Having a baby suddenly collapse or stop breathing is every parent’s worst nightmare, one which many parents understandably do not even want to think about. However, being prepared for even a worst case scenario is an important part of parenting – and it can make you feel more empowered and less panicked if you ever find yourself in a situation where CPR is necessary. The technique is actually simple, though it is important to be as practiced as possible when actually performing it and it is one that a parent or other caregiver can learn from reading about the procedure, watching certified infant CPR videos or actually taking a class.

Read on to find out why infant CPR is so important, as well as basic instructions on this procedure and where to go to find infant CPR videos and classes for further instruction. The choice to learn these skills can literally make a difference between life and death.

What is CPR and Why is it Important?

860px-CPR_training-04Medline Plus, the online dictionary from the National Institute of Health, defines cardiopulmonary resuscitation – CPR – as “a life-saving procedure used when the baby’s heart stops beating or breathing has stopped”.  It is incredibly important to be able to restore blood flow and oxygenation throughout the body because it only takes around 4 minutes for permanent brain damage to occur in the absence of blood flow, with dying or brain death occurring between 4-6 minutes. In other words, there is very little time to save a baby’s life – and the faster that help begins, the better the baby’s chances are of survival.

It is probably disturbing to think about, but there are actually a number of things that can cause a baby to stop breathing or its heart to stop breathing. These situations can include:

  • Accidental poisoning
  • Suffocation
  • Choking
  • Electrical shock
  • Lung disease
  • Trauma

It is important to remember, however, that CPR should ONLY be initiated when a baby’s heartbeat and breathing has stopped and when the baby is nonresponsive. Otherwise, it can be dangerous: for instance, if CPR is initiated when a baby still has a heartbeat, it can actually cause the heart to stop beating.

Directions for CPR

One of the best resources for learning Infant CPR is the American Red Cross, whose PDF guide gives full instructions for mastering this skill. The basic instructions are as follows:

  • Flick the bottom of the newborn’s foot in order to check for responsiveness.
  • If there is no response, call 911 and move infant, in necessary, to a face-up position, being sure to support its head, neck and back.
  • If you are alone, give care for 2 minutes before beginning to give care. ‘
  • In order to give initial care:
    1. Tilt the baby’s head back gently
    2. Check for breathing. If the baby is not breathing, give 2 rescue breaths.
    3. In order to give the rescue breaths, tilt the head back gently, seal the baby’s nose and mouth and give a gently rescue breath for 1 second, then give one again.
    4. If infant is still not breathing on its own, initiate CPR
  • In order to give CPR:
    1. Do chest compressions at a depth of 1 ½ inches and rate of 100 compressions a minute
    2. Give 2 more rescue breaths
    3. Continue this cycle until there is no sign of life, you are too exhausted to continue the CPR or others arrive on the scene to take over care by using CPR or applying an AED.

The Red Cross PDF also gives information on how to take care of a choking infant and how to apply an AED to an infant to continue care.

Choking Care for Conscious and Unconscious Infants

Along with CPR, the Red Cross notes it is vital that parents understand how to care for an infant who is choking. If rescue breaths are attempted but the chest does not rise, then assume that there is an object stuck in the infant’s throat and begin to perform care.

For a conscious infant,

  • Support the baby on your arm, with the baby face down and supported by your hand, and deliver 5 blows to the back between the shoulder blades.
  • Gently turn the baby over so that it is facing upwards. Continuing to support the head and neck, give 5 chest compressions between the baby’s nipples using 2-3 of your fingers. The compressions should be 1 ½ inches in depth.
  • Continue to alternate between back blows and compressions until the object is expelled, the baby begins to breathe on its own or loses consciousness. If the baby does lose consciousness, initiate choking care for an unconscious infant.

For an unconscious infant,

  • Lay the infant down on a flat surface
  • Tilt the infant’s head backwards and perform a rescue breath
  • If the infant’s chest does not rise, give 30 chest compressions, using the same method that you would with CPR.
  • Look for the object that is making the infant choke and remove it if you can visualize it.
  • If the object isn’t seen, perform two more rescue breaths. If the chest does not rise, then return to chest compressions.
  • Alternate between chest compressions and rescue breathing until the baby begins to breathe, the object is expelled or help arrives.

The Importance of the Recovery Position

The CPR procedure itself is not the only thing a parent needs to know. Knowing what to do after CPR is needed is important, too.

The  AboutKidsHealth site notes that there are times when, while performing CPR, your baby will recover and begin to breathe on its own. While this is a great thing, of course, there is also a danger at this point that the baby can vomit and aspirate on that (this means that some of the vomit can get into the baby’s lungs and cause breathing problems).  So when the baby does start to breathe again, move him/her into a recovery position. To do this, roll the baby gently over onto its side with its head resting on a firm surface and the chin pointing slightly downwards. This will help to keep the baby’s airways open and prevent aspiration and the breathing problems it can cause.

CPR Videos and Further Training

For some parents, particularly those who do not have healthcare training, the idea of giving CPR to an infant can seem frightening or too difficult to learn. However, there are ways to pick up these skills that are more visual and hands-on.  The Cleveland Clinic has put out an excellent video to show parents how to perform this procedure and the Red Cross offers actual face-to-face classes so that parents can get a feel for the way the breathing and compression techniques actually work and be able to practice on mannequin babies so that they know exactly what to do in an emergency.  Local hospitals and some pediatric clinics will also offer similar classes, so it is good to check in with the healthcare facilities in your area to find out more.

Preventing Problems in the First Place

Of course, the best way to handle a life-or-death situation is to help prevent it in the first place. Medline notes that most children’s heart or breathing will stop due to preventable accidents. It recommends the following safety tips to prevent situations that might lead to emergencies:

  • Unless they are in a designated crib, do not leave a baby alone, especially on a changing table or other high surface where they can roll over and fall.
  • Allow your baby to only play with age-appropriate toys that are not too heavy, breakable, are a choking hazard or have sharp edges or other unsafe features.
  • Do not allow babies to eat or drink from a bottle without being attended.
  • Make sure to never tie jewelry, pacifiers or other objects around a baby’s wrists or neck, as these can turn into a choking hazard.
  • Make sure that cleaning agents and other dangerous chemicals that can lead to accidental poisoning; these should all be kept in child-proofed cupboards.
  • To prevent drowning situations, watch children closely when they are near water, whether that is a bath tub, pool or river or lake.

In short, infant CPR can help save a baby’s life in situations such as choking, suffocation or electrical shock which can cause the heartbeat and breathing to stop: it is incredibly important to initiate the CPR immediately if possible, as brain damage or death can occur only minutes after blood flow to the brain has stopped; however, early help can greatly increase the chances that an infant will survive. The good news is that infant CPR is easy to learn and that there are a number of videos and live classes that parents can take advantage of to gain mastery of these life-saving skills. And since prevention is the best form of treatment, learning to anticipate – and avoid – situations that can turn into medical emergencies in the first place.