Emergency First Aid for Babies and Toddlers

This advice will help keep you calm when your child gets hurt -- and maybe even save her life.

Wounds

Baby Care Basics: Baby First Aid
Baby Care Basics: Baby First Aid
Crying Baby Reaching Toward Camera

When my oldest son first began toddling, I made sure to keep cleaning products and medications well out of his reach. But one day when he was 2 years old, he began vomiting mint-green foam -- and I realized that I'd forgotten all about one common product: toothpaste. The Poison Control Center soothed my frazzled nerves. As it turns out, a few mouthfuls of toothpaste aren't generally dangerous, though they can cause a major tummy ache.

When it comes to anything beyond a simple scrape, even veteran parents can be thrown for a loop. And the most safety-savvy moms might be surprised by new first-aid and CPR guidelines from the American Red Cross and American Heart Association. While a mother's kiss is certainly the best medicine, this guide will help you treat childhood injuries confidently.

Cuts and Animal Bites -- DO:

  • Press gently on the wound with a piece of gauze or a clean cloth to control bleeding. Keep the cloth in place with a firmly wrapped elastic bandage.
  • When the bleeding slows, rinse out the wound with clear running water until you see no dirt or foreign material in the wound, and cover with a bandage. If the wound is superficial, a dab of triple-antibiotic ointment, such as Neosporin, may help speed healing, says Greg Stockton, health and safety expert for the American Red Cross.
  • Look for signs of infection over the next few days. Some redness is normal, but if it starts to look inflamed, is oozing pus, if the skin around it is streaked with red, or if your child complains that it's getting sorer, it could be infected and should be seen by a doctor, says Elizabeth Wertz, RN, of Pediatric Alliance, in Carnegie, Pennsylvania.
  • Report animal bites to your doctor. Animal bites can be infectious, and the animal may need to be tested for rabies.
  • Seek medical assistance for a puncture wound (like from a nail), if the cut is deep, if you can't get it to stop bleeding, if there's anything embedded in it that doesn't come out when you clean it, if the edges won't close together, or if you're concerned about scarring.

Cuts and Animal Bites -- DON'T:

  • Remove gauze or other cloth when severe bleeding slows down -- taking it off could remove the scab underneath and cause the wound to start bleeding again, says Wertz. If the cloth soaks through, add another layer on top and add more pressure.
  • Apply a tourniquet to control bleeding. Research shows that it's an ineffective device that can damage nerves and tissue.
  • Use alcohol or peroxide on a cut. They can kill off healthy cells that are working to heal wounds.

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