Your care team in the hospital will work with you to decide when the time is right for your child to go home. Getting ready to discharge home is an exciting step! It means that your child’s health is stable and it is safe for them to leave the hospital.

At first it may feel overwhelming to think about bringing home a child who has spent weeks or even months surrounded by advanced medical equipment. Know that your care team will be there to support you every step of the way.

As you prepare for discharge, the two major things you need to focus on are developing the skills to care for your child at home and learning where to find help after discharge.

The care team will start working with you while your child is still in the hospital. They have a lot of experience with parents in your situation, and they know what skills you will need based on your child’s condition.

You should feel confident knowing that even though you will no longer physically be at the hospital, there are still many people invested in your child’s health and wellbeing. Your care team will continue to be a resource for your family after discharge, and they will help you create the network you need for practical and emotional support.

What to Expect When You’re Preparing for Discharge

Where Will I Learn?

The acute care unit is where you will learn most of the practical caregiving skills you need to go home. Of course, throughout your child’s stay in the hospital you will be learning a lot of new information about your child’s condition, and you have the opportunity to ask questions any time.

How Will I Learn?

You will learn through one-on-one teaching by the care team along with guided opportunities to start providing your child’s care.

Who Will Teach Me?

Nurses and possibly other core members of the care team will teach you. There will be a gradual shift from the nurses providing most of your child’s care to you participating more each day in anticipation of a smooth transition home.

What Will I Learn?

Most hospitals have a discharge checklist that generally includes learning how to feed your child, change your child’s diapers, help your child bathe and go to the bathroom, change their bandages, and monitor incision sites. You will also learn your child’s medication schedule and participate in giving medications.

Tips for Learning Basic Skills to Care for Your Child at Home

  • 1. Ask questions

    As the care team teaches you what you need to know to physically take care of your child after surgery, be sure to ask questions when you do not understand something or want to learn more. When you’re working with a new care team member, use the same communication strategies that have worked well for you.

  • 2. Get it in writing

    You will receive a lot of information before discharge. It would be difficult to learn everything under normal circumstances, and the stress of being responsible for your child’s care often makes it harder. Get the information you need to feel confident. Ask for handouts or written instructions, and take notes to help yourself remember.

  • 3. Check your understanding

    You will learn about many aspects of care during the teaching before discharge. Make sure that you and the care team check your understanding of the essential care duties. For example, you might explain something back to the nurse, or practice a skill in front of them so they can give you advice. Keep repeating things until you and the care team feel comfortable moving on.

  • 4. Get contact information

    Make sure that you know who to call once you are home if you have questions about your child’s care. Know what numbers to call both during business hours and after hours or on weekends. This includes contact information for medical equipment and supplies. Save the numbers in your phone so they are ready when you need them.

  • 5. Follow up with your care team

    After leaving the hospital, some parents feel like it’s an inconvenience or burden to contact the care team with questions. There is no way you can learn everything before you leave the hospital, and it’s common for things to happen that you did not expect. If you have issues at home, your hospital care team wants to help. It is normal to reach out to them with problems you’re facing.

Checklist of Topics to Discuss With Your Care Team

  • How to care for your child’s incision
  • How to prevent and watch for signs of infection

  • How to control pain

  • How and when to give medications, confirming that medications are called into your pharmacy

  • A feeding plan, which may include use of a tube that goes through your child’s nose into their stomach to allow additional feeding

  • Activity restrictions and bathing instructions

  • Ordering necessary home health equipment

  • Scheduling follow-up appointments with your cardiologist, pediatrician, therapists, or any other specialists your child needs to see

  • Travel guidance, including length of time your child can sit in a car seat

  • When to get immunizations

  • Special considerations for dental visits

  • Symptoms to watch for and when to call the physician

  • CPR training

Preparing for Discharge

Getting into the step-down unit really meant taking on care as normal, and building you up to go home.

Missy, CHD Parent

PARENT TIPBuilding Emotional Strength and a Support Network

During discharge planning you are primarily focused on practical skills, but your state of mind is equally important. It’s common for parents to feel nervous about becoming their child’s caregiver after receiving such comprehensive care from well-trained medical professionals. You might wonder how you can be qualified after relatively brief instruction sessions. So how can you prepare emotionally?

Emotional support is so important for families during and after a hospital stay of any length. Ask the social worker if they can help you connect with other CHD parents or a local support group. It can be very helpful to reach out to another parent if you are struggling to find your confidence as your child’s primary caregiver.

Starting early in your child’s hospital stay, ask your care team for support, information, and education. Make it a point to ask questions with each interaction you have with the care team. As you learn more and become more comfortable, asking questions will get easier. The goal of asking questions is to reduce your fear and anxiety by gaining understanding, and to empower you to find support networks you may need when you take your child home.


The care team will make every effort to get your child home as quickly and as safely as possible – but they will not rush the process. The care team looks for consistency in your child’s condition. This means that your child’s vital signs are stable, they are eating enough to gain weight and grow steadily, and they are balancing their fluids every day.

Parents are also a factor in the decision to discharge. It can feel a bit like a leap of faith to make the transition out of the hospital. The acute care team understands this and supports parents as they get ready to care for their child at home. Preparing families on the technical aspects of care and supporting them emotionally to take this big step is a huge part of acute care.

Feeding is a major focus in acute care and as your child prepares to discharge. If your child has feeding issues, it can slow down the process of leaving the hospital. Some children with CHD do have a feeding tube when they go home. Your care team will help you understand the feeding routine and teach you any new skills you’ll need to feed your child at home.

It is common for parents to feel some doubt about their ability to care for their child after surgery. When you feel overwhelmed, try to focus on the most important skills that you need to know. If you’re at home and unsure what to do, consider if you have notes or written instructions that explain something. Think about a resource or a person you could call to help you. Over time you will build more confidence to care for your child. [Developer: Please link to the “Build Confidence to Care for Your Child” article when it is ready. Leave note here until the article is linked.]