First Aid for babies - prevention and treatment of common accidents

Baby First Aid – how to prevent common accidents

Babies: from birth to crawling

Babies do not come with instructions. They are all different and bring unique challenges. Hormones and sleep deprivation combined with parental exhaustion and the responsibility of a tiny new baby can be totally overwhelming, particularly for first-time parents.

With a new baby comes an irrepressible need to protect them. You’ll be overwhelmed by scare stories, conflicting information, advice and an endless list of do’s and don’ts!

Fortunately, young babies are fairly well-designed and don’t get up to too many dangerous exploits, so the risk of accident is relatively low. Most young babies admitted to hospital have either respiratory infections or have had an accidental fall, usually whilst being carried to or from bed.

3 months:

  • Babies may be able to roll over independently from front to back, or back to front
  • Grabbing things
  • Put things in their mouths

6 months:

  • Many babies can sit up unsupported
  • Push and pull things and roll to get to things
  • Many babies begin to crawl or move in some other way independently


Many parents are apprehensive about starting their baby on solids and rightly worried about choking. Babies do have a very sensitive gag reflex. Often, they have alarming facial expressions and can make frightening noises when they are just experimenting with new food textures. Gagging is a normal reflex, choking is not. Please click here to access our free choking course and learn how to help if your little one chokes.

Most common accidents:

  • Falls from raised surfaces, baby bouncers, high chairs and down stairs.
  • Suffocation from bed covers, in baby slings, from nappy sacks.
  • Choking on food or small objects.
  • Strangulation from ribbons, blind cords, drawstring bags hung over the cot.
  • Poisoning from carbon monoxide.
  • Burns and scalds from hot drinks, bath water, sunburn.
  • Drowning – babies can drown in a couple of centimetres of water.

Safety advice for babies 0-6months:

Never leave babies unattended on a raised surface or in the bath, not even for a second.

I have seen many cases in hospital when a baby left on the table in their bouncy chair has managed to bounce themselves onto the floor. Tables are a long way up and floors are usually a hard landing.

Nappies are best changed on the floor as there are so many cases of babies who have rolled off the changing table in the split second their parent has reached for something. Keep nappy sacks well out of reach

  • Never place bouncy chairs or car seats on a raised surface.
  • Always strap your babies into highchairs and buggies.
  • Ensure you hold onto the banister when carrying your baby downstairs.
  • Fit safety gates to your stairs before your baby starts crawling.
  • Do not use duvets and pillows with babies under 12 months.
  • Babies should sleep on their back in the feet to foot position.
  • Keep nappy sacks and small objects well away from babies – if they grab them they can easily suffocate as they don’t have the dexterity to remove them from their faces.
  • Keep pets away from small babies.
  • Don’t leave toddlers and other young children alone with your baby.
  • Never hang drawstring bags on cots, avoid cot bumpers which tie around the cot and use blind cord clips or alternatively choose a cordless blind.
  • Fit a carbon monoxide alarm and have appliances regularly serviced.
  • Don’t drink hot drinks whilst holding a baby, and never pass hot drinks over a baby’s head.
  • Be careful of microwave hot spots when heating bottles and food – always shake or stir thoroughly and test the temperature before feeding the baby.
  • Fill a bath with cold water first and use a bath thermometer as well as checking the temperature yourself before bathing the baby.
  • Never place a cot by a radiator.
  • Use strong factor baby sun cream in the summer.
  • Keep babies in the shade, wear UV protective clothing and hats, and avoid midday sun.

Babies – crawling to walking

At this age, babies are mobile, inquisitive and keen to explore. This is when you need eyes in the back of your head, as they always seem to navigate towards inappropriate and potentially dangerous things. This is where you find them eating cat litter, or poking things in their ears or up their nose.

It is not usually a medical emergency if someone has something in their nose or ear, but you do need a health professional to remove it safely. Numerous times in hospital we have needed to extricate bits of eraser, toys or food from various orifices. Once we even found a sprouting pea!

Many babies don’t actually crawl, but find an alternative way of shuffling on their bottoms to get from A to B. Some walk or climb without ever bothering to crawl.

Characteristics of babies from 6 months to toddling

  • Large heads in proportion to their bodies – still head heavy
  • A propensity to put everything in their mouths
  • Unsteady, whether sitting or mobilising
  • Eating solid food, chewing and biting with new teeth
  • Pulling themselves up on things
  • Opening and shutting things, trying to fill empty objects and posting things through gaps
  • They don’t learn from experience

From around 12 months, babies learn that objects out of sight still exist and they may try and climb for things put out of their reach.

Some of the most common accidents for this age group are:

  • Falls from stairs, windows, chairs, cots and highchairs.
  • Suffocation from bedding, plastic bags and nappy sacks, packaging.
  • Choking on food and other objects.
  • Internal injuries from button batteries, cleaning products and dishwasher tablets being swallowed.
  • Strangulation from clothing, ribbons and necklaces, blind cords, or something hung over their cot.
  • Poisoning from tablets, cleaning products, plants and anything else they can get their hands on and put in their mouths.
  • Burns and scalds from kettles, hot drinks, hair-styling equipment, radiators, bath water and the sun.
  • Drowning in baths, paddling pools, swimming pools.

Babies can drown in as little as 2cm or so of water.

  • Amputated fingers from hinges and slamming doors.
  • Bumped heads as they stand up under things, walk into things and bump heads with other children.
  • General bumps and bruises, cuts and grazes as they fall over whilst exploring.

Safety tips for this age group:

  • Fit stair gates and keep stairs clear from clutter.
  • Teach your baby to come down the stairs backwards.
  • Always hold the stair rail when going up or downstairs.
  • Never leave chairs next to a window, work surface or somewhere dangerous that your baby can climb to.
  • Strap them into the buggy and highchair.
  • Nappy changing is always safest on the floor.
  • Keep plastic bags and packaging out of reach and dispose of them carefully.
  • Always stay with your child when they are eating or drinking.
  • Discourage older children from sharing their food with the baby.
  • Keep small items and all batteries well out of children’s sight and reach.
  • Never put necklaces or dummies round a baby’s neck.
  • Do not hang drawstring bags over the cot, tie blind cords out of reach.

Strangulation from children climbing and slipping with their head through a string or cord is not uncommon in this age group.

  • Medicines should be locked away; a childproof container may only delay them getting at them!
  • Be careful with bags or handbags left on the floor, they may have numerous potentially lethal hazards inside.
  • Lock away household detergents, buy dishwasher capsules rather than powder as they are less likely to be swallowed and choose cleaning products containing Bitrex which is bitter enough to discourage children from swallowing it.
  • Keep hot drinks out of reach, use a kettle with a short flex and keep it at the back of the work surface.
  • Use the back rings of the cooker, turn pan handles away from the edge.
  • Always stir food and drink to avoid microwave hot spots.
  • Fit a thermostatic valve to the bath to avoid temperature surges, run the cold tap first and use a bath thermometer.
  • Fit fireguards and radiator guards, turn off heated towel rails.
  • Be particularly careful of irons, hair straighteners and other hot implements and keep them and their flexes well out of reach when cooling.
  • Never leave a baby or child alone in the bath, even for a second.
  • Supervise water play at all times and always empty paddling pools and bowls of water immediately after use.
  • Be very careful with ponds and swimming pools.
  • Use soft corner covers for hard and sharp corners.
  • Use door stops to prevent doors slamming.
  • Secure furniture to the wall with furniture straps to prevent it toppling if a child tries to climb on it.
  • Baby walkers have been the cause of numerous accidents and are not recommended.

Always adhere to the recommended age ranges on children’s toys.

It is of the utmost importance that children are put in the appropriate car seat and buggy for their height and weight. Contact a reputable dealer for the latest advice and take advantage of their fitting service to ensure your child is protected while travelling.

A cup of tea is still hot enough to scald a baby 15 minutes after it has been made.

It was a little boy, scalded by a cup of coffee that inspired me to start First Aid for Life and His mum panicked when she spilt hot black coffee over his arm and the side of his head and rushed outside screaming for someone to help. Had she calmly run the affected area under cool running water, his burns would undoubtedly have been less severe and he may not have needed skin grafts.

Always check everywhere else that a hot liquid could have splashed. We looked after a baby who had hot tea spilt over him. The main injury on his arm was treated under cool running water, but the tea had soaked into the baby’s Ugg boot; no one had realised and his foot was very badly burnt.

As babies progress from crawling to walking, they become increasingly mobile, inquisitive and keen to explore. This is when you really do need eyes in the back of your head, as they always seem to gravitate towards inappropriate and potentially dangerous things.

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