First Aid for Drowning

Learn the emergency steps that could save your child's life

In an Emergency

Drowning is the leading cause of injury-related death among children ages 1 to 4 -- and the second-leading cause of death in children 14 and under. Young kids are especially at risk because they're curious, fast, and attracted to water but are not yet able to understand how dangerous it is. The good news is that a few safety precautions can prevent most drownings. If your child is the victim of a near-drowning, this fast-action rescue plan can prevent a tragedy.

In an Emergency

Your first priority is to get a drowning child out of the water as quickly as possible. If she isn't breathing, place her on her back on a firm surface. Immediately begin rescue breathing, below, and have someone call for help. Don't assume it's too late to save a child's life -- even if she's unresponsive, continue performing CPR and do not stop until medical professionals take over.

1. To open your child's airway,

gently tilt her head back with one hand, and lift her chin with the other. Put your ear to the child's mouth and nose, and look, listen, and feel for signs that she is breathing.

2. If your child doesn't seem to be breathing>

Infants under age 1: Place your mouth over infant's nose and lips and give two breaths, each lasting about 1? seconds. Look for the chest to rise and fall. Children 1 and older: Pinch child's nose and seal your lips over her mouth. Give two slow, full breaths (1? to 2 seconds each). Wait for the chest to rise and fall before giving the second breath.

3 If the chest rises,

check for a pulse (see number 4). If the chest doesn't rise, try again. Retilt the head, lift the child's chin, and repeat the breaths.

4. Check for a pulse

Put two fingers on your child's neck to the side of the Adam's apple (for infants, feel inside the arm between the elbow and shoulder). Wait five seconds. If there is a pulse, give one breath every three seconds. Check for a pulse every minute, and continue rescue breathing until the child is breathing on her own or help arrives.

5. If you can't find a pulse

Infants under age 1: Imagine a line between the child's nipples, and place two fingers just below its centerpoint. Apply five half-inch chest compressions in about three seconds. After five compressions, seal your lips over your child's mouth and nose and give one breath. Children 1 and older: Use the heel of your hand (both hands for a teenager or adult) to apply five quick one-inch chest compressions to the middle of the breastbone (just above where the ribs come together) in about three seconds. After five compressions, pinch your child's nose, seal your lips over his mouth, and give one full breath. All ages: Continue the cycle of five chest compressions followed by a breath for one minute, then check for a pulse. Repeat cycle until you find a pulse or help arrives and takes over.

Note: These instructions are not a substitute for CPR training, which all parents and caretakers should have.

Surprising Home Drowning Hazards

Did you know that a small child can drown in as little as one to two inches of water -- which is just enough to submerge her mouth and nose? Be sure to childproof these danger zones in your home and yard.


Never leave a child under 4 alone in the tub or near a running bath. A school-age child can bathe by himself -- but a parent should stay within earshot.

Baby bath seats or rings

Never leave your child unattended in a bath seat -- he could slip down into the water and get trapped underneath, or the ring could tip over.

Buckets and containers

A curious toddler can fall headfirst into a water-filled bucket and be unable to get out. Even a cooler filled with melting ice can be a drowning hazard. Always make sure to empty after use.

Toilet bowls

Keep toilet cover down and bathroom door closed at all times. Install a toilet-cover safety latch.

Diaper pails

Make sure the top of your diaper pail fits securely and can't be lifted off by small fingers.

Wading pools

Empty child-size pools after use and store on their sides.

The Rules of the Pool

Pools are a lot of fun -- but they can also be dangerous, especially for children. In fact, the majority of drownings occur at residential pools. A child is at risk when he is inadequately supervised or when adults -- or the child himself -- overestimate his swimming ability. Follow these steps to keep your pool as safe as possible.

Install a high (at least five feet) fence

on all sides of the pool that separates it from the play area, with a self-closing, self-latching gate.

Keep rescue equipment

pole, rope, kickboards, and life preservers -- near the pool and in an easy-to-reach location.

Have a telephone at the pool for emergencies

and post step-by-step CPR instructions nearby.

Never take your eyes off your child when she is in the pool area.

Water wings, rafts, and even swimming lessons are not adequate protection against drowning.

Keep the area around the pool clean,

and don't leave toys in or around it, because they could entice children to the water.

If your child is missing, check the pool first,

since children can drown in only a few minutes. Go to the pool's edge and scan the entire surface.

If possible, keep the pool covered when it's not in use.

Make sure the cover fits securely over the pool's entire surface. Otherwise, a child may get under it and become trapped.

Safety at the Shore

Whether your family is visiting the beach or learning to sail this summer, don't overlook these important safety musts.

  • On boating trips, everyone should wear a life preserver that has been approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. Blowup floats and rings are not substitutes -- they can easily flip over or deflate.
  • Enroll kids 4 and older in a swimming class.
  • Teach your child to swim with a buddy at all times, even if he's in the water with a large group of children -- and adults.
  • Don't let kids jump or dive into a lake, pond, or river until an adult has checked the water's depth (it should be at least nine feet) and looked for underwater hazards that may be hard to see.
  • Never let a child swim near boats or fishermen. Always stay in supervised swimming areas within sight of a lifeguard.


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