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Essential First Aid Skills for Babies

Essential First Aid Skills for Babies

It’s essential to have basic first aid skills as a parent. The risk of potentially catastrophic complications, such as infection of wounds, can be minimised through prompt and effective first-aid. You should, however, be aware of when you should seek professional medical attention.

To minimise the risk of infection, before administering first-aid, remember to wash your own hands thoroughly!

If you are in doubt at what first aid to offer, or you think you may need medical attention, call NHS 111 on the 24-hour advice line (dial phone number 111), or call 999 if you feel life might be in danger.

First Aid for Choking

Once babies have discovered their hands and learnt the ability to grasp objects, they will no doubt put everything in their mouths. This means that you have to be extra vigilant that your baby doesn’t put small items in his mouth by removing them from where your baby can reach.

Babies can also choke on food, especially from six months on when they are starting to experience solids. Always stay close to your baby at mealtimes just in case he does put too much in his mouth or find it hard to chew something big.

Your child may be choking if he coughs and gasps for breath, grasps at his throat or turns red then blue in the face. Blood vessels in his neck and face may bulge. If someone is with you, get them to call 999, if you are on your own start this sequence immediately and only call 999 after you have repeated it three times.

Check inside his mouth and remove any object if you can, being careful not to push the object further down his throat. If your child is not breathing, start mouth to mouth resuscitation immediately. If he is breathing:

For babies under one

  • Lay him along your forearm with his head lower than his chest and his chin supported by your fingers.
  • Give up to five sharp slaps on the middle of his back with your other hand.
  • If this does not dislodge the item, turn your baby head down on his back along your thigh and give him five chest thrusts:
    • Use two fingers to find the position – a fingers width below the nipple line in the middle of the chest and press your both fingers sharply down one-third of the depth of your baby’s chest. Do this at a rate of about 20 per minute.
  • Repeat these steps three times, and if they don’t work, call 999 before returning to repeat the sequence.

For children (over one year)

Encourage her to cough as much as she can to try to dislodge the item. If this is unsuccessful, bend your child forwards so that her head is lower than her chest and give her five firm back slaps between the shoulder blades.

  • Check her mouth is clear in case anything has been dislodged.
    If this doesn’t work, lie your child on her back and give up to five chest thrusts:
    • Use two fingers to find the position – a fingers width below the nipple line in the middle of the chest and press your both fingers sharply down one-third of the depth of your child’s chest. Do this at a rate of about 20 per minute.
  • Check the mouth is clear in case anything has been dislodged. If this does not work, try giving your child abdominal thrusts:
    • Never give abdominal thrusts to babies under a year old.
      Stand behind your child and support her with one arm. Put your other arm around your child, placing the heel of your hand on her upper abdomen. Give a sharp pull inwards and upwards below your child’s ribs. Repeat up to three times.

If this still does not work, call 999 and repeat the sequence from the beginning.

First Aid for Cuts and Grazes

Superficial cuts and grazes

Clean the wound thoroughly with soap and water, and apply an antiseptic cream or spray. Cover with a plaster.

Deeper cuts

Again, clean the wound as thoroughly as you can, apply antiseptic and dress. If the cut is bleeding, try and keep the part of the body elevated to a level above the heart. A general rule of thumb is that you should seek professional medical attention if bleeding doesn’t stop after 15 minutes.

First Aid for Bites and Stings

Insect bites and stings

Bites from common insects such as bees and wasps are usually more painful than dangerous unless you have an allergic reaction to the sting, or the sting is to the mouth or throat, where swelling could affect breathing.

If you can see the sting, brush or scrape it off if possible, do not use tweezers to extract it, as this may cause more poison to be released. Apply a cold compress for at least 10 minutes. For stings inside the mouth, sucking on something cold like an ice lolly or even an ice cube can help reduce and pain and swelling.

Signs of an allergic reaction are impaired breathing, a rash, or swelling of the face or tongue. In this case, you should seek immediate medical attention.

Animal bites and scratches

Animal bites need to be washed thoroughly, disinfected and dressed and should be given professional medical attention, however small, as they can become infected very quickly. If you are abroad and an animal bites your child, it’s advisable to seek medical attention immediately, even if the bite is superficial, as they may be at risk of rabies.

First Aid for Rashes

Rashes can be caused by many things, ranging from a mild allergic reaction to a garden plant to prickly heat, which is a condition caused by hot weather. First of all, try washing the affected area in cool water with a little soap, and try and prevent your child from scratching at the rash, as it could cause it to become infected. If the rash is accompanied by difficulty breathing or swelling of the mouth and throat, seek immediate medical attention, as this could be the sign of an allergic reaction.

A rash which does not fade under pressure can indicate septicaemia, which can be one of the symptoms of meningitis. The simplest way to check this is by using the glass test, where a drinking glass is pressed firmly down on the affected area. If the rash does not fade, seek immediate medical attention.

First Aid for Burns

As soon as possible, start cooling the burn under cold running water, for at least 10 minutes, then cover with a dressing or, if you don’t have one to hand, anything that is clean and will not shed fluff, such as a cloth, cling film, or even a plastic bag. As a rule of thumb, any burn which is bigger than a postage stamp requires medical attention.

First Aid for Splinters

If any of the splinter is protruding, you can try and grip it with a pair of tweezers and carefully pull it out. If the fragment is embedded, try gently squeezing the entry point to see if you can work enough out to enable you to get a grip on it. Leaving the affected area in salt water will help to draw out any splinters, but if you can’t get it out, don’t keep poking and squeezing, as you risk causing an infection.  If you do succeed in getting the splinter out, treat the area with antiseptic spray or cream.

First Aid for Nosebleeds

Have your child lean forwards (not backwards, contrary to popular belief, as this could cause blood to run down the throat and cause vomiting), so that the blood can drain out of their nostrils. Ask them to breathe through their mouth instead of their nose, and gently pinch the soft part of the nose for 10 minutes. They should try not to spit, cough or sniff, as this could disturb the blood clots which are forming in their nose. If the bleeding has not stopped, try the same treatment again for another 10 minutes. If it has not ended after 30 minutes, seek medical attention.

What to put in your first aid kit

It’s essential to have a first aid kit at home, stocked with all the things you’ll need to treat minor injuries such as grazes and burns.

Here’s a list of things you might want to include:

  • An accurate digital thermometer
  • Children’s liquid pain relievers, such as infant paracetamol or ibuprofen.
  • Children’s oral syringe – for administering correct doses of medicine
  • Antiseptic ointment or spray to clean cuts and grazes, such as TCP or Savlon
  • Burns dressing –a sterile gel dressing which will cool and protect a minor burn
  • Calamine lotion – to soothe sunburn or insect stings
  • Plasters
  • Tweezers – for removing splinters
  • Scissors

Other items you may want to include are:

  • Oral rehydration sachets, such as Dioralyte, for treating dehydration – although many children dislike the taste of these and are reluctant to drink them (GPs recommend flat lemonade as a tastier rehydration alternative)
  • Eyewash and eyebath
  • Sterile wound dressings
  • Bandages and adhesive tape
  • Cold pack

Pre-packed first aid kits are available to buy, however, bear in mind that these typically won’t have child-specific supplies. You may also want to prepare a travel first-aid kit to keep in the car.

It’s a good idea to store with your first aid kit any emergency numbers you might need, such as your GP, your GP’s out-of-hours contact details and the nearest Accident and Emergency Unit.


Dr Andrew Jenkins

Dr. Jenkins is a paediatrician in private practice, committed to improving the health of children and the awareness of science-based childcare practices.

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