Measuring blood pressure in young children can be challenging. Your child’s doctor or nurse will take a few measurements when your child is relaxed.

If your child’s first blood pressure measurement is very high or low, your doctor or nurse will check it a few more times. This is because blood pressure can change depending on the time of day, feeling stressed or after exercising. 

Preparing for blood pressure measurement

You do not need any special preparation before your child has their blood pressure measured. Here are some tips.

  • Your child can wear a shirt with short sleeves or with sleeves that can be easily rolled up.
  • Explain to your child what will happen during the test. You may say that it won’t hurt them but that their arm will be squeezed for a few moments.
  • Help them to feel relaxed before and during the test.

What happens?

  • Your child will be asked to sit for a few minutes before the measurement is taken.
  • The cuff is wrapped around your child’s arm and it is pumped up. This holds back the blood flow to that area.
  • The pressure on the cuff is slowly released.
  • For electronic instruments, the readings appear on a screen.
  • For manual instruments, a stethoscope or Doppler is used to listen to the pulse and the readings are taken from the pressure gauge. The systolic number (or top number) is recorded when the pulse is first heard. The diastolic number is recorded when the pulse is no longer heard. The Doppler can only detect the systolic pressure.

Finding out results

You can find out your child’s blood pressure straight away after the test is over.

Measuring blood pressure at home

Blood pressure can vary throughout the day, when we exercise and when we feel stress. Some children feel stress when they visit the doctor. If they feel stress and have high blood pressure, and no other symptoms of hypertension, this is called white coat hypertension.

Because of this, your doctor or nurse may ask you to measure your child’s blood pressure at home. They will explain what to do and how you can report the blood pressure readings. Your child will be able to do many of the activities they usually do.

Your doctor or nurse may ask a community nurse to measure your child’s blood pressure at home. Or, you may be asked to use a home electronic monitor to measure your child’s blood pressure at regular intervals during the day.

Ambulatory blood pressure monitoring

You may be give a special electronic monitor that automatically measures blood pressure over a period of time, usually 24 hours. This is called ambulatory blood pressure monitoring (ABPM). (Ambulatory means moving about.)

This monitor will automatically measure your child’s blood pressure every half hour during the day, and every hour during the night while they are sleeping. Your child will need to keep their arm still during each measurement.

ABPM gives a true picture of your child’s blood pressure when awake and asleep. It is normally used for children 5 years or older.

Measuring blood pressure in hospital

For some babies and young children it can be very difficult to take blood pressure measurements. They may become distressed in the clinic and may not be able to take the electronic measurements at home. These children need to go into hospital for 24 hours to have their blood pressure measured regularly during the day and night.

More information

  • Meet a Paediatric Nurse

    Denise and Rachel are both paediatric nurses at the Great North Children’s Hospital in Newcastle and their roles centre around the practical and emotional elements of kidney disease treatments.

  • Blood pressure and your child’s health

    Understand more about children's blood pressure, how the kidneys control blood pressure to help make sure it is at a healthy level and how you can keep the whole family's blood pressure in a healthy range.

  • Hypertension: tests and diagnosis

    When diagnosing hypertension in children, the first tests are to obtain accurate blood pressure measurements. Your child’s doctor will also do an examination of your child and arrange urine tests and blood tests.