Surviving Your Child’s Overnight Hospital Stay
Updated: Mar 25
As parents, we try to prepare for and plan everything: birthday parties, slumber parties, reading schedules, etc. The absolute last thing we want to plan is our child’s hospital stay. Like any other overnight stay, proper preparation and foresight can make the difference between a dreaded uncomfortable experience and a fun, safe, and memorable night away from home.
As a veteran hospital overnighter (30+ overnight visits), I have developed a system for keeping both my child and me safe, comfortable and entertained throughout our overnight visits. The best thing you can do for your child is set the tone for the visit. Are you are going on a magical adventure into an unknown land or are you having your child’s appendix removed? You define the visit!
Tips for Keeping Your Child Safe During the Hospital Stay
- Before getting settled into the room, be sure that you ask the doctor about your child's Plan of Care, warning signs (if any), and causes for concern so that you can be an extra set of eyes for the doctor.
- Follow the safety rules. You'll see most Staff and Doctors sanitize their hands on the way in and out of every room, follow their lead. All of the germs you don't want can be found inside hospitals
- Keep your child's bed low and rails up. The Joint Commission (the guys who accredit hospitals) reports that beds that are too high are the leading cause of falls in hospitals.
- Become an expert: Most hospitals have libraries where you can research your child's condition and if they don't, ask your child's doctor for trusted sites on the internet that has accurate and up to date information. Your doctor might have even published something!
- Be present for rounds, shift changes, and all conversations, even if you aren't invited. As a general rule, if they are discussing your child, you are invited.
- Ask questions. This is the best preventative measure you can take as a parent. No matter how small or unimportant it seems, you are a parent, follow your gut - ask the question.
- If your child is going into surgery, follow two rules: Have the surgeon sign the site of the surgery and ask to stay with your child until they fall asleep. This will help ease your child's anxieties, you will also hear the pre-op conversation and ensure they are only doing exactly what you are expecting.
- Always verify with the nurse what medicine or fluids she is giving your child and why. If you are not comfortable, ask for the doctor.
Sleeping at the Hospital
Before your visit reach out to the Hospital Guest Services team to find out about any accommodations for parents. Many patient rooms now have some sort of pull-out sofa or super comfy reclining chair that you can take advantage of. Although some hospitals offer parents an individual room for themselves, staying with your child during the stay is always best so you can monitor any activity (medicines, fluid, visits) and it is a foreign place which could frighten your child.
You Have to Eat
Typically, you have three options for food when staying the night in a hospital: Bring your food, the on-campus cafeteria, and third-party delivery. Of the three, I have found bringing my own food to be the most cost-effective, healthy, and convenient of the choices.
If you decide to meal-prep, be sure to overpack your meals. Hospitals tend to be boring and boredom breeds hunger, so pack extra munchies for you and your little one. Most hospitals have lounges or kitchens that patients and their guests can access. Be sure to research the accommodations at your hospital beforehand. Are there microwaves? Refrigerators? Cooking apparatus? A designated place to sit and eat? A sink? All this information comes in handy when planning the meal-prep.
Should you choose to go the Cafe route, test their food and look up reviews online. Some hospitals should truly be featured on the cooking network and others barely meet high school cafeteria standards so do your research. Be sure to bring (small amounts of) cash for the vending machines because the Cafeteria's do close at sometimes inopportune times and sometimes their lines are unbearable and the vending machine can be a good backup.
Should you use a third party, be sure to check with guest services about what information you need to share with your deliverer to ensure a timely delivery with minimal hiccups. Also, don’t be afraid to be a little adventurous and try a delivery service that you haven’t used before. Guest services always know the local favorites and they are almost never wrong :)
For your child: If you are in a hospital designed for children and your child is allowed to leave the room, explore the hospital with them. Make a game out of circling the hallways, visit the play areas, and the library, count how many doctors you see with masks on, or see how lost you can get. Essentially, treat it like a road trip, create games. Hospital visits are a great time for bonding with your little. Try to create some intimate moments, take advantage of your alone time. (If your child is in a general hospital, be wary of wandering through the halls, things could get scary for them) For you: There typically isn't much in the way of entertainment for guests in hospitals outside of the waiting room televisions, lounge conversations, and family drama, so be sure to prepare your own. Netflix is a great friend when all else fails.
Most hospitals offer some sort of discounts to its patients that have to utilize their parking facilities. Contact Guest Services about a parking pass or discount. The daily parking fees can add up, so research this as soon as possible. If your hospital is in the city and does not have garages ask for discounts on metered street parking, they typically have something worked out with the city. Hospital rooms are typically spaces with very few comfort items so it may seem tempting to pack your pillow, comforter, laptop, aromatherapy candles, foot massager and your lavender bath salts but remember you aren't moving, only visiting so bring just enough to keep you comfortable. Remember that you will have to haul everything through the hospital to the room, then back to the car again after the stay. Also, please don't forget hospital doors don't lock so for those valuable options, you may have to carry them around the hospital at some point. Just keep it simple.
After researching the amenities offered, pack accordingly. The packing list below was written with the assumption that your facility will have a shower stall of some sort for parents. I always advise overnighters to bring their own soaps, towels, and hair brushes as the hospital quality tend to be hard on the skin and the towels are literally community towels. Remember it’s only one night, my rule of thumb is it if it’s too much for a carry-on with TSA it’s too much for an overnight hospital bag.
Comfortable night clothes
Comfortable clothes for your child to wear home
A list of all medications
A list of previous and chronic illnesses, previous surgeries and any allergies
Towel and Washcloth
As a mother, I hope you never have to use this guide. In the case that you do, I am hoping for the best possible outcome for your kiddo.
Tiff @breatheandblink, Twitter