The baby first aid essentials every parent needs to know

Basic first aid for your baby or toddler is easier to learn than you think – and knowing what to do could save a life


From a grazed knee to a bead up the nose, your ultra-inquisitive tot will have their fair share of medical mishaps. “Many parents are scared they’ll interfere and make things worse, but basic baby first aid is actually very simple, and prompt action really can make the difference,” says Alan Weir, head of clinical operations for St John Ambulance.

We know it’s scary, but knowledge is power. And, while a baby first aid course for parents is always a great idea, our crib sheet should help you deal with some of the most common accidents, to help you feel prepared and ready to leap into action, should the need arise.

My child is choking… what do I do?

Children put things in their mouths. Fact. It’s one of the ways they explore. Keep objects like beads, buttons and batteries well out of reach and cut food up into small pieces (especially things like grapes, which can plug a child’s airway).

“If your child suddenly has difficulty breathing, develops a red puffy face and shows signs of distress, it’s likely they’re choking,” says Alan. “Keep calm but act immediately.”

If your child is old enough, encourage them to cough, as this could dislodge the obstruction.

Lean your child forwards, supporting their body with one hand (or if they’re under one, lay them face down over your knee, supporting their head). With the other hand, give them five sharp back blows. Check their mouth after each blow.

If this fails, either stand or kneel behind your child. Wrap your arms around them. Put your hands together into a fist and pull sharply into their abdomen up to five times to squeeze the obstruction free. If your child is under one, you’ll need to lay them face up on your knees along the length of your thighs, place two fingers in the middle of their breastbone and give five sharp chest thrusts, compressing the chest by about a third.

If the blockage still hasn’t cleared, lay them down on a firm flat surface and call 999 immediately. Repeat the age-appropriate blows or squeezes until help arrives. If they become unresponsive, it’s time to start CPR. Don’t leave them at any point.

My child has burned herself – do I take her to hospital?

“First, cool the area under cool or lukewarm running water for 20 minutes,” says Alan. “Remove any clothing around the burn, unless it’s actually stuck (in which case leave it there), and then cover the area loosely with cling film. This keeps the burn clean and reduces pain, as air flow on exposed nerve endings is very painful. Never apply any ice, iced water, or any creams, gels or greasy substances like butter.

“With burns, we focus on surface area affected. An upended cup of tea, for example, can affect a large surface area of a toddler’s skin, so a burn should always be checked out. Go to your local minor injuries unit, or A&E if it's more serious.”

My toddler has cut himself – what do I do?

Your novice walker will bump his way across many a room, often causing minor cuts and grazes. “First, rinse the wound and pat dry with a gauze swab,” says Alan. “If it’s bleeding, raise the injured part to reduce blood flow. Clean around the wound with soap and water before removing the gauze and applying a sterile adhesive dressing.”

When should I seek medical help for a cut or bite?

“Seek help if a cut doesn’t stop bleeding, if it gets red, inflamed or weepy, if there’s something stuck in the cut (such as a piece of glass) or if it’s a human or animal bite,” says Alan.

Dealing with animal bites

An animal bite can be scary, and your tot will need lots of cuddles.

  1. Wash the wound immediately, by running warm tap water over it for a couple of minutes.
  2. Remove any objects from the bite, such as teeth, hair or dirt.
  3. Pat dry with a gauze before covering with a sterile dressing.
  4. If the wound has broken the skin, seek medical advice, If the wound is deep and dirty, call 999 or go to A&E to be on the safe side.

Bee and wasp stings

Stay calm. Your little one is probably more shocked than in pain – they don’t need to see a look of terror on your face!

  1. If you can see the sting, scrape it off sideways with a fingernail or credit card.
  2. Apply a cold compress for around 10 minutes to help reduce swelling. If the sting is in the mouth, let your child sip cold water or suck on an ice lolly.
  3. Give age-appropriate paracetamol if pain relief is necessary.
  4. Your child may have a minor allergic reaction, which could include itching, swelling or redness, in which case you should speak to your doctor or pharmacist. “If, however, their breathing becomes wheezy or they have difficulty breathing, or if symptoms include a rapid heart rate, rash, confusion or even collapsing, they may be having a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis). Call 999 if this happens,” says Alan.

Babies, toddlers and bruises

Fingers in doors, shins on furniture… your toddler is bound to sustain the odd bruise or five, but it’s usually nothing to worry about. “Ice the area for 10 minutes and give age-appropriate paracetamol if needed,” says Alan. If it’s a head injury and your child vomits or appears drowsy, go straight to A&E.

Things up the nose or in the ear

Their innate curiosity means toddlers will put things into places they shouldn’t – we’ve all done it as a child! “If your child has something up their nose, never retrieve it yourself,” says Alan. “Head to the minor injuries unit or A&E. Things up noses may interfere with airways, so you need professional help. Ears are less urgent but, equally, don’t go poking about. If they have an insect in their ear, gently flood the ear with tepid water as this may help the insect to float out. If that doesn’t work, seek medical advice.”

And finally, beware of button batteries

“Found in toys and watches, for example, these small, round batteries are corrosive and can be fatal if swallowed or placed up the nose,” says Alan. “Never leave them around.”