Bowel Preparation: Before Your Child's Procedure

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Location of the stomach, small intestine, and colon

What is bowel preparation?

Bowel preparation (or bowel prep) empties and cleans out your child's large intestine (colon). Bowel prep is done before tests that look inside the colon, such as a colonoscopy. These tests look for small growths (called polyps) or other problems like bleeding. The colon has to be empty and clean so the doctor can see problems.

For many people, the bowel prep is worse than the test. The liquid your child may have to drink can taste bad. Mixing it with a sports drink like Gatorade can help make it taste better. And your child may feel hungry on the clear liquid diet. Your child may also spend a lot of time in the bathroom.

But it's very important for your child to do the prep exactly as your doctor directs. If your child doesn't, the doctor can't see the entire lining of the colon. This may mean that your child has to repeat the test and will have to do the prep again.

How do you prepare for the procedure?

Procedures can be stressful for both your child and you. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for your child's procedure.

Preparing for the procedure

  • Talk to your child about the procedure. Tell your child that it will help the doctor see inside your child's large intestine (colon). Hospitals know how to take care of children. The staff will do all they can to make it easier for your child.
  • Understand exactly what procedure is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • Plan for your child's recovery time. Your child may need more of your time right after the surgery, both for care and for comfort.

The day before the procedure

  • A nurse may call you (or you may need to call the hospital). This is to confirm the time and date of your child's procedure and answer any questions.
  • Remember to follow your doctor's instructions about your child taking or stopping medicines before the procedure. This includes over-the-counter medicines.
  • The doctor will give you detailed instructions about getting your child's bowel ready for the procedure.
  • The doctor will ask you to change what your child eats in the 2 days before the test. When clear fluids are recommended, your child can have water, clear juices, clear broths, flavored ice pops, and gelatin dessert.
    • Don't give your child milk or juice with pulp, such as orange juice. These are not clear fluids.
    • Don't let your child drink anything red or purple, such as grape juice or fruit punch.
    • Don't give your child red or purple foods, such as grape ice pops or cherry gelatin dessert.
    • Make sure that your child drinks plenty of clear fluids to stay hydrated.
  • The night before the test, your child may have to take a laxative tablet or liquid medicine. The medicine can taste bad and may make your child feel sick to the stomach. But it's important for your child to drink all of it. Otherwise, the doctor may not be able to do the test and your child will have to do the prep and test again. Here are some tips:
    • Mix the medicine with a sports drink like Gatorade. This can help it taste better.
    • Your child may find it easier to drink the medicine if you chill it in the refrigerator first.
  • Keep your child at home the evening before the test. Your child will need to use the bathroom often.
  • Don't let your child eat any solid foods after you start the bowel prep.
  • Your doctor will tell you when to have your child stop drinking clear liquids before the procedure.

What happens on the day of the procedure?

  • Follow the instructions exactly about when your child should stop eating and drinking. If you don't, the procedure may be canceled. If your doctor told you to have your child take any medicines on the day of the procedure, have your child take them with only a sip of water.
  • Your child may brush their teeth. But tell your child not to swallow any toothpaste or water.

When should you call your doctor?

  • You have questions or concerns.
  • You don't understand how to prepare your child for the procedure.
  • Your child becomes ill before the procedure (such as fever, flu, or a cold).
  • You need to reschedule or have changed your mind about your child having the procedure.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.