Although we never want it to happen, children and infants do have medical emergencies. These can be very stressful, especially if you are not sure what to do. Knowing how to react, and where to start, are key in keeping calm and doing the right thing.

Critical Childhood Emergencies

The most critical emergency is when a child or infant’s breathing stops. Often the heart stops beating as well. A range of things can stop a child breathing such as suffocation with a plastic bag, drowning or medical conditions. Sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI) is when a infant dies during sleep. SUDI is the new term for SIDS or cot death. It is the main cause of death of babies. To reduce the risk of SUDI Plunket recommends:

  • a smoke-free pregnancy and household
  • on their back for sleeping
  • a clear face and head free from hazards that can lead to suffocation
  • to be close to parents when asleep (in the same room)
  • breastfeeding.

Severe bleeding in a child or infant is serious because they don’t have as much blood in their system as adults. Any severe bleeding must be stopped immediately. Direct pressure on the wound and elevating the wound if it is on a limb is the best way of stopping any bleeding. Call an ambulance or seek medical advice if the bleeding is severe.

Don’t Drive – Call an Ambulance!

Children and infants are smaller than adults which means parents and caregivers often take injured or seriously ill kids in their car to the medical centre or hospital. Unfortunately this can be very dangerous. Driving a car while your child is seriously injured on the backseat is a highly stressful situation and the likelihood of you crashing increases.

Moving a seriously injured patient – whether an adult or child – can be very risky as the injury can be made worse. And, if something further goes wrong while you are on your way to the hospital, what will you do? If your child stops breathing do you stop and do CPR or do you carry on to hospital – delaying lifesaving treatment. Don’t put yourself in such a position – simply call 111 for an ambulance!

One of the most difficult decisions to make sometimes is whether you should call for help or not. Do you take your child to the doctor? Do you call an ambulance? It is important to realise there are people waiting to help you make that decision!

Who to Call for Help with a Childhood Emergency

If your child is having trouble breathing, bleeding severely or is unconscious call 111 for an ambulance immediately. If something else is wrong and you are not sure what to do, get in touch with one of the following:

  • Phone Healthline on 0800 611 116 available 24hrs/day. Healthline’s registered nurses assess a person’s condition and health needs and recommend the best course of action and a time-frame in which to take action. They can also provide general health information and location of services.
  • Phone Plunketline on 0800 933 922 24hrs/day. When you call PlunketLine your call will be answered by a Plunket nurse, who can give you advice and information on your child’s health.
  • Call an ambulance on 111. The Ambulance Emergency Communication Centre can give you advice and will send an ambulance if required.

Prepare for Your Child’s Wellbeing

You can always prepare yourself to cope with any emergency relating to your child. St John runs regular Child First Aid courses throughout the country. These four-hour courses focus on key things to do if your child becomes seriously injured or unwell. It is always better to be prepared! Visit St John on or phone on 0800 FIRST AID (0800 347782)

The link below is for a PDF document compiled by Newborn Services National Women’s Health Auckland City Hospital  which talks about keeping your baby well and what to do if they aren’t. Parents who have had their baby in a Neonatal Units are often strongly advised to go to a CPR class. CPR classes may be run at your hospital, by St John, Parent Centre or by your Plunket nurse.

The following link on the Plunket web site lists when to call your doctor.

Your Well Child/Tamariki Ora health book has a helpful section on care for the unwell baby/child including first aid and CPR. Please read it before you need it.

Thank-you to St John, Plunket and Auckland DHB for their information that I have referenced.

About the Author

Article by Helen Pulford (Midwife and Childbirth Educator) owner of:

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Birth Resources provides information but it is not a substitute for professional midwifery or medical care. You should always seek the advice of your midwife, doctor or health professional for any concerns you may have regarding your health.

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