Tonsillectomy is a word that no mother wants to hear from her child’s doctor. But if surgery is inevitable, here are 11 tonsillectomy tips every mom needs to know for surviving her child’s surgery.
To date, two of my four kids have undergone tonsillectomies for health-related issues. My son had his tonsils out at age 2 and was a trooper, barely needing pain medicine or comfort during recovery. My daughter, on the other hand, had her tonsils removed right before she turned 4 and her experience fell at the other end of the spectrum.
I still shudder a bit to think back to that time of recovery while nursing a 4-month-old baby. But thankfully, we made it through and lived to tell about it.
If your child is scheduled to get his or her tonsils removed this year, here are my tips for surviving your child’s tonsillectomy. From setting your own expectations to mom tricks for calming, I’m of the mindset that it’s always best to prepare for the worst as you hope for the best.
Though you never know how your child will respond to a surgical procedure, I hope that these tonsillectomy tips will help you prepare as best as possible.
1. Block out your calendar for two full weeks.
Your child’s doctor will warn you to expect two weeks for recovery, but it’s hard not to be overly optimistic. My first child to have a tonsillectomy rebounded so quickly, but my second child to undergo the surgery took two full weeks to get back to normal.
Of course, the doctor will tell you this before the surgery, but I wasn’t prepared for two full weeks since my son rebounded so quickly. With my daughter, we were walking on eggshells the first 10 days round the clock. By day 10, we saw that little spark begin to reappear in her.
2. Medicate round the clock.
For my daughter, it was crucial that we stay on top of her pain medication. The doctor never prescribed her hydrocodone (as some do after tonsillectomies), but recommended rotating Tylenol and Ibuprofen as needed for breakthrough pain. Her pain was so intense that we alternate both pain relievers round the clock the first week. The key was getting ahead of the pain so we could better manage it.
3. Prioritize hydration.
After fasting for surgery and drinking liquids before being released from the doctor, at some point, your child’s hunger cues will kick in. Let them eat as they can, but don’t forget to keep pushing liquids. Dehydration is a common occurrence after tonsillectomies.
As the body is healing, it becomes more painful to swallow. This occurred for my daughter about three days after the surgery and when I began pulling out my bartering tools. If she drank a few sips of liquid, she could play a game with me or watch a cartoon.
And when it gets really hard, don’t forget about popsicles. They count as liquids and they help to numb the throat, so be sure to stock your freezer.
4. Be sensitive to swallowing.
Around Day 4 post-op, my daughter began drinking less because swallowing hurt. At this time, she started to reject her liquid Tylenol and Ibuprofen, so I tried chewable children’s pain tablets, and surprisingly, they worked well for her. She also responded well to mixing liquid meds with a little bit of ice cream to make them easier to swallow and the cold helps to slightly numb the pain.
5. Prepare for tantrums.
With three kids and a baby, I thought I knew a thing or two about tantrums. But this recovery brought out the worst tantrums I’ve ever seen out of any of my kids. My daughter had 5-6 major tantrums a day and a couple during the night. The constant tantrums and crying will cause you to walk on eggshells around your recovering child. It’s really unavoidable.
6. Try car rides for calming.
All my kids fall asleep in the car fairly often. If your child is the same, then consider taking them on car rides to help calm them down from the frequent tantrums. My daughter’s five-point harness car seat secured her well during her tantrums and helped to comfort her by holding her in tightly until she fell asleep while we were driving.
7. Rely on your village.
You really do need help when it comes to caring for a child after a tonsillectomy. Even though my son did well with recovery, I still needed help on surgery day arranging care for my other kids. With my daughter, the village was barely enough.
Have friends and family on standby to help shuttle your other children, run errands, pick up dinner or simply give you a small break as the main caretaker.
8. Consider co-sleeping for convenience.
We’ve never been a co-sleeping family, but it helped make my life a little easier during my daughter’s recovery. I kicked my husband out of our room and put my daughter in our bed for two full weeks. That way, when she woke up in the middle of the night, sometimes all I had to do was put a hand on her chest to calm her down. Other times, she went into tantrum mode, but at least I could tackle the majority of them without getting out of the bed or waking the rest of the family. It was also convenient to be close by to give her pain medicine during the night.
9. Go with your gut and see the doctor.
By Day 6 post-op, I felt my daughter wasn’t improving as much as she should have been. She was still in a lot of pain, still not sleeping much, and was very pale and sallow-looking. I called the ENT on call and he said that if it was his child, he’d take her to the ER.
So just shy of one-week post-op, I went with my gut and took her to the ER, where they gave her IV fluid for dehydration and steroids for inflammation. That night was the best night of sleep she had during the whole two-week recovery window.
10. Prepare for lots of attitude.
By day 10, my daughter was refusing her medicine and I finally felt like we were well over the hump of recovery. But after 10 days of catering to her every whim to ensure her comfort while recovering, I realized it was time to reset the authority hierarchy in the house.
Kids are super smart; after 10 days of getting what she wanted when she wanted it, my daughter was not eager to give up that newfound power. It was a process, but it took us about 5 days to get her back to a point where didn’t think she was in control.
11. Trust that you will get your child back.
Just when you think you can’t handle another day of the recovery process—the crying, the screaming, the tantrums, the battles over taking medicine, the struggle of getting in liquids, the lack of sleep—around the two-week mark, you will get your child back. You may have to be very consistent with discipline if there is an attitude shift, but underneath that veneer is the child you’ve always known and loved.
Though you never know how your child will respond to a surgical procedure, such as a tonsillectomy, it’s always best to know the full spectrum of side effects so you can prepare as best as possible.
Has your child undergone a tonsillectomy? Do you have any tonsillectomy tips to add?
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