Child Drowning First Aid: Four Steps That Can Save a Life

Every parent and guardian should learn these emergency steps for treating a drowning victim.

Public Pool Swimming and Ring Buoy
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Drowning is the leading cause of injury-related death among children aged 1 to 4, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly 4,000 people die by drowning each year, and 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.

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

First Aid Steps for a Drowning Victim

1. Get Out of the Water

Your first priority is to get the drowning child out of the water as quickly as possible. If they aren't breathing, place them on their back on a firm surface. Immediately begin rescue breathing—outlined below—and have someone call for help.

2. Begin Rescue Breathing

Gently tilt the child's head back with one hand, and lift their chin with the other. Put your ear to the child's mouth and nose, and look, listen, and feel for signs of breathing.

If the 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 second. Look for the chest to rise and fall.

Children 1 and older: Pinch child's nose and seal your lips over their mouth. Give two slow, full breaths (1 to 2 seconds each). Wait for the chest to rise and fall before giving the second breath.

If the chest rises after breaths:

Check for a pulse. See step 3.

If the chest doesn't rise after breaths:

Try again, i.e. re-tilt the head, lift the child's chin, and repeat the appropriate steps outlined above.

3. 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 you find a pulse:

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 their own or help arrives.

If you can't find a pulse:

If you can't find a pulse, you'll need to begin chest compressions.

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.

4. Never Assume It's Too Late to Save a Child's Life

Even if the child is unresponsive, continue performing CPR and do not stop until medical professionals take over. Your efforts could save a life.

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