Would you know how to save your baby’s life? (Photo: Corbis Images)
The first year of parenthood is both exhilarating and terrifying — starting solid foods, crawling, and walking are exciting milestones, but they also pave the way for accidents and, sometimes, serious injury. Even if you’ve taken an infant first-aid training class (and all seasoned or soon-to-be parents should), when it’s your own child who needs urgent help, it’s easy to freeze up.
Here are the most common emergencies for babies under the age of 1 and how to calmly handle them — including tips on what not to do.
If your baby is drowning
“Most drowning incidents occur in the bathtub with babies under the age of 1, often because they were left alone, even for a brief moment, and aren’t mobile enough to right themselves,” Justin Sempsrott, MD, executive director of Lifeguards Without Borders and medical director of Starfish Aquatics Institute, tells Yahoo Parenting. “Parents should provide ‘touch supervision’ and have one hand on the baby in the tub at all times.”
If a child’s face or entire body has become submerged in water, avoid doing two things: “Don’t turn the baby upside down or try the Heimlich maneuver,” says Sempsrott, “otherwise, water could move from the stomach into the lungs.”
Instead, lift your infant out of the tub and lay him flat on the floor while someone else calls 911. If your baby is not breathing normally, administer CPR. First, place your index and middle finger in the center of the baby’s chest (along the nipple line), and administer 30 chest compressions approximately 1.5 inches deep. Then, tilt your baby’s head back and his chin up, which may require you to slightly lift his shoulders. This will prevent his tongue from falling back and blocking the airway. Now, seal your lips around the baby’s mouth and nose and breathe out gently to provide oxygen. “You’ll know you’re doing it right if the baby’s chest rises and falls,” says Sempsrott. Conversely, if the stomach inflates like a balloon, air is filling it, which could trigger vomiting, a choking hazard. Repeat compressions and mouth-to-mouth breaths until the baby starts breathing normally or help arrives.
And while drowning cases can range from mild to moderate to severe, don’t buy into the myth of “dry drowning” or “secondary drowning.” According to Sempsrott, these are outdated terms not acknowledged by the medical community at large. “A child can’t suddenly drown hours after a period of normalcy — symptoms are present immediately and either improve or worsen over the course of several hours.” Symptoms that require immediate care include cough (more than what you’d normally expect from water going down the wrong pipe), foam in the mouth or nose, or behavior that’s atypical for your child.
If your baby is choking
When a baby starts eating solid food, choking — a common cause of fatal injuries among young children — becomes a concern due to an infant’s small airway and inexperience with chewing and swallowing. Yet, almost 80 percent of parents don’t know how to save a choking child, according to a survey by St John Ambulance, a first-aid charity in the U.K. “If your baby starts choking, try not to panic but also act fast,” Jim Homme, MD, assistant professor of emergency medicine and pediatrics at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., tells Yahoo Parenting.
First, remove your infant from her highchair. Then place her face-down, lengthwise along your arm, with her face in the palm of your hand. “Tip your baby’s head slightly to the ground so gravity can help push the food out,” says Homme.
Give your baby five whacks in the middle of her back, in between her shoulder blades, with the palm or heel of your hand; then transition her face-up to your other forearm. With your index and middle finger pressed together, give five presses in the center of the baby’s chest along the nipple line. “Think of the lungs as an air cannon and you’re trying to pop the food out,” says Homme. Continue rotating between chest and back whacks until the food is free.
“One thing parents should never do is a ‘blind finger sweep,’” says Homme. “That’s when you put your finger in the baby’s mouth and fish around to dislodge the food. You can’t see what you’re doing, and you could push the food even further back into the throat.”
It’s also important to distinguish between choking and gagging — the latter of which is a natural reflex that occurs when food is stuck in the esophagus, not the airway. “When the esophagus is blocked, the baby might cry and gag, which are two good signs,” he says. “But if your baby can’t breathe or loses consciousness, administer CPR.”
Note: It’s usually better to help your baby before calling 911. If your attempts at first aid don’t work after the first round of back and chest whacks, call 911, then continue with first aid until help arrives.
If your baby swallowed a toxic substance
“Babies explore the world by putting everything in their mouths,” Dr. Salvador Baeza, a toxicologist and director of the West Texas Regional Poison Center in El Paso, Texas, tells Yahoo Parenting. If your baby ingests anything — a button battery, makeup, medication, cleaning fluid – parents should call the 24-hour nationwide poison center hotline. It connects callers to specially trained physicians, pharmacists, and nurses who can provide guidance.
While Baeza stresses that the effects of toxic exposure vary wildly depending on the substance and the baby’s individual health, parents shouldn’t do the following: “Don’t force the baby to throw up whatever he ingested,” he says. “If it burned on the way down, it will burn on the way up. And if it’s a minor incident, you could unnecessarily expose your baby to pain.”
Keep the original container of the substance on hand so that you can relay the ingredients over the phone. “If you say, ‘My baby drank roach killer,’ for example, that could mean a number of things depending on what specific pesticide is in that particular product,” he says. And be prepared to answer questions about your baby’s health and the immediate circumstance — there may be different protocols, depending on the product brand, concentration, or whether the baby only sucked a small amount of fluid from a spout or opened a container and drank from it. “We can’t see the baby, so we rely on parents for information,” says Baeza.
It might also help to give your baby a drink of water to dilute the substance, but, says Baeza, it depends what was ingested. For example, if your kid consumed large quantities of fruity toothpaste, a glass of milk would help bind the fluoride and prevent absorption.
In any case, wash any liquid off the baby using soap and water to prevent him from rubbing it in his eyes, and if inhaling fumes is an issue, head outside for fresh air.
Since each emergency is unique, Baeza says, parents should follow specific instructions from the poison center’s specialists. He adds, “They can determine if an ambulance is necessary or if your baby truly needs to be seen by a doctor. We’ll also follow up afterward to make sure your baby is safe.”
If your baby bumps her head
As infants start rolling, crawling, and walking, bumps and bruises became a part of daily life. “Babies should be encouraged to explore their surroundings to promote motor skills, coordination, and curiosity,” Christopher Moir, MD, a pediatric surgeon at the Mayo Clinic Children’s Center in Rochester, Minn., tells Yahoo Parenting. “But they’re in the business of falling. And their heads are so big in proportion to their bodies, that’s where they often get hit first.” While it may hurt your heart to see your little one banged up, this will reassure you: “Serious head injuries in babies under the age of 1 are not common because they’re usually not mobile enough to get hurt on their own,” says Moir. “However, if your baby falls off a surface that’s taller than twice his height or onto a harder surface like concrete, that can be serious.”
If your baby hits her head and immediately starts crying, that’s a good thing. “Crying is a common reaction to stress, and it’s how we assess verbal response,” explains Moir. What’s more, the type of cry — its pitch, volume, length — can provide clues to the severity of the injury. “Parents can tell if the cry is abnormal for their child,” he says. Also note that after a fall, it’s normal for some babies to vomit or spit up and then fall asleep. “It’s only troublesome if after about 30 minutes, they’re still sleeping or are hard to wake,” he says.
Parents should note three warning signs after a fall: “If your baby isn’t babbling normally, moving all four limbs, or tracking movement with his eyes, call for help,” says Moir. And if possible, lie your child flat on the ground or place him in a carrier to keep his airway clear. “The worst position is one where he’s slumped over with his chin dropped to his chest,” says Moir.
It’s a good idea to practice what Moir calls proactive baby-proofing. It’s one thing to blunt coffee-table edges; it’s another to avoid using baby walkers (which have been linked to injury), supervise in play areas, and lock windows in your home.