First aid for babies and young children

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As any parent will tell you, their stomach lurches when thinking about the dangers lying in wait for their precious children . Knowing what to do in an emergency, whether big or small, and when it becomes critical gives us the confidence to handle serious situations.

Assess the situation

The general rule each time is: first get an overview in order to assess the situation. Take the example of a child falling off a swing. Is she crying and picking herself up? If so, there is probably little cause for concern. Or is she lying unresponsive on the ground? In this case, immediate action should be taken.

In assessing the severity of the patient’s condition, emergency action is based on 3 levels:

  1. Responsive
    In this case, act carefully, lay the child in the position they feel comfortable and, depending on the situation, go to the paediatrician or the paediatric clinic or call the emergency number 144 directly.
  2. Unconscious
    In this case, place the child in the recovery position and then immediately alert emergency services. Infants should be held in what’s known as the C-hold. Use your thumb and index finger to hold the baby's chin. The baby lies with its abdomen on your forearm, buttocks raised slightly higher than the head. Older children are placed in the recovery position like adults.
  3. Lifeless
    If the child is lifeless and unresponsive, call emergency services immediately. If the child is not breathing or not breathing normally – gasping for air, for example – then the child should be resuscitated immediately.

If there is any doubt as to the severity of the child's condition, the worst should be assumed and action taken accordingly.

Treating minor wounds

Surface-level grazes as well as cuts, punctures and gashes should be treated as follows:

  • wash hands carefully
  • remove any foreign bodies with tweezers
  • clean with a little water and then allow to dry or carefully dab dry
  • apply a generous amount of disinfectant and leave for 2-3 minutes
  • apply plaster or bandage
  • change plaster or bandage and disinfect every 24 hours

Incisions can go deeper than surface-level grazes or gashes. If they are longer than about 1.5 centimetres or on the face, neck, or near joints, a doctor should be consulted to have the wound stitched or glued as necessary.

Bite wounds are also a special case as they are highly infectious. For this reason, they need to be thoroughly cleaned with soapy water. This is a relatively painful process. Afterwards, the wound should be covered and examined by a doctor within an hour. All kinds of wounds should be kept under observation. Signs of inflammation are redness, swelling and pulsating pain. If this happens, it’s important to go to the doctor even for surface-level wounds.

In the case of penetration wounds, leave the object in place and go straight to the doctor. If a wound is bleeding heavily, lay the child down, place the injured body part higher than the heart, press absorbent material onto the wound and apply a pressure bandage. Then alert emergency services as quickly as possible.

First aid for burns

Burns can be divided into three different degrees depending on their intensity. Severe sunburn is enough to qualify as a first-degree burn. The following procedure is advised:

  • immediately immerse burns in water of 18-22°C for at least 10-15 minutes, if possible in a washbasin or bowl. Pay attention to the temperature, especially with infants and young children, so as not to cause hypothermia
  • leave burn blisters alone and do not burst them
  • if clothing is sticking to the wound, do not remove it
  • bandage the wound or cover it with a dry cloth if seeing a doctor

For burns larger than a 1-franc piece or for burns on the hands, feet, face or genital area, seek a doctor’s advice immediately.

First aid for poisoning

Toddlers in particular like to put all kinds of things in their mouths. Not all of them healthy. Should you suspect poisoning, do not induce vomiting under any circumstances, and do not give the child anything to drink, not even milk. Instead, take the following action:

  • determine what the child has ingested, if possible what, when and how much
  • as soon as possible, notify the Tox Info Centre on 145 and follow their instructions

If the child displays unusual behaviour, becomes unconscious or is in respiratory distress, call emergency services immediately on 144.

First aid for nosebleeds

Nosebleeds are usually harmless. Only contact a paediatrician if the bleeding cannot be stopped after 10-15 minutes using the following method:

  • sit the baby or child upright on an adult's lap
  • keep the child’s head down
  • if possible, do not allow the child to swallow blood, as this can lead to nausea
  • put a cold cloth on the back of the child’s neck to constrict the blood vessels

Children may be frightened by the sight of their own blood. Catching the blood with a red comfort cloth, for example, makes it less noticeable.

First aid for insect sting

When a child or baby is stung by a wasp, bee, bumblebee or hornet, act as follows:

  • remove the sting, if still present, with tweezers
  • cool the area of the sting, possibly elevating the body part
  • administer your own medication if the child is known to have an allergy

If the child displays allergic reactions, especially shortness of breath, call emergency services immediately on 144.

First aid for choking

Children choke sometimes – it happens. In technical jargon, this is called «airway obstruction due to foreign bodies». As long as the baby or (young) child coughs, this is a sign that air is getting through. In this case, start by approaching the child calmly.

If the child continues to have trouble breathing, put her in an upright position and then lean her forward. If a baby or toddler is in danger of suffocating, lay the little patient face down on your forearm or thigh. Their head should be lower than their chest. Administer five blows between their shoulder blades with your cupped hand. In the case of older children still at risk of suffocating, administer five Heimlich manoeuvres. With babies, press five times on the centre of their chest with two fingers and then administer five strokes again on the back. Repeat. If the child becomes unconscious, begin resuscitation.

Even if the object is dislodged, a doctor should be consulted afterwards in case it has slipped into one of the child's lungs.

First aid kit & courses

What should a first aid kit for (young) children contain?

The basics – also when out and about:
  • disinfectant (non-burning)
  • skin-friendly adhesive plasters
  • wound bandages, compresses and pads
  • bandage scissors
  • pointed tweezers
  • disposable gloves
  • triangular cloth
  • wound healing cream
  • insect bite balm
  • physiological saline solution
Additional items for your home pharmacy:
  • thermometer
  • suppositories for fever
  • hot and cold pack
  • charcoal tablets
  • diarrhoea capsules
  • cough syrup
  • ointment to relieve cold symptoms

First aid courses

It’s a good idea to attend a first aid course for babies and young children if you’d like to practise the resuscitation technique. The Red Cross and Swiss Samaritan Association offer courses – running from three to six hours – across Switzerland.

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