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You have enough worry about your child’s condition. You shouldn’t also have to wonder what the hospital stay will be like. Here’s what you need to know.

When your kids are mostly healthy, you’ll get a reminder from time to time that you should be grateful for that. 

Maybe it’s another mom sharing the story of their chronically ill child.  Or a Facebook page that follows the journey of a child as they go in and out of the hospital.

Even so, it was quite the shock for me to learn that our own otherwise healthy 5 year old needed a serious surgery followed by a 5 day hospital stay.  

As the date of the surgery drew closer, I realized I’d have to get out of that shock and prepare both of us for that hospital stay.

What would we need to bring along?  What should we expect the experience to be like?  I had no idea. 

Luckily, some experienced friends gave me some tips to make our stay easier.  

But even with their help, things happened that I wasn’t ready for.  

So let me share our experience with you in the hopes that we can make your hospital stay a little less stressful.  (Because there’s already plenty of that to go around.)

My Child’s Hospital Stay

Here’s what I learned from my child’s hospital stay following spine surgery.  And because saving money is important to me, I’ve included a few ways you can save a bit on your hospital stay.

When you have an upcoming hospital stay after surgery for your child, there's enough anxiety. Get some calm with these ideas for coping with a long hospital stay.

What Should I Pack for My Child’s Hospital Stay?

You should pack a few things for your child’s hospital stay, including…


Many of your child’s needs will be provided for by the hospital.  

The hospital gown is designed to fit your child around the various cords and equipment they’ll likely be hooked up to.  It will also cover them without putting pressure on sore spots like incisions and iv ports.

Pack an extra outfit or two just in case they are allowed to wear their own clothes at some point.  Otherwise, be sure to bring along something comfortable that won’t cling to any sore areas for wearing home.


All children will want their comfort items.  Not only was my child able to take his stuffed animal into surgery with him, but he also kept it close for the rest of the hospital stay.

When he didn’t want to cooperate with having his eyes checked with a flashlight, the nurses let him check his stuffed puppy’s eyes first.  That made him feel better about having his own eyes checked.

Books and Toys

We had been told that our son would need to lie completely flat with absolutely no sitting up for 48 hours.  That seemed daunting.

Until we got to the post surgery room and learned that he’d actually be flat for 72 hours.  (!!)

You can imagine how difficult it is to keep a busy child still for that long.  But add in the fact that they are exhausted and in a strange place…yeah.  It’s even harder than you’d think.

Some children are sedated for the duration of those 72 hours because they are simply unable to keep still.  

I’m not sure if it’s a lucky thing or not that our child was reasonable and understood that he needed to be flat (even though he didn’t like the idea).  So he wasn’t sedated beyond the first night.

So how did we keep him still?

He could kind of see the TV on the wall.  But even better was this portable DVD player that could be easily positioned right next to him.

We also bought him a new Fire tablet (on a good sale).  We gave it to him in the pre-op room as a distraction from nerves and the fact that he hadn’t had anything to eat or drink.  (Worked like a charm!)  So he was able to play games on that.

He loved building toys like Legos, but beware that they are easily lost in bedding and the hospital gown!  We really liked this magnetic Tic Tac Toe game since it was easier than trying to write from funny angles.  

Can I Stay In Hospital With My Child?

Yes, you can stay in the hospital with your child.  And you’ll want to. 

A hospital stay can be a scary experience for anyone, but especially for a child.  Be sure to bring along everything you think you’ll need. 

Chances to leave your child’s side will be very few and far between (unless you have an adult who can relieve you from time to time!).  

Visitor restrictions are happening more and more, so ask about the visitor policy at your child’s hospital before the big day.

thumbs up sign from hospital bed

What Do I Need to Take to Hospital for My Child’s Surgery?

Some things you’ll want to have with you include:

  • Any medical paperwork you’ve been given. Even if they didn’t ask you to bring it, you may need to refer to it yourself.
  • A notepad for keeping notes including instructions from doctors and nurses.  You’ll also want to write down your child’s assigned number that allows you to track their progress on the monitor in the waiting room.
  • Snacks or change for the vending machine.  Keep your strength up!
  • Someone to talk to.  If you have a friend or relative who is willing to hang out with you, this is the best way to keep yourself occupied while you wait.  You’ll worry a little less.

For an overnight stay, bring:

  • Comfortable clothing.  Be sure to pack something warm, even in the summer.  Hospitals tend to be cold.  Hoodies and robes are good to have on hand.
  • Slip on shoes.  Flip flops are good for wearing in the shower.  Slippers are great for middle of the night awakenings (expect a lot of those).
  • Your own medications and supplements, if you take anything daily.  Be sure to include your preferred drugs for headaches.
  • A magazine or interesting apps or games on your phone.  You could take a book, but between interruptions, caring for your child, and stress, you probably won’t be able to focus on it.  (Don’t forget a phone charger.)
  • A notebook is a must.  You’ll want to write down every instruction given (because you’ll forget what they said).  Also keep track of medications and the time they are taken.  Busy nurses can make mistakes and an extra set of eyes is always good.  Remember to advocate for your child!
  • Pillows and a blanket.  You’ll want some comfort.
  • SnacksTry this list of snacks for trips.

How Can I Help My Child In Hospital?

Advocating for your child is everything.  I already mentioned keeping notes on everything said and done for your child.  Track everything to make sure that the entire staff is on the same page.

If you aren’t sure about the medications being used, talk to the nurses and doctors. 

Maybe you are certain that your child can handle the conditions without being sedated, for instance.  Bring it up to the staff! 

Or, if you’re certain they need sedation or medication to help them through anxiety, tell them.

You know your child best.

And never hesitate to ask questions!

Expect last minute changes.  Just after our son went back for surgery, there was a sudden tornado warning and we all had to move out of the waiting room.  

It’s not fun to have things change on you when you’re already in a worried state.  So go in to the situation knowing that even things several nurses and doctors have told you about might very well change at the last minute.

Our son ended up in the ICU after surgery, which wasn’t something I had prepared for at all. 

It turns out that parents aren’t allowed to eat in the ICU room (not even if your child is allowed to eat).  I didn’t have someone to relieve me and I wasn’t willing to leave my son’s side to eat.  

Be ready for new things.  I hadn’t thought at all about how my son would eat while lying down.  But with some trial and error, we were pros by the second day!

(To drink lying down, be sure to ask for short paper or plastic cups.  Put a bendy straw in the drink and place it behind your child’s shoulder or under their armpit.  This method left us with almost no messes.)

Remember that if you have a positive attitude, your child will feel more relaxed.

Ways to Save On Your Hospital Stay

Child Life

If your hospital offers Child Life, be sure to take advantage of this free service.  These specially trained people can help your child get through hard things like uncomfortable testing or the period of time before surgery.

But be aware that they aren’t always available on the weekends.  (That’s something I wish I had known, especially after having surgery on a Friday.)


Our hospital sold food cards that allowed parents to order from the room service menu.  This saved us money over buying from the cafeteria.

I was allowed to get a main course, 2 sides, a dessert, and a drink.  That was honestly more than I could eat most of the time! 

So I got in the habit of ordering things like Goldfish crackers or pouches of Teddy Grahams.  That way I could take them home or save them as a snack for one of us for later.


If your child needs to take Tylenol or other over the counter medications after going home, stop by the pharmacy at the hospital before you leave.  We were able to get bottles of Tylenol for just $1!

Coming Home

Have meals ready in the freezer for when you get home from the hospital.  Even if your patient doesn’t need your constant attention (and it’s quite possible they still will), you’ll be exhausted.

Also, be sure to bring home any medications your child needs.  You won’t want to have to turn around and go right back out for them.

Knowing these things can help your child’s hospital stay feel just a little easier.

A little less worry is always a good thing!  And preparing ahead of time can give you more peace of mind (and you’ll save more money, too!).

If you like tips that make life as Mom a little easier, check out these hacks for raising a large family.  No matter what size family you have, you’ll find ideas to add to your bag of tricks!

What tips have made your hospital stay easier?