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The Best Fifty Quid I Ever Spent

When Flea was about six weeks old, I  spent an evening in a draughty church hall in Brighton, with 11 other new parents and a registered nurse. Over a period of three hours, we were taught the basics of paediatric emergency first aid – what to do if your baby stops breathing, what if they choke, what if they fall down the stairs, get scalded.

The course was run by a company called Safety Angels, and each of us paid £50 to attend the workshop. Expensive, but given the number of times I’ve used the advice and techniques I learned there, I think it’s the best money I’ve ever spent.

Lots of the things I learned have been burned into my brain. The best way to see if a baby is unconscious is to tap the bottoms of their feet firmly and say their name loudly – even if they’re deeply asleep they should respond (I'm embarrassed to admit how often I did this to poor baby Flea to make sure she was still alive). To be effective, chest thrusts (below the nipples, upwards) need to be WAY harder than you'd imagine.

We learned practical techniques like how to hold a baby when it's choking (belly down, along your forearm, with the head lower than the bottom) as opposed to a child (kneel down with your arm across their upper belly, bend them forward and give them three sharp back blows, while encouraging them to cough). And always, always slice grapes lengthwise, not across.

I remember the nurse telling us that the single most common thing for children to choke to death on is grapes. They’re just the right shape to get stuck and the texture means that you can’t always remove them with first aid. The horrible thing about choking on grapes (along with hot dog sausages and marshmallows) is that by the time a doctor is able to remove the blockage, the child may have been starved of oxygen for long enough that they die a few days later, from brain damage.

I’ve always been amazed by how few parents seem to have this sort of knowledge. But I recently looked online for a refresher first aid course (now Flea’s older, I know some of the resuscitation techniques are different, for example) and I was shocked by how few and far between they seem to be.

The nearest course to me was in the evening, 50 miles away, and not for another three months. Oh, and it was aimed at professionals, so it cost over £200. The St John’s Ambulance apparently runs paediatric first aid courses, but the website didn’t list any courses anywhere North of Watford for the whole of 2010 last time I checked.

It makes me sad that it isn’t easier for parents to learn basic first aid. In many household accidents, knowing the basics could mean the difference between a child living and dying. So shouldn’t this sort of simple, practical life-saving knowledge be built into the ante-natal/post-natal routine?

In the meantime, there are some really great videos on the Red Cross website showing basic life-saving techniques for babies and children. I urge you to check them out – it's ten minutes out of your day, but one day it might make a real difference for someone in trouble.


Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She's also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world's coolest ten year old.

About The Author


Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She's also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world's coolest ten year old.


  1. Rosie Scribble

    My daughter choked on a grape. It was very frightening. Thankfully she was okay and the panic short-lived. She was about two and a half and I shouted at my mother for giving her a whole grape when she should have cut it in half, at least. How she did not know this having had four children of her own, I have no idea. I did a basic first aid course with the Red Cross some time ago, it would be out of date now but I may look into doing another one. Always useful to have and you never know when you will need it.

  2. Karin @ Cafe Bebe

    I’ve done a First Aid course at our local Sure Start Centre and have been certified many times over the years in CPR & First Aid but it’s always good to have a refresher.
    I learned from another blogger’s post about hot liquid spills…get the clothing off ASAP and run the affected body part under water ASAP & call medical professionals ASAP. Never knew the bit about removing the clothing! Hot tea is a buzz phrase in our house!
    Thanks for the reminder and hope I haven’t been reckless in my marshmallow vlog!

  3. SandyCalico

    Thanks for the link Sally. I was a first aider at work, but could definitely do with a refresher now – especially one aimed at parents. If you do find a course, please let me know.

  4. Insomniac Mummy

    That kind of advice should definitely be built in to ante/postnatal care. So so so important.
    I have a ‘thing’ about grapes. I sometimes even chop them into quarters just to be safe.

  5. Lindy

    fab post! I’m shocked that there are no first aid coursed nearby. I’m going to do a bit of a search myself as I’ve been putting off doing this. Poor Squidge never ate grapes until I was certain she mastered eating solids! I will not tell how many times I yanked her by the arm and battered her back thinking she had choked on a SOFT banana!

  6. beki

    Great post, wish i’d had first age knowledge when my daughter was younger. What ever I may think of my ex husband if it wasn’t for him, my daughter wouldn’t be with us now.
    Beki x

  7. The Mad House

    I did a 12 week evening cource at our local surestart for peadiatric first aid after Mini was born. It has served me well and I will be signing up again when the next one is run. I think every parent sould go to one.

  8. Kim@EnjoyTheRide

    This is so helpful! Thanks for posting it. I linked to your post over from Enjoy The Ride.

  9. Stefanie Hopkins

    I attended a St John’s 1st aid course which focused on babies at our local Surestart Centre as I kept worrying that I wouldn’t have a clue how to react if something did happen. We learnt lots of useful things but they didn’t mention about cutting grapes lengthways so thanks for that tip! It amazes me how many people ‘never get around’ to doing a course. Surely if anything happened to your baby, you would at least want to have tried to do all you could?

  10. Iota

    I notice that hot dog sausages have a warning on them in the US, as not being suitable for kids under 6. I always slice them length-wise for my kids.
    But I’ve been to so many birthday parties where young kids are given whole grapes. I’m the mum who leans over and bites the ones on her daughter’s plate in half.

  11. Sally

    @Rosie – yes, Flea choked a few times but one time in particular she choked badly on a muffin and it was really scary. I think knowing basic first aid helps me not to panic – which is my natural response, completely.
    @Karin – yes, I think refreshers are important. I was a first aider for many years but the techniques for babies are totally different, and I’m glad I learned them. Now I want to know the ones for kids! (Oh, and love the health and safety warning!)
    @Sandy – definitely will do.
    @InsomniacMummy – me too, I always chop larger grapes into four. TOTALLY neurotic, and I admit it.
    @Lindy – ugh, I remember Flea gagging so many times on banana. We always had to chop it up because as a baby whatever you gave her she would try and fit into her mouth in one piece!
    @Beki – absolutely!
    @MadHouse – that’s a good tip, I might contact our local SureStart to see if they run workshops.
    @Kim – thanks and thanks for the link x
    @CJ – yes, it’s funny, but I think people are just supposed to know, but a workshop is so, so much more useful than books. They should be easier to find, I think.
    @MetropolitanMum – Oh, there are no bad mothers round these parts. In reality, the risks are very small, I just think it’s important to be aware of what the risks are, so you can judge them for yourselves.
    @Stefanie – I actually wonder if people are scared, as though they’re tempting fate. I can say from my experience even doing the tapping feet, rescue breaths and compressions on a dummy made me cry – it’s scary to think about all the things that MIGHT happen to a tiny baby.
    @Iota – I do the grape thing too. Always. Interesting about hot dogs – I think very few parents here think about it. We were at a party 2 weeks ago where they served hot dogs, and I asked the hostess not to give any to Flea (they weren’t sliced and there were no knives). She looked at me like I was INSANE. But it’s only a few months since I read about a 4 or 5 year old girl choking to death on a hot dog at a party, and I’d just rather not chance it. I worry that I worry too much, though, sometimes.

  12. Erin

    One of the reasons marshmallows are especially bad is because they expand when heated – and since the human body is warmer than room temperature once you’re choking the expansion has already begun! Popcorn was another food always mentioned as a choking hazard for little ones in the first aid/first responder courses back when I used to lifeguard in the US.

  13. Family Affairs

    I’ve written about this on numerous occasions. It should almost be obligatory to be given a first aid course manual at the same time as being given the how to look after a baby once it’s just born manual – most things are fairly logical, but unless they are drummed in you can so easily forget in an emergency Lx

  14. Melissa Talago

    Hi Sally
    I know some parents who are in the process of making ‘A look and learn’ DVD dedicated to children’s first aid as well as three guides for babies, toddlers and nursery age children that will feature a comprehensive first aid course from St John’s Ambulance.
    They hope to do exactly what you say you can’t find – give parents the tools they need, which they can watch at home – even looking it up immediately in an emergency if necessary. So I’ll keep you posted as soon as they’re ready!

  15. Sally

    @Erin – I believe that’s an urban myth ( but they’re still flippin’ scary.
    @FamilyAffairs – absolutely! It’s the panic that you feel, and even a little training helps you not to just freeze.
    @Melissa – Sounds great!

  16. Barbara

    Thank you for the timely reminder. I did a paediatric first aid course first when the girl was born and then again when the boy came along as a refresher. Now he’s 2 I should probably think about doing another one as the baby stuff isn’t appropriate for us anymore.
    It’s shocking that they’re not more readily available.

  17. Solveig

    This is such an important thing. I am very concerned about choking.
    I remember when my daughter was toddler, reading in her book from her child minder that she had eaten grapes. I agonised and agonised over looking like a crazy, over-protective mother but in the end I just had to tell her ‘please make sure you slice the grapes’. Turns out she always does, but you have to make sure.
    Another thing I read about in one of those mummy guide books you can buy is that balloons can be a terrible choking hazard because, if swallowed, a piece of burst or an uninflated balloon can stick in the windpipe and be very difficult to get out. It makes me shudder to think of it, but I’m glad that I am aware of it.
    Thanks for this important reminder.

  18. S.

    There is a basic baby first aid course as part of my local post natal group. I assumed they were everywhere.
    I think Tesco run some baby first aid courses around the country. Think it might be a Red Cross thing.

  19. snafflesmummy

    We have been looking for a toddler first aid course too. Whever Snaffles gets injured me and Mr C always fall out. Mr C hugely over reacts and we would spend most weekends in A&E if meft to Mr C. I think if he had more knowledge he would feel more in control of the situation.
    Will ahve to have another look for courses.

  20. Lax Parenting

    I just did my first aid at work and pediatric first aid again, wouldn’t want to be without it. I agree it should be offered to all parents like parentcraft/antenatal classes

  21. Muddling Along Mummy

    We run courses locally through the RSfPOA – they cost about a tenth of your course but cover the same stuff

  22. Emma

    Thanks for that Sally you’ve pushed me!
    I look after my niece a lot and know that I need to know more – Adult Ed centre down the road does Adult and Children/Baby first aid training so will finally book it
    (Any North Londoners its )

  23. Mwa

    My son nearly choked on a sausage. Awful.
    I feel ashamed that I started a first aid course, but bottled out after everyone had to TOUCH each other all the time. (My OCD got too bad.) I have all the books and the DVDs, though, and I practised the basics.)

  24. Tattie Weasle

    You forget all that simpel advice. I went on a cuorse when The Boy was a baby. It made me feel much more confident about being with him and of course the infomration was invaluable. But that was nearly 7 years ago now! Time for a refresher methinks! Thank you!

  25. Heather

    I’ve never been told any of those things. Why not? Why wasn’t I at least given a leaflet on this, the basic knowledge of it, along with all the pampers club and childrens book club nonsense I was given with my notes when i left hospital after giving birth? This is important stuff. something is amiss that we have to go and seek this information out…
    Classes should be as readily available as weighing clinics and home HV visits.


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