What to do if your tot needs CPR

Reading time: 5 min

Whether your children are playing in the backyard or you are having a party or playdate, a parent should always be on the alert to any potential physical dangers. It is moments like these that you understand what it feels like to be a daycare or preschool teacher, and you’re filled with newfound gratitude that those angels exist.

Just as you feel you can take a breath and relax a bit, little Jimmy slips on the plastic pool, topples over one of the inflatable sides and bangs his head against the pavement.

There are cries of alarm and a subtle panic ripples through the crowd. By the time you get there, a group is standing looking at the boy. Little Jimmy is out cold, flat on his back. He is not breathing. You hit a blank. Chaos.

There is a tender reality when you have kids. Here it is: injuries will happen! As hard as it is to face, you cannot escape it. At some point, kids will hurt themselves, or be hurt by someone or something else.

“Doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, or doing the right thing in the wrong way, could be just as dangerous as not doing anything at all.”

Since this is unavoidable, it just makes sense to have this section covered as best as you can. Do a first aid class or two. Research the most common injuries and what to do. Read up online or watch some how-to videos. Join mommy or daddy groups and sift through what is sound advice and what is not.

I always figured the most worst-case scenario would be to arrive on the scene too late, like with little Jimmy. This has given me many sleepless nights. The thought of finding an infant or toddler who is not breathing could strike fear in the heart of most parents. So, I decided to research the matter until I have done all I could to prepare for it.

Learn what to do in an emergency

While 4-9 November was CPR Week in SA, we shouldn’t have to wait until an awareness date to equip ourselves with basic emergency skills. I did a first aid course that focused a lot on emergency response to infants and toddlers. A large part of the course was designed around cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). It was not only educational but also vital to understand how quickly a situation can get out of hand and result in the loss of a life. However, I found it strange that instructors and professionals mostly listed what should be done. This is what you must do. This is how you must do it. Then you do this.

Though it’s reassuring to know what to do in the event of having to administer CPR, it is also important to know what not to do. Doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, or doing the right thing in the wrong way, could be just as dangerous as not doing anything at all.

What not to do when giving CPR to an infant or a child

1. Don’t worry about what happened

According to Sister Catherine Rodwell, owner of Survival CPR, we waste a lot of time focusing on what happened instead of getting on with the job of saving the person’s life. Rodwell bases this concern on having worked in a trauma unit, a cardio-thoracic ICU and doing helicopter medivacs in Africa. “If the child is not breathing, do CPR,” she advises. “It makes no difference what caused the child to stop breathing.”

2. Don’t be afraid to push down

Obviously, we would not compress the chest on a baby or a toddler as we would on an adult. We would use two fingers for a baby and a hand for a toddler. “The aim is to compress the chest down by a third to half the diameter of the chest,” suggests Rodwell. “Never compress the chest too softly. Your CPR will be useless if you don’t push hard enough. The heart is found at half the diameter of the chest, so we have to compress the sternum down far enough to compress the blood out of the heart.”

If you’re scared about breaking bones, get over it. “People are too concerned they will cause damage. The worst damage you can do is break a rib, which is uncommon in children and babies. The person or child still has a chance of survival with broken bones, but no chance of survival if you don’t compress the chest hard enough.”

3. Don’t get distracted

If you commit to doing CPR, then you should concentrate on the individual you are helping. Rodwell explains, “We should make sure the chest is rising when we give breaths. Always look out the corner of your eye to make sure you see the child’s chest rise. If it’s not rising, you have forgotten to cover the nose and mouth properly, or you have forgotten to clear/open the airway properly.”

4. Finish what you started

Never ever stop. Once you start CPR, you must see it through. Unless you get too exhausted or your own life is in imminent danger, you never stop. Keep going until emergency medical services arrive on the scene and literally remove your hands from the body. That’s right, CPR is that important.

Applying the steps of CAB (Compression, Airway, Breathing) will circulate and distribute oxygen-rich blood through the body and, more importantly, to the brain. Even when you are unsure what to do, rather do CPR. And if you still don’t know the CAB of CPR, you need to get Googling ASAP.

For helpful videos on child CPR and first aid, visit Survival CPR’s Facebook page.

Also read:

Surviving your toddler’s birthday party
Taking care of cuts and grazes