Mouth to mouth resuscitation, also known as rescue breathing, is the process of blowing air into a victim to inflate their lungs and essentially breathe for them. The air you exhale still has enough oxygen to supplement another person’s breathing. By blowing this air into their lungs, you keep the blood circulating throughout their body oxygen rich. This buys time by postponing brain cell death, which otherwise sets in five to ten minutes after a person stops breathing.
Mouth to mouth rescue breathing may also restart a baby’s own breathing, particularly if they stopped breathing because of an acute trauma, such as drowning or a blow to the chest. Because it inflates and deflates the lungs, it may massage the organ back into its normal routine, causing breathing to resume on its own.
When to perform mouth to mouth on a baby
You should perform emergency rescue breathing when a baby is unconscious and isn’t breathing, but does have a pulse. If a child is unconscious and without a pulse, you should use rescue breathing in conjunction with CPR.
Checking an infant for signs of breathing
To check a baby for breathing, place your cheek next to their mouth and nose while simultaneously watching their chest. You want to look, listen, and feel. Look to their chest to see if it rises and falls, listen for the sound of breathing, and feel for breaths against your cheek. Licking your fingers in order to wet your cheek may assist you in feeling for a baby’s breath. You should also remove their shirt (or cut it off if you suspect a spine injury) so that you have an unobstructed view of their chest.
How to perform mouth to mouth on a baby: Infant rescue breathing in 3 easy steps
Follow these steps to perform mouth to mouth on an infant:
Step 1: Position yourself to one side of the baby’s body. Place your palm on their head, your fingers under their chin, and tilt their head back only slightly (and gently) to open their airway.
Step 2: Do not pinch the nose as you would with a bigger person. Instead, place your entire mouth over the face so that it forms an air-tight seal over both their nose and mouth.
Step 3: Gently blow a breath of air. A baby does not need much – if you imagine puffing your cheeks full of air, the amount of air you can hold in that puff is about how much you should be blowing into a young infant. Trying to force too much air in too violently could rupture their lungs. Again, whenever possible, remove their shirt so that you can watch their chest rise and fall with each rescue breath. This should let you know if you’re doing too much or too little. You want their chest to rise and fall as it would if they were naturally taking a deep breath. Tilt your head to the side as they exhale between each breath to watch their chest.
Repeat this process while continuing to monitor their pulse. (You should stop to check every minute or so, or if possible, have another person monitor it for you.) If they lose a pulse, proceed to performing CPR. Continue rescue breathing for your infant until he or she starts breathing on their own or until rescue crews arrive.
Other tips on mouth to mouth for babies:
- A common mistake is failing to get a good seal over the mouth. If your breaths are not going in, check your seal. Your lips need to be firmly flush with your baby’s skin.
- Its quite common for a baby to vomit once breathing resumes. So assuming you do not suspect a spinal injury, turn them on their side if they start coughing or breathing again, or if they vomit.
If the airway is blocked
If you have a tight seal around the mouth but your breaths do not go in, meaning that you’re blowing but the air is not reaching the lungs to make your infant’s chest rise and fall, then your baby likely has an airway obstruction. Follow the steps for performing the infant Heimlich maneuver to try and dislodge the obstruction, then try again. If the airway is still blocked, continue this process until 1) You dislodge the object and get a breath to go in, 2) Your baby loses a pulse, in which case you should begin CPR, or 3) Until emergency crews arrive.
Helpful tip: Just because you do not see something fall out of their mouth does not mean the airway is still blocked. An item might dislodge or move just enough to allow air to inflate their lungs. So always attempt rescue breaths between each cycle of trying to dislodge the object.