First aid basics for babies

Would you know what to do if your baby started choking or swallowed household cleaner? If not, read on for the basics to keep your little one safe and sound



What’s happening?

Choking can occur when the airway becomes either fully or partially blocked. In young babies this can happen if they put small objects or food in their mouth, which then gets stuck.


If the obstruction is only small, your baby will probably still be able to cough, but if the airway is completely blocked, your baby may be distressed and unable to cough, cry or breathe.

It’s essential that you remove the obstruction as quickly as possible to clear your baby’s airway. You’ll be distressed, but it’s important not to panic: calmly follow these steps instead:

What to do

Firstly, encourage your baby to cough if she can. If she can’t, follow these steps:

  • Back slaps
    Lay your baby face down along your forearm, keeping her head low. Support her head and shoulders with your hand and slap her sharply between the shoulders five times with the heel of your hand.
  • Check her mouth
    Turn her face up along your other arm and look inside your baby’s mouth, placing your finger on her tongue. If the obstruction is visible, pick it out with your forefinger and thumb – but do not put your fingers down her throat.
  • Chest thrusts
    If back slaps don’t work, keeping her face up, place two fingers on the lower half of her breastbone (located in the centre of her chest, just blow her nipples). Give five sharp downwards thrusts, one every three seconds. Then check the mouth again. If the blockage hasn’t cleared, it’s time to call an ambulance and repeat steps one to three until medical help arrives.

Whatever you do, never shake your baby or feel blindly down her throat. Also, always take your baby to the doctor after you’ve performed chest thrusts and explain what has happened.

Accidental poisoning

What’s happening?

Putting things in their mouth is a baby’s favourite hobby and it can sometimes be hard to see where their roaming hands have been. It’s important to be extra vigilant both inside the house and in the garden. Common poisons around the home not only include bleach, weed killer, but also plants such as daffodils, irises, berries and fungi.

It can be hard to tell what a young baby has consumed, but look out for some tell-tale sounds: corrosive chemicals usually burn around the mouth and your baby may have sickness and/or diarrhoea.

What to do

Try to identify the poison and call an ambulance. Keep a sample of the poison to show the doctor and, if you can, tell him how much and how recently.

Don’t try to induce vomiting: whatever they have swallowed will cause as many problems on the way up as it did on the way down. Instead, give your baby sips of water of milk, and wipe away any poison left on her face with water.


What’s happening?

Meningitis is the inflammation of the lining surrounding the brain and spinal cord, caused by viruses or bacteria.

The flu-like symptoms can be hard to identify but they include:

  • High temperature
  • Drowsiness; a dazed expression; a dislike bright lights
  • A high-pitched, shrill or moaning cry
  • A bulging fontanelle (soft spot on your baby’s head)
  • An arching back or floppy body
  • A rash which begins as a cluster of blood spots like pin pricks and develops into large purple marks that doesn’t fade under pressure.

What to do

Try the ‘glass test’. If your baby is developing a rash, press a glass against it to see if it fades under pressure.

If you suspect your baby does have meningitis, call your doctor immediately or take your baby to your nearest accident and emergency department.

Burns and scalds

What’s happening?

The severities of burn is described in terms of the amount of damage to the skin. Superficial burns are least serious and can be caused by touching a hot surface or from a small spillage. Partial thickness burns are more serious and cause blistering of the skin, and full thickness burns are extremely serious, as all the layers of skin are burned and the nerves and muscles may be damaged. It’s important to seek medical advice for all burns on babies, however serious.

What to do

If the burn is minor, hold it under cold water for at least 10 minutes to cool the area. Don’t immerse your child in cold water as this could cause hypothermia. Once cooled, remove any clothing from the area: if it’s stuck, cut round the material. Cover the burn with a non-fluffy, sterile dressing. A clean plastic bag will do if you have nothing else. Keep your child warm and take her to hospital.


If the burn is more serious, call an ambulance, lay your baby down and cool the burn with water for 10 minutes until help arrives. Keep an eye on your baby’s breathing and pulse, and watch for signs of shock (paleness; cold, sweaty skin; rapid pulse that becomes weaker and shallow and fast breathing). Also, don’t give her anything to eat or drink or put any ointment on the burn.

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