Drips (intravenous fluids or IV)

Drips (intravenous fluids or IV)

A drip is a short, small plastic tube that a doctor or nurse will put into your child's vein, using a needle. They will leave a plastic tube in so that fluids and medicines go directly into your child's blood.

What is a drip?

Child with IV drip

A drip is sometimes known as a cannula, intravenous fluids or IV.

It is a short, small plastic tube. A doctor or nurse will use a needle to put the drip into your child's vein. The doctor or nurse will leave the plastic tube in so that fluids and medicines can go directly into the blood. Sometimes a doctor or nurse will also take blood samples using the tube.

Why would my child need a drip?

The drip will allow your child's fluid or medicines to go directly into a vein quickly. The drip can stay in for several days.

Your child will have a drip if they are too sick to swallow fluids and medicines or it is the only way of giving the medicine.

How will they put the drip in?

An arm with drip (cannula or IV) in place

The doctor or nurse may put a local anaesthetic patch on the skin first to numb the area where they will put the needle. It takes about 30-60 minutes for the patch to work. If your child needs a drip urgently, there may not be time to wait for the local anaesthetic to work.

A doctor or nurse will use a tourniquet (tight band) around your child's arm or leg. A member of your child’s health care team will show you how to hold your child while a doctor or nurse puts a small needle into your child's vein. Once the needle is in the vein, they will take out the needle leaving a plastic tube in the vein. Tape and bandages will hold the plastic tube in place and your child may have a splint (padded board) to keep their hand or foot still.

A child's veins are quite small and the doctor or nurse may need to try several veins to get the drip in place. Putting the drip in can hurt. Once the doctor or nurse removes the needle the plastic tube does not cause pain but the area may be uncomfortable. 

If possible, the doctor or nurse will take blood tests from the needle while they putting it in. If they cannot collect enough blood from the needle, your child will need a separate blood test.

What happens next?

A doctor or nurse will then attach long tubing or syringes to the drip to deliver fluids and medicines. Often the doctor or nurse will put long tubing into a special (IV) pump on a drip stand that will control the amount of fluid that will go in. Most of the time the long tubing will stay connected and your child will need to take the drip pump and stand wherever they go. The nurses will explain and show your child how to do this.

Your child's doctor will discuss with you how long the drip will need to stay in. This will depend on why your child is having the drip, and how quickly they get better.

What problems can occur?

Drips can block, leak or become infected. The nurses will regularly check the drip and the area around the drip. The nurses will look for redness, swelling, leakage and pain at the drip site. If there are any problems, they may need to put the drip in again in another spot. At times, a bruise may form when the needle comes out of the vein. This will soon fade.

If you are worried, please ask the nurses to check your child's drip.

What can I do to help?

You can comfort your child by staying with them as the drip is put in. If you cannot stay with your child then a staff member will stay instead.

If your child asks about their tests, reassure them and explain in simple terms what is happening and why. Always tell the truth.

It is helpful to distract your child by cuddling, telling stories, singing or playing with a toy or game. You can help your child to sit or lie down, whichever they prefer. Remain calm and comfort your child. If you get upset, so will your child. Always praise your child afterward.

The staff are there to help you and your child. If you would like more information, please ask the nurse or doctor caring for your child.

Starship Foundation and the Paediatric Society of New Zealand acknowledge the cooperation of The Children's Hospital at Westmead, Sydney Children's Hospital at Randwick, and Kaleidoscope - Hunter Children's Health Network in making this fact sheet available to patients and families.

This page last reviewed 28 November 2017.
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