Baby and Child CPR: What Every Parent Should Know

Long before I began having children I learned the important steps in performing CPR through a class in high school. It’s a very valuable lesson to learn in the event of a cardiac or breathing emergency. As a parent and my past experience in the medical field I’ve learned how quickly these emergencies can happen, which is why baby and child CPR is something that every parent should know.

Babies are notorious for being curious and putting things in their mouths. It’s how they learn about the world around them, but it can also be very dangerous. Even under close supervision it only takes a second for a child to swallow something that could pose a choking hazard or become completely submerged in a tub. In a breathing or a cardiac emergency every second matters so being adequately informed on how to handle such situations can save a life.

When the airway becomes obstructed oxygen can not be sufficiently supplied to the brain and brain damage can occur in just 4 minutes.

What Should You Do if Your Baby is Choking?

In true choking a child or baby is unable to cough or cry as a result of an obstruction to the airway. If your baby is able to cough hard or is gagging then the airway may be only partially blocked. Coughing is the body’s natural defense and often effective in removing an obstruction to the airway. If you suspect your baby may be choking on something, first try a few firm but gentle blows to their back to help them dislodge the object before attempting first aid.

In older children and adults the universal sign for choking is placing the hands over the throat. In infants and toddlers it’s not as obvious. These are signs to look for that a baby may be choking:

  • High-pitched or soft sounds when inhaling
  • Weak cough
  • Inability to make sounds
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Skin becomes bluish in color
  • Loss of consciousness

These warning signs indicate that the airway is completely blocked and care should be given immediately. If you are not alone, have someone else dial 911 while you follow these steps. If you’re alone, follow these steps immediately THEN dial 911 after 2 minutes.

For Infants Under 1 Year:

1. Place the infant face down along your forearm, supporting their neck/head with your hand by holding their jaw with your fingers. Use your thigh or leg to support their body and hold them downward so that their head is lower than the body.

2. Use the heel of your free hand to give 5 firm blows to the baby’s back, between the shoulder blades in order to dislodge the obstruction.

3. If the back blows do not dislodge the object or your baby is still unable to breathe begin performing chest thrusts. With one hand on the back of your baby’s head to support, turn your baby facing up keeping the head lower than the level of the chest. Using two fingers place in the center of baby’s chest and give 5 thrusts.

Continue alternating between chest thrusts and back blows until the obstruction is visible where you can remove it.

If your baby becomes unconscious after choking on an object you will need to perform a modified form of CPR.

Open the baby’s mouth and look for the obstruction. If the object obstructing the airway is visible remove it using your little finger.

Perform two rescue breaths, looking for the chest to rise. If you don’t see the chest rise and fall tilt your baby’s head back gently with your hand on the forehead and two fingers under the chin to open the airway. Deliver two rescue breaths again.

If the chest still doesn’t rise as you deliver the rescue breaths, begin performing chest compressions. Use your index finger and middle finger to the middle of the chest and give 30 compressions. If you still don’t see the obstruction deliver two more rescue breaths. Continue alternating between compressions and rescue breaths until the object is visible and you can remove it or until help arrives.

In infants that are showing no visible signs of life, begin performing CPR.

For Children Over 1 Year:

If you believe your child is choking and they are able to stand upright, follow these steps:

1. Stand behind the child and bring your arms around their waist.

2. Place one hand against the child’s stomach while making a fist with the thumb side facing in. Your hand should be placed below the rib cage but just above the child’s navel.

3. With your other hand, grasp the fist and perform quick, inward and upward thrusts. It is recommended to alternate between these abdominal thrusts and back blows as you would for an infant to effectively dislodge an obstruction.

If a child that has been choking becomes unconscious, begin performing modified CPR.

Lay the child on a flat on a firm surface on their back. Place the heel of your hand at the center of the chest, preferably the dominant hand. Place your other hand directly on top and interlace your fingers holding them upwards so as not to touch the sternum. Begin delivering 30 compressions, pushing down hard about two 2 inches and fast, allowing the chest to rise to its normal position before doing the next compression.

Open the child’s mouth to check for visible obstruction and remove it. Deliver two rescue breaths. If the chest doesn’t rise with rescue breaths repeat the cycle of chest compressions. Continue alternating between compressions and rescue breaths until you can clearly see and remove the obstruction, your child is breathing on their own, or until help arrives.

In an emergency situation where a child shows no visible signs of life, begin performing CPR.

In some circumstances where you suspect the airway is obstructed as a result of asthma or an allergy causing the throat to swell up, 911 should be called first before administering care. Likewise, if your child is at a high risk of heart problems 911 should be dialed immediately.

Hopefully you never have to use baby and child CPR, but taking a class by a trained professional will prepare you in the event of a life threatening emergency.

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