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Emergency Techniques for Your Baby

Do you know what to do if your baby is choking or suffers a bad fall? Check out these step-by-step guidelines on first aid for your baby. You might also want to print this out and hang it on your refrigerator. Having it handy in an emergency situation could save your child's life.

Remember that this isn't a substitute for taking a first-aid course. (Also, the techniques used for babies 12 months and younger aren't the same as those for older children.) The Red Cross, many hospitals, and some childbirth groups and colleges offer infant CPR classes. Call your local Red Cross chapter or ask your doctor to recommend a course.

Choking

If your baby appears to be choking, pause before you leap into action. Can she cough? If so, encourage her to mimic you coughing as hard as you can -- her own lung power will be more effective than your intervention. If she can cry or talk but clearly has something caught in her throat, call your doctor for advice. But if she can't make any sound, follow these steps:

Step 1: While sitting or standing (sitting may be easier), lay your baby over your forearm. Her head should be lower than her rear end to take advantage of gravity. If you bend your knee and rest your arm on your upper leg, it will be easier to hold hers steady. With the heel of your hand, administer five back blows between her shoulder blades. This "artificial cough" may push any extra air in her lungs up her windpipe, dislodging the blockage.

Step 2: If the back blows don't work, sandwich your baby between your arms and turn her so she's lying face-up on your opposite arm. Draw an imaginary line between baby's nipples. Then use your index and middle fingers to press her chest in the middle of this imaginary line. Give five firm chest thrusts. If she doesn't respond, return her to the face-down position and deliver five more back blows. Keep alternating for one minute or until the blockage clears.

Step 3: If someone is with you, have her call 911 (or your local emergency number). If you're alone and have spent one minute trying back blows and chest thrusts with no effect, call 911 for help. If your baby becomes unconscious, lay her down. Grasp her tongue and lower jaw between your thumb and fingers. Lift her jaw, keeping your other hand on her forehead. Open her mouth, but don't sweep inside -- you might push the blockage farther down. First look in. If you can see what's making her choke, carefully remove it. If you can't find anything, start rescue breathing.

CPR

Rescue breathing is only for a choking infant who has lost consciousness or for a baby who has stopped breathing for any reason. Never practice this technique, or the back blows/chest thrusts, on a child who isn't choking.

Step 1: Lay your baby down on a table or the floor. Tilt his head back (one hand tilting his forehead back, the other hand gently lifting his chin) to ensure that his airway is open. Next follow these three steps: Look, feel, and listen. Look at his chest to see if it's rising and falling with breath. Try to feel his breath on your face by leaning very close to his mouth. Listen for any breath you can hear. If your baby is breathing, don't proceed any further -- just wait for help to arrive.

Step 2: If your baby is definitely not breathing, exhale into him. Put your mouth over both his mouth and nose. Breathe into him slowly, over the course of a slow count of "one one-thousand." This delivers some oxygen to his lungs, but if you blow too fast, the air will push into his stomach. Pause to slowly inhale, then breathe into him again, watching to see if his chest rises. If his chest isn't rising and he's been choking, start over with back blows and chest thrusts. Otherwise check for a pulse inside his arm.

Step 3: If you can feel heartbeats, continue to breathe one breath into your baby every three seconds for a full minute. Then check his pulse again. If there's no pulse, he'll need infant CPR from a paramedic. (Or you can administer it if you've been trained.) 911 may be able to walk you through CPR.

Soothing a Burn

If your baby gets a burn, chances are it will be minor. Run the burned skin under cold water. This cools it off and numbs the pain. Keep it up until the pain subsides -- for 10 minutes or longer if necessary. Then apply an antibiotic ointment such as Bacitracin. If needed, you can put light gauze or a nonstick bandage on the burn to keep the ointment from rubbing off.

If your baby has any burns on her face, hands, or genital area, or if a burn is blistering, call the doctor. (Don't break the blisters -- they're protecting the damaged skin underneath.) If your child suffers a serious burn, and appears to be unconscious or going into shock, call 911 immediately.

Treating Scrapes and Cuts

Stop cuts from bleeding by pressing sterile gauze, a clean washcloth, or even a new disposable diaper on your baby's cut until the blood flow stops or slows dramatically. Wash the wound with soap and water, then apply an antibiotic ointment such as Bacitracin. Finally, add a nonstick bandage.

If the sides of the wound are gaping or it's hard to stop the bleeding, call the doctor -- your baby may require stitches. (There's now a skin adhesive that doctors can sometimes use instead.) If the cut is on your baby's face, you may want to see a doctor to help avoid scarring. Remember that cuts on the head bleed the most and require the most pressure and attention.

Removing Splinters and Stings

If your baby gets a splinter, start by gently washing the area. Using clean tweezers (you can clean them with rubbing alcohol), try to grab and remove it. If the splinter is buried beneath the skin, you can use a new sewing needle (sterilized with a lit match) to lift it up through the skin. Once the splinter is out, clean the skin with hydrogen peroxide or soap and water. If you can't remove the splinter because your baby is too squirmy, call the doctor for advice.

If your baby is stung by a bee, don't use tweezers to pull the stinger out -- it could release more venom. Use a credit card to scrape the stinger out at the same angle it went in. Then apply a cold compress to numb the pain. If your baby seems to have an allergic reaction (hives, vomiting, or trouble breathing), call 911.

Handling Bumps and Bruises

If your baby rolls off the couch or bed, chances are he'll be okay. If he suffers a bump, you can put ice cubes in a baggie, wrap it in a clean towel, and press it to the bump to keep the swelling down. But you should call the doctor in the following circumstances:

  • There's any sign that your baby may be drifting in and out of consciousness -- he seems dazed, confused, or was knocked unconscious temporarily
  • It was a dramatic fall down concrete steps or from the top of a large piece of furniture
  • Your child isn't acting right -- he's persistently irritable after the initial crying stops, keeps vomiting, or is unusually lethargic
  • He can't seem to move a part of his body

If the bump wasn't serious, your child may cry for a while and then go back to eating and playing as usual.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.