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First aid for babies and children

5-minute read

It's important for everyone to know some first aid. If you are a parent or carer, or you work with children, knowing what to do when a child is in distress or there is an emergency is especially important.

If it's an emergency situation, call triple zero (000) straight away and ask for an ambulance. The person on the line will help you provide first aid.

What is first aid?

'First aid' means taking immediate action to help someone who has been injured, is involved in an accident or has a medical emergency.

Whether it is a baby, a child or an adult in need of care, the purpose of first aid is to keep someone alive, protect them from further harm, and do what you can to help them recover.

When do you need to use first aid?

When you are caring for babies or children, of course you do everything possible to keep them safe. However, accidents can still happen. While an accident could happen anywhere, most injuries to young children happen at home.

First aid can be useful in a range of situations. You might need to help a child who:

  • has a simple injury like a cut finger
  • has a more serious problem like a broken arm
  • is unconscious and needs protection
  • is in a life-threatening situation, such as a severe asthma attack

First aid saves lives

In any emergency situation, such as a sudden severe illness or a serious injury, you need to get medical help. Call triple zero (000) straight away and ask for an ambulance.

If you need to give first aid to keep a child alive until medical help arrives, you need to know the basic life support steps. A simple way to remember the order of the steps you need to take with first aid is the letters DRS ABCD. These stand for:

  • Danger: Make sure you and others are safe.
  • Response: If they respond to you, make them comfortable and monitor them. If there is no response …
  • Send for help: Call triple zero (000) for an ambulance.
  • Airway: Open mouth. If there is something in their mouth place the child on their side and clear the airway with your fingers.
  • Breathing: Look, listen and feel for breathing. If they are breathing normally, place in the recovery position. If they are not breathing, start CPR …
  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR: 30 chest compressions: 2 breaths. Continue until help arrives.
  • Defibrillation: Apply a defibrillator if one is available and follow the instructions.

Find out about basic life support and resuscitation.

Other first aid

Even if a baby's or child’s life is not immediately at risk, it's still very important to know what steps you can take to give them appropriate care when needed.

Some of the most common causes of injuries in young children include:

  • falls, such as tripping when running or falling from a bike or a bunk bed
  • burns, caused by hot water, fire or exposure to sun
  • poisoning from touching, swallowing or breathing in harmful substances such as medicines, glue or household chemicals
  • drowning

Knowing how to give first aid, and having a first aid kit available, will help you be prepared for these types of situations.

It's also a good idea to have phone numbers handy, such as the numbers for:

  • emergency services — call triple zero (000)
  • poisons information — call 13 11 26
  • your doctor

Where to learn first aid

You can learn how to do first aid by attending face-to-face training, or by doing an online course.

Several organisations run first aid courses. Examples include:

First aid kits

First aid kits contain many of the things needed to treat common injuries. Basic first aid kits usually include:

  • materials like plastic strips, swabs, bandages, dressing pads and tape
  • instruments such as scissors and tweezers
  • medications such as antiseptic, pain relievers and bottles of saline eye irrigation solution
  • safety equipment such as disposable gloves for you to wear to prevent infection
  • a thermal blanket to keep an injured or ill person warm

You can buy ready-made kits from organisations such as St John Ambulance and the Australian Red Cross, as well as from some chemists, service stations and other retail outlets.

Once you have a kit, you can customise it to suit your needs. For example, if you have a baby, you might want to include a digital thermometer and pain relief medication suitable for infants.

Make sure you keep your kit safe and dry, and check it regularly to make sure the contents are in good condition and within the use-by date.

For more information

For more information about first aid for babies and children:

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: November 2021

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