NPO – No food or drink before surgery


Most surgeries require your child to be completely still. Sometimes this means giving medicine to help your child sleep. We call this medicine anesthesia or a sedative. If your child is going to have anesthesia or a sedative to help her sleep through surgery, you need to understand the hospital’s NPO policy. NPO is short for the Latin words nil per os, which mean “nothing by mouth.” Below, we will tell you about the surgery NPO guidelines and give you ideas to help your child cope with clear liquids and no food.

The NPO policy is important because patients who have full stomachs are at risk for getting food or liquid in their lungs during anesthesia or sedation. This could cause pneumonia or other serious health problems. Even chewing gum or sucking on hard candies can delay your child’s sedation. For your child’s safety, please follow the NPO guidelines.

NPO guidelines for all surgery

  • Surgery patients must not eat or drink anything past midnight the night before a scheduled surgery.
  • More than likely, your child has important medicines that she takes regularly, such as steroids and those for pain, seizures, or blood pressure. Most medicines can be taken at any time with a sip of water. Check with the doctor, nurse, or pharmacist to find out if your child has any medicines that should not be taken before surgery.

Helpful hints for surgery NPO

We know it is hard to keep children from eating when they are hungry and drinking when they are thirsty. However, your child’s safety depends on you following the NPO guidelines.

  • To help your child cope with waiting, family members should not eat or drink around the child during the NPO period.
  • Set your alarm clock for 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. Then, feed your child a snack or full meal at that time. This can help keep your child more comfortable the next morning.
  • You might try a late night pizza party. Keep in mind that the snack or meal must be finished before midnight.

What else should I know?

The staff schedules these tests and procedures with the patients’ best interests in mind. They consider these factors in making scheduling choices:

  • The child’s age,
  • Whether the child has diabetes, and
  • Whether the child has other sedated procedures planned for the same day.

We know it is hard to keep children from eating when they are hungry. However, your child’s safety depends on you following the NPO guidelines.


If you have questions or want to learn more about NPO, please talk to your child’s doctor or nurse.


This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

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