What to do in an emergency: First aid for children and babies

by | Aug 28, 2020

It can be distressing if your little one is hurt or ill, but a little knowledge about first aid goes a long way, writes educator Kerry McArthur.

From the first step to running, your child is bound to tumble and fall and in the process scrape or cut themselves. Tthis is a part of growing up and recognising danger. Mommy’s kisses don’t always make the cut better and you may need to apply some sort of first aid to help the tears stop flowing.

For each ailment there is a possible solution that you can start at home, so a knowledge of basic first aid is critical, along with a well-stocked first aid kit.

Cuts and scrapes

If there is a little to no bleeding, then a general clean with lukewarm running water to remove dirt and then a basic antiseptic solution can be applied. If the skin is scratched or slightly cut, then an over-the-counter antibiotic cream, followed by a plaster or light bandage, will keep it clean and dry.

If a lot of bleeding is seen, then press firmly over the site with a clean cloth, anywhere from three to 15 minutes, until the bleeding has stopped. Then follow the normal antiseptic and covering steps.

If the wound is gaping and or you can’t control the bleeding, maintain pressure and see a doctor.

When it comes to animal bites, wash the area thoroughly with lukewarm water and keep it clean. If the bite has caused a deep cut then it is best to see a doctor.


Scalds from hot foods or liquids are the most common burn injury in children aged six months to two years. The key with a burn is to act fast, get the burned area under cool (not cold) running water as quickly as possible, and try not to use a towel or cloth as this may stick to the burn.

DO NOT pop any blisters that form: the body will deal with these naturally. Simply cover the area with a loose bandage or gauze. You do not need to apply any creams or lotions to the area, just keep it dry. If the blister pops or the skin breaks, then apply an antiseptic cream and re-cover the area.

In the event of burns on the face, hands or genitals, or if they are bigger than a R5 coin, go to a doctor or emergency room for specialised treatment.


Nosebleeds are common and often caused by heat or from children sticking their fingers in their noses.

When a nosebleed occurs, act quickly. DO NOT tip the head back, as this just causes the blood to run back down into the throat. Tilt the head forward and pinch the nose (applying pressure) for about five to 10 minutes. You can apply a cool cloth to the forehead and back of the neck.

If your child is experiencing nosebleeds more than a few times a week, or if they last longer than 10 minutes, then it is advisable to see your doctor.

Insect bites or stings

Bites and stings are common especially during summer months. If the sting is still left in the skin, gently scrape the skin with the back of a knife or a bank card in the direction of the sting. Don’t pinch it or try and pull it out with tweezers, as this may break the sting and cause further problems.

If your child develops trouble breathing, starts coughing, breaks out in a rash or hives or has a swollen lips or tongue, consult an emergency room or doctor immediately.

A cold compress and calamine lotion works well for itching afterwards, and an antihistamine cream can be applied if the skin is not broken.

Drowning and interruption in breathing

It is critical that all caregivers and even older siblings are trained in CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation). Seconds are critical in a child who has drowned or suddenly stops breathing. Call the ambulance and then begin CPR according to your training until help arrives. It is advisable that all parents attend a CPR course, so that they can learn exactly what to do in the event that their child stops breathing.


In the event of a small child swallowing something and choking, it is important that you act quickly. Grab the child, turn her over onto her tummy with her head facing down, using your legs for support. Then strike her back between the shoulder blades about five times or until the object dislodges. For a  small baby or infant you can lay them face down on your arm at an angle. If you see something in the child’s mouth you can scoop it out.

When do you call a doctor or go to the emergency room?

There are a few reasons that should prompt you to get help as quickly as possible.

  1. Any injury where the brain is involved. This can be seen by sudden onset of numbness, vision loss, dizziness, confusion, trouble speaking, severe headache, loss of consciousness or seizures.
  2. Breathing problems, whether it is complete breathing loss or shortness of breath.
  3. Heart problems or complaints, these can be identified by sudden pain the chest or arm and normally accompanied by shortness of breath.
  4. Severe bleeding. If you have not been able to stem the bleeding within a few minutes and it is still flowing freely, seek help immediately.
  5. A consistent or recurring temperature that you cannot break, which is over 39°C. Remember, the body fights infections with an elevated temperature, but if you can’t break it, or it keeps reccurring, then get help, or you risk brain damage and convulsions.


Children, throughout their childhood, will fall, get bitten and burn themselves. The key aspect in first aid is to STAY CALM, think clearly and where necessary, get help as quickly as possible. Minutes can make a difference in an emergency.