As a mother, I’m always looking out for safe choices for my daughter, Isabella. I try to be aware of the products I bring into our home, the products we use on our skin and also the foods we eat. These choices are super important for optimum development and long term health, but they are really the icing on the cake regarding child safety. I say this because there are more essential things like proper car safety and a knowledge of first aid. There’s no point worrying about the icing on the cake if you have no cake, if you know what I mean!
Recently it’s been dawning on me that my first aid knowledge just wasn’t cutting it. Each day it seemed like my Facebook feed was full of a new food that a child could choke on; popcorn, chicken nuggets, grapes… Now that Isabella is bigger, I can’t even hold her the way I’d been taught by a nurse to give back blows for a choking baby! Isabella’s also getting so much more adventurous so knocks to the head have scarily become more frequent as she climbs and explores, despite supervision!
When I first had Isabella, I thought I was pretty well-equipped with basic first aid knowledge. As an Optometrist, I had to keep up regularly with CPR qualifications and had recently done a Senior First Aid course. I knew that with babies you did CPR more gently with two fingers to the chest, but I’d learnt mainly about basic first aid for adults. I just had no idea that children’s health could be so different!
Mostly when adults get sick, they have a slow decline as they gradually cross the border into ‘really sick’ territory. With babies and children however, they compensate and look like they’re doing fine. If we miss the little warning signs, young children can suddenly drop off the edge into a dangerously sick condition. This means that an understanding of the warning signs of different conditions is essential in making sure your child gets the medical attention they need at the right time. It could be life changing (saving).
Throughout Isabella’s life, I’ve come across many situations where I wished I’d known more. (Though we’ve been hugely lucky that none of these situations have been as serious as they could have been.)
When Isabella had her first fever in the night at 8 months, she decided she didn’t like the taste of Panadol and would projectile vomit whenever we gave it to her. She was hot and I was at a complete loss as to what to do. I wish I’d known about Panadol suppositories and that fevers are actually ok as long as they aren’t too high! Fevers aren’t an illness in themselves but a symptom of an illness.
Later, when Isabella got gastro at 13 months, I didn’t know to seek medical attention after 48 hours. As she wasn’t vomiting or hugely dehydrated (she stayed literally attached to my breast for the whole week), I let the diarrhoea go on for 7 days (!!!) before taking her to the doctor. Whilst she didn’t need any intervention, a stool sample at 48 hours and beginning probiotics for both her and I, would have been greatly beneficial. I was also just very lucky that she didn’t become dangerously dehydrated.
When Isabella was 18 months, she developed croup (narrowing of the upper airways) with a cold. Again, I didn’t know what signs to look for and I was also intimidated by the thought of taking her to an Emergency Department. (I didn’t realise there was a separate Paediatric Emergency Ward and I pictured us having to wait for hours in the middle of the night, surrounded by sick people in a waiting room, which wasn’t the case at all!) I did eventually take Isabella to Emergency, but at a much more severe stage than I now realise I should have, which resulted in her needing much more medication (2 adrenaline nebulisers as well as the steroid dose). With the knowledge that I could have had from doing a good first aid course, I would not only have taken Isabella to get medical attention earlier, but I would have been confident in doing so and come equipped with necessary and relevant information for the doctors.
The time was well and truly due for me to bite the bullet and educate myself. I definitely didn’t want to try and become a diagnosing, self-treating home ‘doctor’. Treating illness is best left to the experts – though obviously every GP isn’t the same and it’s worth hunting around for one you trust and is on the same page as you. I just wanted to learn basic first aid for what to do in an emergency and to find out what the warning signs are and when an immediate trip to Emergency is indicated. I didn’t want yet another situation where I was leaving things too late or caught in a situation where Isabella’s life or limbs depended on me and I didn’t know what to do.
I decided to go to the most thorough CPR and first aid class for children I could find (CPR Kids – Knowledge for Life class, based in Sydney) and my goodness I learnt a lot! I just wished I’d gone earlier! Below I’ve summarised the ‘a-ha!’ moments from my day. I’m sure everyone took away different things, as different information would have resonated depending on the age of your child and your prior experiences.
The most important thing was that I left armed with a huge amount of quick reference resources so that I could refer to them in the future. I now have these traffic light cards with green, orange and red symptoms listed for different conditions from diarrhoea and vomiting to head injury, burns and breathing difficulty amongst others. If ever there are symptoms and signs in the red area of the card, it’s an immediate trip to Emergency and in the orange section, a trip to the GP is called for. it’s such a simple and quick way to assess an illness and find out what to do. If I’d been using these cards for Isabella earlier, she would have had a trip to the doctor much faster when she had gastro and I’d have confidently taken her to Emergency much earlier with her croup.
The top 10 things I learnt from doing a babies and children’s first aid course:
- 1. The most important thing I took away from the day was that children aren’t like adults and when they get sick they can decline really quickly. Attention to the little signs and symptoms is important, otherwise you can be suddenly dealing with a dangerously sick child. Having a list of what these red flags are in each condition is invaluable.
- 2. Choking: If a child is choking, don’t reach down their throat as you can push the object further down. Remember to call for help (mobile 000 on loud speaker) before you even start the back hits as you don’t know if it will work and at least the emergency person on the phone can direct you as to what to do.
- 3. Emergency + : is a free app which gives you the GPS location of wherever you are. Even if you are at someone’s house and have rushed to call an ambulance and don’t quite know the address or if you are at the beach or bushwalking, this way you can always direct an ambulance to exactly where you are.
- 4. Burns: I didn’t know that a burn to the neck and chest (eg. spilt coffee) could restrict airways and affect breathing. An ambulance should be called for all neck and chest burns as your child could stop breathing in the car if you’re driving them to the hospital.
- 5. Burns: If a burn circumnavigates a limb – (such as goes around the whole wrist), it can stop blood flow and endanger the whole limb. These burns should be taken immediately to emergency.
- 6. Burns: If a burn is over a child’s joint- finger, inner arm, hip etc. they should be taken to Emergency for a proper assessment. This is because scar tissue contracts and as a child needs to grow and their skin needs to stretch, it can cause big problems with joint mobility at a later date.
- 7. Burns: All burns need 20 minutes of cold water over them – no less. If you can put the burn into a bowl of water with a few icecubes in the car, then drive to hospital, that’s great.
- 8. CPR: The speed of compressions was much faster than I remembered! Children also have a much faster heart rate than adults. (Though the compression frequency is the same on babies, children and adults. 30 compressions to 2 breaths of air.)
- 9. CPR: You don’t check for a pulse anymore before doing CPR. I also thought that the person had to not be breathing at all to do it, but if they are not breathing effectively you should also commence CPR.
- 10. Babies have a narrow, soft and compressible airway making it important that you don’t tilt the head when you are doing CPR. It’s also important to hold the jaw forward to keep the back of the tongue from resting on the airway. Babies have very small lungs and just a little puff of air on the breaths in CPR is all they need.
Doing a first aid course not only made me more aware of dangers, it also gave me a new perspective and equipped me with how to deal with an emergency if one arose. I can’t recommend more highly educating yourself about babies and children’s first aid. I really wish I’d done it earlier.
The course I did was the Knowledge for Life course by CPR Kids based in Sydney. If you are in Sydney, it’s a fantastic one to go to because it’s so thorough and taught by super experienced paediatric nurses. If you’re going to do it, it’s worth doing properly! The class was small with a maximum of 20 so that you can ask all the questions you like and get direct feedback and immediate advice from a professional. The topics were extremely relevant: Fevers, Head Injury, Burns, Vomiting and Diarrhoea, Breathing difficulties, CPR and Choking. Each topic was covered in a relevant way and included case study scenarios so that even a sleep deprived mum like me had the key information firmly implanted in my brain! Take home materials were also in abundance with a quick referral chart, fridge magnets, in depth traffic light coloured symptoms cards for assessing the management of conditions quickly and confidently.
I went to the course with my Mum as she and my Dad care for Isabella when I’m at work 2 days a week. Not only have some medical opinions changed (even CPR recommendations seem to change every few years), but also a lot of time had passed since I was a child and it was totally time for a refresher! The thing about first aid is that prompt action is vital to a positive outcome. As I’m not with Isabella all the time, it was important for me to feel that the weight of responsibility for her emergency care wasn’t resting on me for the time I was at work! This knowledge is truly life saving and now that I realise how important it is and how different from adult first aid, I strongly recommend all child carers have a basic foundation of understanding in babies and children’s first aid.
If you haven’t done a first aid course for babies and children or haven’t done a thorough one and don’t feel confident and equipped with resources to refer to in an emergency, I highly recommend that that you consider doing one. I was completely mind blown by how much I learnt and so grateful to be empowered with the knowledge to better protect Isabella. I just wish I’d done it earlier!