Dealing with a Baby who is Unresponsive

Authored by , Reviewed by St John Ambulance | Last edited

If someone becomes unresponsive they need someone to help keep them safe and prevent further harm. The type of help they need varies depending on why they have become unresponsive, whether they are breathing or not breathing and if they are baby, child or adult.

This leaflet is created from first aid advice provided by St John Ambulance, the nation's leading first aid charity. This advice is no substitute for first aid training - find a training course near you.

What you need to do

Step 1 of 5: Check response

  • If your baby is not responding to you and you think they are unresponsive, try to see if they react if you gently tap or flick the sole of their foot.
  • If they do not wake up or respond to you they are likely to be unresponsive. Check to see if they are still breathing normally.
  • Call 999 or 112 immediately especially if the infant has a known heart condition.
Check responses baby

Step 2 of 5: Open the airway

  • Place one hand on the baby's forehead and gently tilt the head back, then place one fingertip of your other hand on the point of the baby's chin.
Open the airway baby

Step 3 of 5: Check breathing

  • Look, listen and feel for normal breathing - chest movement, sounds of breathing and breaths on your cheek. Do this for no more than ten seconds.
Check breathing baby

Step 4 of 5: Place in the recovery position

  • If they are breathing normally, hold the baby in the recovery position.
  • Cradle them in your arms, with their head tilted downwards. This will keep their airway open and stop them choking on their tongue or breathing in any vomit.
Recovery position baby

Step 5 of 5: Call for help

  • Call 999 or 112 for emergency medical help taking them with you as you do this.
  • Until help arrives keep checking that the baby is still breathing normally.
  • If they stop breathing normally at any time, call 999 or 112 straight away and give the baby CPR - a combination of chest compressions and rescue breaths.

Unresponsive and not breathing

What to look for

Check to see if they are still breathing normally. If they are unresponsive and not breathing normally open their airway and check their breathing again by looking for chest movement, listening for the sounds of normal breathing and seeing if you can feel their breath on your cheek.

Check breathing baby

If they are not breathing normally, you need to start CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation - a combination of chest compressions and rescue breaths) straight away.

What you need to do

If someone is with you, get them to call 999 or 112 for emergency help.

If you're on your own, you need to give one minute's worth of CPR before you can call for help. This involves giving chest compressions and rescue breaths to keep the baby's circulation going.

How to perform CPR on a baby

Place the baby on their back on a firm surface at about waist height in front of you, or on the floor.

Give five initial rescue breaths before starting the sequence of 30 chest compressions and two rescue breaths.

Step 1 of 3: Give a rescue breath to a baby

  • If there is anything in their mouth pick it out and ensure the airway is clear and open.
  • Take a breath in and place your lips around the baby's mouth and nose to form an airtight seal.
  • If you cannot make a seal around the mouth and nose, close the baby's mouth and make a seal around the nose only.
  • Blow steadily into the mouth until the chest rises.
  • Remove your mouth and allow the chest to fall.
  • Repeat four times more.
  • Now give 30 chest compressions.  
Rescue breath baby

Step 2 of 3: Give a chest compression to a baby

  • Place two fingertips of your lower hand on the centre of the baby's chest.
  • Press down vertically on the breastbone, and press the chest down by at least one third of its depth.
CPR finger position baby
CPR baby
  • Release the pressure without moving your fingers from their chest. Allow the chest to come back up fully - this is one compression.
  • Repeat this 30 times, at a rate of about twice a second - the speed of the song 'Staying Alive'.
  • Now give two rescue breaths.
  • Continue until help arrives.
  • If the baby starts breathing normally again, stop CPR and put them in the recovery position.

Step 3 of 3: Place in the recovery position

  • Cradle them in your arms, with their head tilted downwards. This will keep their airway open and stop them choking on their tongue or breathing in any vomit. Keep the baby in this position until help arrives.
Recovery position baby

Note: these hints are no substitute for thorough knowledge of first aid. St John Ambulance holds first aid courses throughout the country.

Adapted from the St John Ambulance leaflets: unresponsive and breathing baby and unresponsive and not breathing baby. Copyright for this leaflet is with St John Ambulance.

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