What it’s like to resuscitate your baby


This article originally appeared on Honeykids Asia and has been republished here with permission. By Selina Altomonte.

I have a beautiful two-year-old boy who, like many toddlers, is a hurricane of a child who brings both overwhelming joy and panic to my life. He can make my day with a single smile, and yet drives me insane by climbing onto any precarious surface he can find. Industry standard for a toddler, you might say, but in so many ways, I’m lucky to have him.

Because more than once, I’ve come too close to losing my little boy.

The one piece of parenting advice I’m adamant about sharing? You should arm yourself with the skill to save your child’s life. You’ll find a guide to where to learn CPR and first aid at the end of this piece.

I had been taught, twice, how to resuscitate a baby. Both of my boys were born 10 weeks early and CPR training was one of the conditions of being discharged from our neonatal unit. Our first 1.6kg wonder, who punched well above his weight, was a star graduate of St Thomas’ Hospital NICU and went home at just three weeks old. So when our even tinier bundle of joy arrived two years later, the neonatal team was confident that we knew our stuff.

We’d aced this before, so home we went with a pint-sized baby, in the middle of a London winter, when I should have been 33 weeks pregnant.

Our youngest, it transpired, is not your textbook child and it took 10 hospital admissions in the first year of his life to unravel why he would occasionally stop breathing. That’s another long story, but it has been terrifying. The first time it happened, he was just eight weeks old. And it was a textbook case of reflux, which affects so many infants.

I had just put him in his bassinet after a feed and walked to the kitchen to get my cup of tea. Like all exhausted mums, all I wanted was to sit down for one minute and enjoy the elusive luxury of finishing a hot drink. But I didn’t. I still turn cold when I think of what would have happened if I hadn’t gone back to my baby instead.

I caught him just as his face wrenched in pain. He immediately turned purple. Then grey. I scooped him up and he was already floppy. I yanked down his top and his chest wasn’t rising. My toddler was at nursery and my husband had left for work. We were alone.

There is a sharp moment when you know that if you don’t do something, right now, that your child will die.

I had been taught what to do at this very moment, but couldn’t remember the full sequence. I did remember to place him on a hard surface and not a cushion so his little heart would absorb the full impact when I began chest compressions, using two fingers. I knew to tilt his head back slightly to open his airways and start with rescue breaths; how to find the right spot to press to pump his heart (between the nipples for an infant) and to alternate this with breathing over his mouth and nose.

As I breathed into his mouth, milk that was blocking his airways spewed out of his nose, but he still didn’t move. I stopped to call an ambulance and tried to make sense as I explained what was happening. I was hysterical. While I was on the phone, my baby let out a low moan. He was still alive, and I was too full of adrenaline to cry with relief. The paramedics arrived in minutes. He was breathing again but still pale, with a dusky purple colour around his mouth and on his fingernails – a sign of respiratory distress – and needed oxygen.

That night, in hospital, the young doctor on duty asked me if I had a medical background – is that how I’d known what to do? He congratulated me for what I’d done, but I didn’t feel heroic at all: I had fumbled, didn’t trust my own knowledge and in the most absurd moment of my panic, I’d even thought of checking what to do on YouTube.

“Something is always better than nothing,” he reassured me, “and it made the difference.”

I asked for a basic life-saving session one more time – and the nurse who trained me told me that she teaches all new parents she knows what to do if a child stops breathing, or starts to choke – it’s the most meaningful gift she can give. Her best piece of advice? When the moment comes that you need to resuscitate a child, you need to have the courage of your convictions. You cannot be paralysed with fear, or delay because you’re worrying whether you’ve pumped their heart for 30 counts. Don’t be too gentle because you think you could fracture a tiny rib – a rib can heal, but you have moments to make a difference when your child needs your help.

If you haven’t taken a basic life-saving course, do it now. If your baby has other caregivers – grandparents or a helper – invest in a course for them, too. And if you have had some training, take a minute to refresh what you know. It can be the most important thing you ever do.

First-aid courses in Australia

  • NSW First Aid – New South Wales
  • Vic First Aid – Victoria
  • Queensland First Aid – Queensland
  • St John First Aid – South Australia
  • St John Ambulance First Aid – Western Australia
  • St John Ambulance First Aid – Tasmania

Selina is the editor of Honeykids Asia. She’s an Etsy addict, a vintage lover and an extreme foodie whose idea of fun is cooking three dishes at once. She’s also mum to two tiny maniacs – but that doesn’t stop her writing!