Last updated: 16.08.17

Baby First Aid for Parents - Primary Survey

Please note that this information does not qualify you as an official first aider, and Virtual College advise calling 999 in the first instance at the scene of an emergency.

This material and any associated assessments do not constitute a qualification or accreditation as an official first aider. All content provided is for general information only.

Virtual College advocate dialling the emergency services before attempting any form of first aid.

Giving first aid to a baby can be a daunting prospect, which is why it’s hugely important that parents, carers, and anyone else working with very young children should learn the first aid basics. Having the confidence to do what is needed can have a significant impact on the outcome of the event, and in many cases, first aid can be life-saving. In this article, we’re going to go through the main points of first aid, beginning with the primary survey, followed by some incident-specific advice.

Baby Primary Survey

The primary survey is a way of assessing a first aid situation. It’s used by professionals and is very useful for untrained helpers too. Click here to find out more about the Virtual College Primary Survey course. For babies, it includes the following steps, often remembered using DR ABC, which stands for Danger, Response, Airway, Breathing and Circulation.

Danger - It’s important to make sure that the situation is safe for you and the baby while you give first aid. Remove any dangerous objects from the scene, and ensure neither of you are in harm’s way.

Response - Check to see if the baby responds to you. You can call their name, or carefully flick or tap the sole of their foot to elicit a response, but do not use any excessive physical measures such as shaking.

Airway - The next step, if the baby does not respond to you, is to ensure that the baby’s airway is clear of obstruction and that it’s open in such a way that they can breathe freely. With the child on its back, place one of your hands on their forehead, two fingers on the chin, and then tilt the head carefully and gently back.

Breathing - Now it’s time to check if the baby is breathing normally. Watch their chest to see if it rises and falls, listen for breathing sounds, and place your cheek beside their mouth to see if you can feel as they breathe in and out. If breathing doesn’t appear to be normal, check to see if there are any clear obstructions, and then begin giving CPR. If they are breathing normally, then place them into the recovery position.

Circulation - The final step is to assess the baby’s circulation. This can be done by checking their entire body for any obvious bleeds. You can also read their pulse by placing two fingers on the inside of their elbow.

If you are in any doubt, the baby appears to be seriously injured, or has become completely unresponsive, then you must call 999 immediately.

Placing a Baby in the Recovery Position

The recovery position for babies is quite different to the one for adults, but the aim is still the same; to ensure that their airway is open and that they will not choke on either their own tongue or vomit. The process is fairly straightforward; hold the baby in your arms horizontally, with their body facing yours, and their head tilted slightly down towards the ground.

How to Perform Baby CPR

Similarly, CPR for babies has the same general function as the technique in adults, but due to a baby’s more fragile body, more care is taken. The steps in giving CPR to a baby are as follows:

Rescue Breaths

Step 1: Ensure that the baby’s airway is not obstructed in any way.

Step 2: Place your mouth around both their mouth and nose, or if this isn’t possible, just their nose, with their mouth closed.

Step 3: Breathe carefully into the mouth and nose and watch for the chest to rise.

Step 4: Once the chest has risen, remove your mouth and allow it to fall back.

Step 5: Repeat steps 2-4 another four times before moving on to chest compressions.

Chest Compressions

Step 6: Place one hand on the baby’s forehead to keep it stabilized, and place two fingers of your other hand on the baby’s breastbone.

Step 7: Carefully push down onto the breastbone so that the chest compresses by at least 30%.

Step 8: Allow the chest to rise back up.

Step 9: Repeat steps 6-8 30 times, twice per second, before giving two rescue breaths (steps 2-4). Repeat this pattern until the emergency services arrive or the baby begins to breathe again.

Specific Scenarios

Below is advice on dealing with some of the most common first aid scenarios involving babies.


Given that babies have a propensity for putting small objects in their mouth, they are at risk of choking. You must act quickly if you believe this is the case. If they cannot cough out the obstruction by themselves, then you should initially try to slap it out, buy placing the baby on your thigh, supporting their head, and giving up to five firm blows between their shoulder blades. You can also turn them over, and use two fingers to push their chest in an attempt to dislodge the blockage. If this does not work, call 999.


Seizures can look frightening, but with the appropriate response they are generally not serious. Your aim is to ensure that they do not hurt themselves while it is happening, but do not move or restrain them. This can be achieved by removing anything dangerous from around them, and placing bedding and pillows beside them. Try to keep them cool by opening a window, and once the seizure has stopped, place them into the recovery position.

Allergic Reactions

Allergic reactions can be difficult to deal with if you are not sure what caused the reaction. If you suspect that one is occurring, call 999 immediately, and then try to assess the situation. The more information you can give the emergency responders about the nature of the reaction and potential causes, the better.

Falls and Other Injuries

Small injuries as the result of a fall can be treated in much the same way as you would with any person. However, if the baby has hit their head, then you need to take extra measures. Place something cold against the bump. If they show signs of drowsiness or vomiting, have a seizure or become unresponsive, then seek medical attention immediately.

In addition to the resources on the site, we also offer a number of first aid courses. Click here to find out more.

Related resources