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15 Jan 2021

Seven lifesaving baby and toddler first aid tips parents need to know

Whether it's choking, an allergic reaction or an injury, here's what to do if your baby or toddler needs first aid

Only 5% of parents feel that they have the knowledge to act in common first aid situations, according to the British Red Cross. While 81 per cent said they wouldn't feel confident acting if a baby was choking.

Brushing up on your first aid knowledge doesn't take long and it will ensure that you know how best to act if a medical emergency arises. It could even save a life.

Below we run through seven common baby first aid situations to help give you the confidence to act quickly and effectively.

First aid course information plus what to have in your first aid kit

1. What do I do if my baby is choking?

Choking is the third most common cause of UK infant death.

If your child is choking, remove the object if you can see it. But don't poke around if you can't as you could make it worse.

Encourage your child to carry on coughing if they are doing so loudly as this may help to expel the item. However, if the cough is silent, they're wheezing or can't breathe properly, get help immediately and try back blows.

Back blows for children under the age of one NHS guidance is to sit down and lay your baby face down over your thighs, supporting their head with your hand. You should then give five sharp back blows in the middle of your child's back between the shoulder blades, using the heel of your hand.

Back blows for over the age of one Lay your child face down on your lap (as you would a baby) or support their chest in a forward-leaning position, then give five back blows with the heel of your hand from behind.

If these don't relieve the choking and your child is still conscious, give chest thrusts (to those under the age of one) or abdominal thrusts (to those over the age of one) to create an artificial cough. See how to do these at the bottom of this page.

How to prevent choking

  • Don't introduce solids too early and avoid high risk foods Your baby needs to have developed the motor skills to cope with eating food, and the NHS recommends starting weaning from six months of age. High-risk foods include grapes, raw vegetables and chunks of fruit, meat or cheese, unless they've been cut into small pieces. Avoid popcorn, nuts, seeds and sweets, too.
  • Supervise them when they're eatingKeep an eye on your baby to make sure they're not choking. As they get older, don't let them play, walk or run while eating, talk with food in their mouths, overfill their mouths or throw food into the air and catch it in their mouth.
  • Check their toys Uninflated or popped balloons, small balls, marbles or toys with small parts (including those for older children) can pose a choking risk for little ones. Follow age guidelines on the packaging if you're uncertain and check toys you already own to make sure they're not broken.
  • Keep hazardous household objects out of reachThere are a number of common household items that could cause choking if your little one gets hold of them, including coins, button batteries, pen caps and dice (or pieces from board games).

Best high chairs - find out which pass our rigorous tests

2. What do I do if my baby gets burnt?

The Children's Burns Trust says that, on average, 110 children per day are seen in UK emergency departments with burn injuries.

If your child gets burnt, immediately run cool water on the affected area for 20 minutes to reduce further skin damage. Unless it's melted or firmly stuck to the wound, remove clothing from the burn site. Wrap your child in extra layers so they don't get cold while you're cooling the burn.

After you've cooled it, cover the burned area with clingfilm or a sterile, non-fluffy cloth or dressing.

If you're worried, for any burn larger than the size of a 50p coin, if blisters have developed or if the skin colour has changed after you've cooled it down, call 999, 111 or your GP for advice.

How to prevent burns

  • Be careful in the kitchenKeep your baby or toddler out of the kitchen if possible, away from saucepans, hot oven doors and kettles. A stair gate across the doorway will prevent them getting in. Buy a kettle that has a curly or short cord and use the back rings of your hob with saucepan handles turned away so they can't be grabbed by curious hands.
  • Keep dangers out of reach Don't use the iron around your child, and keep hair straighteners and curling tongs out of reach. Keep matches, lighters and lit candles out of sight.
  • Be vigilant in the bathroom Never leave a child under the age of five alone in the bath, even for a split second. Put cold water in the bath before adding hot water and check the temperature with your elbow first. Fit a thermostatic mixing valve to the hot tap to control the temperature.
  • Watch out for hot drinks These can still scald 20 minutes after they are made. Put hot drinks down and out of reach before you hold your baby or infant.
  • Protect against sunburn Keep babies under six months old out of direct sunlight, especially around midday, and apply sunscreen with SPF30 to 50 on exposed skin, even on cloudy or overcast days.

3. What do I do if my baby stops breathing?

Follow these steps:

  1. Check if they are responsiveIf your baby isn't moving and doesn't respond when you call them or tap their foot, they are unresponsive.
  2. Check if they are breathingTilt their head back and look and feel for their breath. If they aren't breathing, their stomach and chest won't move and you won't hear or feel their breaths.
  3. Call 999 Ask someone else to do it or if you're on your own, call 999 after you've spent one minute giving rescue breaths and chest compressions.
  4. Give CPR Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a combination of chest compressions and rescue breaths. See the section on CPR below on how to do this.

4. What do I do if my baby has an allergic reaction?

The British Red Cross says that a baby or child having a serious allergic reaction may develop a rash, swelling or itchiness on their hands, feet or face. Their breathing might also slow down.

Call 999 if you see these symptoms. They may need urgent medical assistance because an allergic reaction can affect them very quickly, and it's potentially very serious because it may cause swelling of the airways and stop them breathing.

If they've been prescribed an EpiPen or similar, use it then reassure them while you wait for the ambulance. Tell the ambulance crew you've used the auto-injector.

For mild allergic reactions, antihistamines will help to relieve the symptoms, but make sure they are appropriate and suitable for your child to take.

How to prevent allergic reactions

  • Be aware of common causes of allergic reactions in infantsThese include pollen, stings and bites, latex and some food items, such as nuts, shellfish, eggs or dairy products.
  • Keep an eye on babies with eczema Babies who suffer from eczema are at a higher risk of developing food allergies. Allergy UK says that the more severe the eczema and the earlier in life it begins, the more likely there it is that they will have a food allergy. Allergies that run in the family also increase risk in children.
  • Introduce high allergenic foods from six months There are a number of known high-allergenic foods, including milk, eggs, wheat, gluten, soya, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts and seeds. The Department of Health and Social Care says that there's no evidence to support delaying this beyond six months.
  • Introduce these foods gradually Allergy UK advises giving them to your baby one at a time with a gap of three days in between each one so it's easier to identify any that causes a reaction. Make sure your child is well when introducing them, avoiding times when they have a temperature, cough or cold, or have just had a vaccination.

What rash is this?Take a look at our guide

5. What do I do if my baby bangs their head?

A blow to the head may result in a baby or infant having a headache or experiencing pain, plus they might have a bump on their head and look pale.

Get them to rest while you apply something cold such as a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel to the injury site to reduce the swelling and pain.

Call 999 if they become drowsy, vomit or their condition worsens, as these can be signs of a serious head injury.

How to prevent head injuries

  • Don't leave babies alone in infant seats or baby bouncersThe same applies to sitting toys such as swings or jumpers. Always use safety straps provided, for example on high chairs.
  • Use a stair gate at both the top and bottom of the stairs and keep stairs clutter-free. Find out how to buy the best stair gate.
  • Don't leave young infants alone on a high place such as a bed or sofa, and keep the side rails on cots.
  • Check that windows are lockable and can't be reached or opened by infants, especially bedroom windows.
  • Don't let little ones jump on beds or furniture or play on stairs, balconies or fire escapes.
  • Use non-slip mats in the bath or shower, make sure rugs are secure and clean up any spillages.

6. What do I do if I find my baby immersed in water?

Take your infant out of the water and check that they're breathing. If they're unresponsive or not breathing normally, call 999 for emergency help and start CPR straight away.

Continue with CPR until emergency help arrives and takes over. Stop if your child is showing signs of life and starts breathing normally.

How to prevent drowning accidents

  • Constantly supervise little ones near water Babies and toddlers in or near water should have your undivided focus and attention.
  • Fence off garden water hazardsThis includes ponds, bird baths and water features.
  • Prevent your child from wandering around unsupervised Use stair gates, door locks and door knob covers to prevent toddlers from slipping outside or into bathrooms or utility rooms unnoticed. Older siblings should be reminded to close the door behind them, too.
  • Look at water dangers objectivelyIt's not just swimming pools, rivers and lakes that pose a risk. Water danger can lurk in places you might not even have thought of, including buckets of water, pet bowls and containers with ice.

7. What do I do if my baby gets something wrapped around their neck?

The Child Accident Prevention Trust says it can take just 15 seconds for a toddler to lose consciousness if they get tangled in a blind cord and death can occur in just two or three minutes, so acting quickly is essential.

If you discover that your infant has been caught up in a cord, pick your child up to make the line slack and then carefully remove the cord, cutting it if necessary.

Check if your child is conscious and breathing. If they aren't, begin CPR immediately.

How to prevent strangulation accidents

  • Get advice from curtain or blind fittersThey can advise on fitting tensioners to blind chains, cleat hooks so you can tie up blind cords out of the reach of little ones and safety devices to the cords at the back of Roman blinds that break apart under pressure.
  • Move objects little ones can climb away from looped blind cords and chains This includes cots, beds, high chairs, playpens and even plant pots. Check to see if there's any way they could reach them and move them to a safe place.
  • Don't hang anything on the side of the cot or within an infant's reach. Avoid cot bumpers, too.
  • Babies or children shouldn't wear necklaces that could get tangled or caught. They should also not be left alone with dummy chains.

How to carry out CPR

CPR is a combination of chest compressions and rescue breaths. This is what you do if an infant isn't breathing and needs CPR:

Give five rescue breaths You do this by tilting their head back, sealing your mouth over their mouth and nose, blowing five times into them. By doing this you're acting as their lungs and topping up their blood oxygen levels.

Give 30 chest compressions You do this by pushing firmly in the middle of their chest with just two fingers so that the chest goes inwards, then release. By doing this you're acting as their heart, keeping the blood pumping round the body.

Give two rescue breathsContinue with cycles of 30 chest compressions and two rescue breaths until help arrives.

How to carry out chest thrusts and abdominal thrusts

Chest thrusts (those under the age of one) Lay your baby face up along the length of your thighs. Find the breastbone and place two fingers in the middle. Give five sharp chest thrusts (pushes), compressing the chest by about one third.

Abdominal thrusts (those over the age of one) Stand or kneel behind your child, and place your arms under their arms and around their upper abdomen. Clench your fist and place it between their navel and ribs. Grasp this hand with your other hand, pulling sharply upwards and inwards, but ensuring that you don't apply pressure to the lower ribcage instead. Repeat five times.

If the object is still stuck and your child is still conscious Call 999, but continue the sequence of back blows and either chest or abdominal thrusts. Get medical help even if the object has come out, as part of it may be left behind or the action might have injured them in some way.

If the object is still stuck, but your child is unconscious, place your baby or child on a firm, flat surface and call 999, putting the phone on speakerphone so your hands are free. Open your child's mouth and remove the object if it's clearly visible. Don't leave your child at any stage. Start CPR.

Even if the object has come out, get medical help. Part of the object might have been left behind or your child might have been hurt by the procedure.

If you want to learn more, the British Red Cross provides simple, easy-to-learn skills to help a baby or child in a first aid emergency