Intravenous (IV) cannula factsheet


An intravenous (IV) cannula is a small, short plastic tube put directly into your child’s vein using a needle. A short plastic extension tube is left in the vein, so your child’s doctor or nurse can easily access it.

The IV cannula makes it easier to give medication and fluid directly to your child, through their bloodstream. 

IV cannulas are used to:

  • give medication and fluid when your child is too sick to swallow
  • give medications that need to be delivered straight into the bloodstream
  • reduce the number of needles your child must have
  • take blood samples easily. 

 Before the procedure

Your child’s treatment team may first put a local anaesthetic cream or patch on the skin to numb the area. The Numbing cream or patch can take about 20-60 minutes to work, so it cannot be used in emergencies or when the IV cannula needs to be inserted quickly. 

 During the procedure

Generally, the steps to inserting an IV cannula are:

  1. an elastic belt is put around your child's arm or leg to help find a vein
  2. a small needle will be inserted into the vein
  3. once the needle is in the vein, the 'sharp' part of the needle is removed, and the plastic tube is left in
  4. the plastic tube is held in place with tape and special netting called Tubifast or Tubinet 
  5. if your child is very young, a padded board is placed to keep the closest joint, like the elbow, still.

Your child will need to stay still while the IV cannula is inserted. Some children can find this uncomfortable or painful because their veins are smaller than an adults. 

Once the needle has been removed, the cannula should not hurt, but it may still feel uncomfortable. 

 After the procedure

Your child’s treatment team might attach long tubing or syringes to the IV cannula, depending on what it is being used for. If there is long tubing, it will be put into a special pump on a stand that will control the amount of fluid that will be delivered. This is called a drip.

If your child has a drip with long tubing, they must stay connected, take the drip, and stand wherever they go. Your child’s treatment team will show you and your child how to move around while connected to the drip safely.

The length of time the IV cannula stays in will depend on why it was put in, and how quickly your child gets better. 


When to seek help

IV cannulas can become blocked, leak, or become infected. The nurses will need to regularly check the area around the cannula for:

  • redness
  • swelling
  • leaking
  • pain.

If there are any problems with the IV cannula, it may need to be removed and put in again in a different spot. Your child may get some bruising around the area where the needle is taken out of the vein. This should fade quickly.

Let your child's treatment team know if you are worried about the IV cannula.

Caring for an IV cannula at home

If your child is sent home from the hospital with their IV cannula still in, you will need to check for the following problems to make sure it is working well:

The IV cannula has come out

  1. gently wipe away any blood with a clean dressing
  2. apply gentle pressure on the area with a clean cloth or gauze, and apply a bandage when the bleeding stops
  3. contact your child's treatment team.

The IV cannula has become disconnected from the plastic extension tube

Contact your child’s treatment team as soon as possible, and do not try to reconnect the tubing.

Your child develops a fever or signs of infection

Take your child to the nearest emergency department if your child develops:

  • a fever
  • swelling, redness or pain where the cannula is
  • swelling, redness or pain up the arm or leg where the IV cannula is inserted.

Supporting your child

You can help your child by staying with them while the IV cannula is inserted. This can help them to stay calm and comfortable.

You can try holding your child and providing distractions like:

  • telling stories
  • singing
  • watching TV or a movie.

Let your child's treatment team know if you cannot stay, so they can organise another staff member to be a support person.

It is good to talk about the IV cannula with your child, explaining it in simple terms and how it works.

You can also ask your child's treatment team if there are any decisions your child can make about the IV cannula to give them some control over the procedure.

Decisions can include:

  • which arm they want to use
  • whether they can sit or stand
  • whether they can play some music
  • who they want in the room.

Cannulation in Emergency for children

These videos show different situations involving IV cannulas in the Emergency Department, including strategies for distracting your child.

Holding, wrapping and distraction techniques

This video shows holding, wrapping and distraction techniques that can be used when an infant or toddler needs an IV cannula.

Use of Buzzy Bee

This video shows how to use a Buzzy Bee and distraction strategies for a primary school-aged child who need an IV cannula.

Reverse seated position

This video shows the reverse seated position for a primary school-aged child who needs an IV cannula.

Front-facing position

This video shows the front-facing position for a primary school-aged child who needs an IV cannula.

Last updated Monday 25th March 2024


This factsheet is provided for general information only. It does not constitute health advice and should not be used to diagnose or treat any health condition.

Please consult with your doctor or other health professional to make sure this information is right for you and/or your child.

The Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network does not accept responsibility for inaccuracies or omissions, the interpretation of the information, or for success or appropriateness of any treatment described in the factsheet.

© Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network 2024