Helping your child with pain control
At University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, doctors, nurses, pharmacists and child life specialists work together to protect children from pain and suffering. Because children have unique responses to pain and pain-reducing interventions, we evaluate each child individually before choosing the most appropriate pain and anxiety-reducing therapies.
Parents bring special knowledge of their children's needs to the health care team and are very important partners in their children's pain management. Therefore, parents are involved in helping plan appropriate treatment, which may include medicine or other non-pharmacological pain management therapies.
What is pain?
Pain is an uncomfortable feeling that tells you something may be wrong in your body. When there is an injury to your body, such as through surgery, nerve cells send signals into the spinal cord and then up to the brain. Pain medicine blocks those signals or reduces their effect on the brain. After your child's surgery or treatment, your nurses and doctors will ask you and your child about the pain because they want your child to be comfortable. Both medicine and nonmedicine treatments can help to prevent and control pain. This information will help you take an active role in making sure that your child's pain is minimal.
Easing pain helps healing
Some people think pain is a normal part of the hospital experience and should be tolerated; but pain interferes with healing. That's why it is very important to control pain for all children.
If you think your child is in pain, please let the doctor or nurse know right away. It is harder to control pain once it has begun, so taking prompt steps to ease pain is crucial.
The nurses may ask your child to take pain medication at set times for the first 24 hours after surgery. Giving medicine "around the clock" helps keep pain under control.
Ask your doctor or nurse what to expect
Feel free to ask questions as we work together to care for your child. You may want to know:
- Will there be much pain after the surgery or treatment?
- Where will the pain be?
- How long is the pain likely to last?
- What will be done for pain control after the surgery/treatment?
- How long will pain medicine be given?
- What side effects might occur with pain medication?
Help the doctors and nurses assess the pain
- Caregivers may ask your child to rate the pain on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being no pain and 10 being the worst pain. Or, your child may be asked to choose a face from the Faces Scale that best describes the pain. Your child may also choose to draw his or her own rating scale to describe pain.
- For children who are not able to use the pain scales, the doctors and nurses will rely on other signals of pain to help measure your child's pain level and provide appropriate treatment. Some of the pain signals include: increased heart rate, crying or grimacing.
- Your help is very important as well. Caregivers often rely on the parents' judgment of the child's level of pain. Please tell your child's nurse or doctor about pain that won't go away. If, after treatment, your child's pain is not relieved, the doctors and nurses can change the treatment plan.
Pain treatment options
Pain medicine can be given to your child one of four ways: by mouth, into the bloodstream (intravenous or IV), in the rectum, or in the muscle (shot). For the first day or two, your child will probably receive pain medicine through an IV. If you see that your child's pain gets worse when he or she starts walking or doing breathing treatments, you may ask that pain medicine be given before beginning the activity.
Many non-medicine options are also available to decrease your child's pain. These include rocking and holding your child; hot or cold packs; music, stories or videos to distract your child; and relaxation techniques. Your child's caregivers can help with these options as well.
Please discuss any concerns you have with your child's doctor or nurse.
Pediatric Nursing Division
University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics