Pediatric Intravenous Cannulation

Updated: Mar 14, 2022
  • Author: Gil Z Shlamovitz, MD, FACEP; Chief Editor: Vincent Lopez Rowe, MD, FACS  more...
  • Print


Pediatric intravenous (IV) cannulation is an integral part of modern medicine and is practiced in virtually every healthcare setting. Venous access allows the sampling of blood, as well as administration of fluids, medications, parenteral nutrition, chemotherapy, and blood products. [1]

This topic describes the placement of an IV catheter in an upper extremity of a pediatric patient. A similar technique can be used for placement of IV catheters at different anatomic sites.



Indications for pediatric IV cannulation include the following:

  • Repeated blood sampling
  • IV fluid administration
  • IV medication administration
  • IV chemotherapy administration
  • IV nutritional support
  • IV blood or blood products administration
  • IV administration of radiologic contrast agents (eg, for computed tomography [CT], magnetic resonance imaging [MRI], or nuclear imaging)


No absolute contraindications exist for pediatric IV cannulation.

Peripheral venous access in an injured, infected, or burned extremity should be avoided if possible.

Vesicant solutions can cause blistering and tissue necrosis if they leak into the tissue. Irritant solutions (pH < 5, pH >9, or osmolarity >600 mOsm/L, including sclerosing solutions, some chemotherapeutic agents, and vasopressors) also are more safely infused into a central vein. Therefore, these solutions should only be given through a peripheral vein in emergency situations or when central venous access is not readily available.


Technical Considerations

Best practices

In an emergency situation or when patients are expected to require large volumes infused over a short period of time, the largest-gauge and shortest catheter that is likely to fit the chosen vein should be used. The catheter chosen should always be slightly smaller than the vein.

Veins have a three-layered wall composed of an internal endothelium surrounded by a thin layer of muscle fibers, which is surrounded by a layer of connective tissue. Venous valves encourage unidirectional flow of blood, prevent pooling of blood in the dependent portions of the extremities, and can impede the passage of a catheter through and into a vein. Venous valves are more numerous just distal to the points where tributaries join larger veins and in the lower extremities. [2]

Veins with high internal pressure become engorged and are easier to access. The use of venous tourniquets, dependent positioning, pumping via muscle contraction, and the local application of heat or nitroglycerin ointment can contribute to venous engorgement. [2]

The superficial veins of the upper extremities are preferred to those of the lower extremities for peripheral venous access because they interfere less with patient mobility and pose a lower risk for phlebitis. [3]  It is easier to insert a venous catheter where two tributaries merge and form a Y shape. It also is recommended to choose a straight portion of a vein to minimize the chance of hitting valves.

The scalp veins are easily accessed in infants. They can be engorged by placing a rubber band around the patient’s head at the forehead level.