agree with each other or with the healthcare team, the decision may need to be made by the courts. This doesn’t happen often and is only done in the best interests of the baby.  

What will happen in an emergency?

If your baby needs emergency surgery, the team will always try to contact you before taking your baby for their operation. However, if they need life-saving surgery and the team are unable to contact you, then they may need to do the operation first and explain why it was needed as soon as possible afterwards. Try to remember that this is extremely rare.

Pain relief during and after surgery

Your baby may have a local or general anaesthetic for the operation. If they have a local anaesthetic, they will be awake but won’t be able to feel anything in the part of the body being treated. If they have a general anaesthetic, they will be asleep during the operation. 

After surgery or during medical procedures, the healthcare team may give your baby pain relief medicine. Babies can start to depend on pain relief medicines so the team may need to stop treatment gradually to prevent withdrawal symptoms. 

The healthcare team will work hard to ensure that your baby is not in pain and is comfortable. If you notice anything that may be causing your baby discomfort or if your baby seems upset, tell the healthcare team. There are also other things you can do to help comfort your baby.

It can be very stressful if your newborn is having surgery. Find out more about coping with this, including managing anxiety.  

BAPM (2019) Enhancing Shared Decision Making in Neonatal Care: A Framework for Practice. British Association of Perinatal Medicine.