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HealthInfo Canterbury

How to use a pulse oximeter for children

A pulse oximeter is a small, painless device that clips on your child's finger and uses light beams in a sensor to estimate the amount of oxygen in their blood without taking a blood sample. This helps to track and assess how well their lungs are working.

A pulse oximeter measures two things.


If at any time, your tamaiti (child) has trouble breathing, or their symptoms suddenly become worse, call 111 for an ambulance.

Choosing a pulse oximeter for your child

Children over 30 kg (10 years or older if you don't know your child's weight)

You can use an adult pulse oximeter for your tamaiti as long as their finger goes all the way to the end of the probe. Using an adult oximeter on smaller tamariki (children) may give an inaccurate reading.

Children under 30 kg (9 years or younger if you don't know your child's weight)

Tamariki under 30 kg need a pulse oximeter for a tamaiti. This may either be an oximeter that:

Using a pulse oximeter

There are different brands of these devices – please read the manufacturer's instructions.

The following is a general guide. Ask your COVID-19 healthcare team if you have any questions.


Taking the reading

Recording the numbers

Pulse oximeter numbers

The following is a guide for tamariki children who usually have normal saturation levels.

Oxygen saturation


95 to 99


92 to 94

Call your COVID-19 healthcare team.

Below 92

Call 111 for urgent medical care.

Your COVID-19 healthcare team may give you specific advice about what action to take for your tamaiti child at different oxygen saturation levels. For example, if your tamaiti normally has low oxygen saturation because of congenital heart disease, the advice may be:

Other signs of low oxygen

Don't solely rely on a pulse oximeter to assess the health condition or oxygen level of your tamaiti.

Other signs of low oxygen levels are if your tamaiti:

Check other signs that show your baby or child might be struggling to breathe.

If you have any concerns or questions, contact your COVID-19 healthcare team.

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Content shared between HealthInfo Canterbury, KidsHealth and Health Navigator NZ as part of a National Health Content Hub collaborative. Last reviewed February 2022.

See also:

How to use a pulse oximeter for adults

Page reference: 938157

Review key: HICOV-710714