Quick guide to CPR for babies

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a very useful skill for most parents to have. Even though it is hopefully unlikely that you will ever need to perform CPR on your child, it is one of those skills that is an essential part of your parenting toolbox. You never know, you may end up saving someone’s life.

Contrary to popular belief, CPR is not about bringing someone back to life. It is a common misconception that if the person does not wake up while you are doing CPR, you are not doing it correctly. The truth is, you wouldn’t expect them to wake up.

When performing CPR, it is not about fixing the problem that caused them to need CPR. Instead, you are the pump that is helping to circulate blood around their body, to supply the brain (and other vital organs) with oxygen. 

CPR for babies follows the same steps as for an adult or older child. However, there are some subtle but nonetheless important differences. DRSABCD is a 7-step action plan for finding out if someone needs CPR, then performing it. 

Here are the steps for performing CPR on a baby up to 12 months of age.

D: Danger

Check for danger around you and your baby. You need to make sure that you are safe to help your baby. If you are hurt, you cannot help them. You also need to make sure that your baby is free from danger. If there is something around that can cause them more harm, such as a busy road at the scene of a car accident, move your baby to a safe place.

R: Response

Check to see if your baby is responding to you. You want to know if your baby is conscious (responding) or unconscious (not responding) because if they are conscious, they don’t need CPR. Your baby might still need emergency medical treatment, but they don’t need you to start compression on their chest! 

Check for a response by holding your baby in your arms, talk to them and give them a firm tickle on the ribs. Firmly tickle and squeeze their feet. If your baby is not responding, move on to the next step.

S: Send for help


Call triple zero (000 – the Australian emergency services number), and tell the operator you need an ambulance. Be calm and clear, follow the instructions the operator gives you, and don’t hang up.

To see DRS ABCD in action, watch the CPR Kids YouTube video:

A: Airway

Open your baby’s airway. Your airways are the tubes you breathe though, from your nose and mouth down to your lungs. If your baby’s airway is blocked, they cannot get air into their lungs. 

Lay your baby on the floor and hold their head in a neutral position (head straight in line with their body, not tilted back in the way you do for a adult CPR). Use your thumb and index finger to lift your baby’s chin upwards. Check their mouth for food, vomit or other objects. If you see something in their mouth, roll your baby gently onto their side and clear it out. Don’t be tempted to give a big sweep with your fingers as this may push the object down further. Once clear, roll your baby onto their back again and keep holding their airway open as you move onto the next step.

B: Breathing

Check for breathing. While you keep holding their airway open, get down close to your baby and look, listen and feel. Look for rising and fall of their tummy, listen for air coming out of their nose and mouth, and feel for air coming out with your cheek. 

If their breathing is normal, roll them onto their side and make sure help is coming. If their breathing is abnormal, or they aren’t breathing at all, and they are unconscious, you need to start compressions.

C: Compressions

Take off your baby’s clothes so you can see their chest. On the lower half of their sternum (breastbone), press down with two fingers about one third of the depth of their chest. You need to do around 120 compressions per minute, which is 2 per second. Very fast! Don’t be afraid of pressing too hard with your fingers. Remember the aim of what you are trying to do: pump blood around their body to bring oxygen to your baby’s brain. 

You will need to do 30 compressions followed by two breaths. For the breaths, seal your open mouth over your baby’s nose and mouth, and give a small puff of air. Imagine blowing out a single candle on a birthday cake; this is what you need to do to give breaths to a baby. 

Once you have given two breaths, immediately go straight back into compressions, and keep repeating 30:2 until help arrives and takes over, you are exhausted, your baby starts responding or an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) tells you to stop.

D: Defibrillator (AED)

AEDs are widely available in the community. You may have noticed the signs at your local shopping centre, train station or workplace. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to have specific training to use one. These machines are generally completely automated and give you voice prompts on what to do, so pretty much anyone can use them. An AED reads the rhythm of the heart, and if the heart is in a rhythm that requires an electrical current to ‘shock’ it back to normal, it administers it.

No longer are AEDs restricted to just adults and older children, they now can be used at any age, from newborns to older people. If your baby needs CPR and an AED is available, don’t hesitate to use it. Simply put the AEDs sticky pads on your baby’s skin (back and chest), ensure the pads are not touching, and switch the AED on. Simply follow its prompts. It will tell you what to do.


In person practice is a great way to learn CPR, and to stay up to date with the latest guidelines. Enroll in a paediatric First Aid course today, it is far better to have the knowledge and never need to use it, than regret not taking the time to learn these lifesaving skills.
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