Becoming a parent brings with it huge highs as you watch your children grow from tiny babies into little people.
But combined with that is an underlying sense of fear – that nagging worry that something awful could happen. I guess I’ve always tried not to think about it.
Even when my eldest son Aaron was undergoing major surgery at the age of two, I tried to think positively and not let myself dwell on the risks. It’s human nature, especially when it’s out of your control.
The harsh reality is, no matter how good a mum or dad you are, accidents and illnesses happen. The question is, would you know what to do if it happened to you? Do you know what to do to stop a child choking, for example, or if your baby suddenly stopped breathing?
I have to admit that, apart from a basic knowledge I’ve picked up from the TV and advice leaflets, I didn’t really have a clue.
Luckily – aside from Aaron’s hospital stay, when nurses were on hand 24/7 – the most I’ve ever had to deal with as a parent is a minor bump to the head, cut to the knee and a slight fever.
But you only have to speak to others to realise that emergencies come out of the blue. And with two boisterous boys – Aaron, now three, and Rhys, who recently turned one – it does worry me.
So when I found out that St John Ambulance did a Baby First Aid course it made me think, and I booked onto the Carlisle session.
The three-hour course took place on a Saturday morning at the organisation’s base in Scalegate Road, Upperby.
Pam McGowan with sons Rhys, left and Aaron
I was joined by three others – fellow mums Jess Moss and Jenni Cook, and Jenni’s mum Ruth Cook – all keen to be armed with enough skills to take action if something happened to our children or grandchildren.
Trainer Sandra Scott had her own personal reason for being there, having almost lost her own daughter at just 10 days old.
Luckily Sandra, then 26, had done some first aid training as a teenager. So when her baby stopped breathing she was able to do something, performing CPR and ultimately saving her daughter’s life.
“She wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t,” said Sandra.
“This really is life-saving stuff. It can be the difference between life and death.”
It was that experience that carved out her future career, prompting her to train with St John Ambulance. She now travels around the area teaching life-saving skills to others and said it’s an amazing feeling to think that she is, through others, saving more lives.
The Baby First Aid course aims to give parents the skills they need to deal with a range of potential childhood emergencies – stopping breathing, choking, bleeding, seizures and serious illness.
Although it is primarily aimed at those looking after smaller babies, Sandra also spent some time focusing on older children.
The main theme is CPR – something I had only ever seen on TV shows. I do have a vague recollection of doing a first aid module at school, but not enough that I’d feel confident to actually perform it.
Sandra was determined that nobody was leaving the room until they had that confidence to step in if needed, whether it was their own child needing help or somebody else’s.
She showed how to give mouth-to-mouth rescue breaths and perform chest compressions on both babies and children.
Using plastic dummies, we all had to have a go – and Sandra was great at correcting us if we were unsure or slightly wrong.
What to do if a baby stops breathing:
1. Call 999 for an ambulance: If you’re on your own, you need to give one minute’s worth of CPR before calling for help
2. Five puffs: Put your lips around their mouth and nose and blow steadily for up to one second. Give five puffs in total.
3. Thirty pumps: Using two fingers in the centre of the chest, give 30 pumps at a rate of 100-120 per minute
4. Repeat, but with two puffs and 30 pumps until help arrives
- For older children, pinch the nose and blow into the mouth only, then use the heal of the hand in the centre of the chest
What to do if a baby is choking:
1. Slap it out: Sit down and lay them face down along your thigh supporting their head. Give up to five sharp blows between their shoulder blades with the heel of your hand
2. Check the mouth to see if there is anything there. If you can pick the object out carefully. Be careful not to push it back in
3. Squeeze it out: If the back blows fail to clear the blockage, give up to five chest thrusts. To do this put two fingers just below the level of their nipples and push inwards and downwards, towards the baby’s head, up to five times. Check their mouth and carefully pick the object out
4. If they’re still choking, repeat back blows and chest thrusts up to three times until the object dislodges
5. If they are still choking call 999 and repeat back blows and chest thrusts until an ambulance arrives
We were also taught how to respond to a child or baby choking, again using the dummies to practise dislodging an object that had become trapped in the throat – one of my own biggest fears.
Sandra also showed us how to put someone in the recovery position, how to spot the signs of shock, and what to do if our baby suffered a febrile convulsion. Two close friends of mine have had experience of the latter – proof that these things can happen to any of us.
Sandra also covered serious illnesses, including croup and meningitis. Again she drew on her own experience, sharing a story about her son contracting meningitis as a child. Thankfully, because it was spotted early enough, he went on to make a full recovery.
Her advice to all parents is to “know your baby”, as she puts it. Sandra said all babies are different so it’s a good idea to record their average temperature and pulse over a period of four weeks, to see what is normal for them. That means, if they do become ill, you will know whether their temperature is especially high or breathing different.
Ultimately she urged parents to trust their instincts, and make sure they have a basic first aid knowledge.
“One thing everyone can do is download the St John Ambulance app, which details all the main first aid situations in a flash-card format, so you can always have it with you on your phone,” added Sandra.
Having completed the course and received my certificate, I feel a sense of relief.
I still don’t want to think about anything happening to my boys, but if it did, I at least feel I could do something to help.
As Sandra says, giving up just three hours of my Saturday could really be the difference between life and death.
I cant believe its not the first thing all new parents do. Get yourself into a first aid course in Canberra now, its one day and you could learn the skills to save a life. Contact us at Canberra first aid and we can book you into our courses. You wont be disappointed.