What to Do When Standard CPR Doesn’t Work on an Infant or Child?

Reviewed by CPR Expert Brady McLaughlin, MS, NREMT


Taking care of an infant or child as a parent or caregiver comes with its challenges, one of the most significant being the need to be prepared for emergencies. Babies and children are more susceptible to dangers such as choking, drowning, and suffocation. This reality underscores the importance of training, practice, and emergency preparation.

Parents, daycare employees, and babysitters can greatly benefit from cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training, a crucial skill in the caregiving toolkit. Yet, even with this knowledge, a pressing question remains: What if CPR is not successful? Understanding the next steps is vital. In addition to CPR, learning emergency procedures like seeking immediate medical help and using an automated external defibrillator (AED) can be lifesaving. To shed light on caregivers’ preparedness for such scenarios, we conducted a survey to gauge comfort levels and knowledge about performing CPR on children and infants. We also cover what you should do if CPR does fail, including expert insights and guidance from Brady McLaughlin, who holds an MS degree and is a certified NREMT.



Infant / Child CPR Performance Survey 

Our team at AEDSuperstore conducted a survey to find out how many parents or individuals taking care of a child would know what to do if standard CPR doesn’t work on an infant or child. Out of the 69 participants in the survey, 55 were parents. 


Out of those 55 parents, 30% were NOT comfortable or did not know how to perform CPR on their infant or child. Some of the participants who answered yes, they are comfortable performing CPR, also mentioned they had never had to actually perform CPR yet on an infant or child, and if the emergency presented itself, they were unsure of how they would react. 


The respondents who were NOT comfortable performing CPR on an infant or child had the following common themes on why they were uncomfortable:

  • 56% of respondents said, “Not knowing how to perform CPR on children/infants versus adults” 
  • 43% of respondents said, “I’d be afraid of hurting them if pushed too hard.” 
  • 13% of respondents said, “Children are too small and fragile.” 
  • 13% of respondents said, “Afraid of being emotionally affected” 
  • 9% of respondents said, “Panic would set in, I would freeze up!” 



The hesitation during infant and child emergencies can leave parents and childcare workers feeling helpless. When all participants including non-parents were asked if they would know what to do when CPR failed, more than half of the respondents said no. CPR in itself can be a daunting task let alone trying to resuscitate a child and seeing it fail!


While more than 50% of those surveyed were comfortable performing CPR on an infant, less than 50% knew what to do if CPR failed. This indicates the need for continued training and clear communication with child and infant caregivers about what must happen in the event CPR does not resolve the issue.



Brady McLaughlin, CPR Expert Opinion 

Lucky for you, we spoke with CPR expert, Brady McLaughlin, MS, NREMT about the most common misconception about performing CPR on infants/children and what to do when standard CPR does not work. 



What is the Biggest Misconception about Infant/Child CPR?

One of the biggest misconceptions about infant/child CPR is that many parents don’t understand when it is needed during an emergency. In cardiac emergency cases, parents tend to believe their child is NOT suffering from sudden cardiac arrest and therefore don’t know if CPR is needed.


Brady explains the hard truth, “A child or infant could have an underlying cardiac issue that has been undiagnosed – or perhaps experience a respiratory arrest caused by choking, asphyxiation, suffocation, or drowning – that could cause the patient to enter into sudden cardiac arrest.”


Unfortunately, this means sudden cardiac arrest can happen to children and infants just as it would to adults. Understanding how to properly perform CPR on an infant/child helps increase the chances that CPR will bring back a child/infant. 


What to Do When CPR Fails

After performing CPR, if no signs of life are shown from the infant/child, Brady recommends following the next step of the links in the Chain of Survival. These links include:


  • Recognizing sudden cardiac arrest
  • Early CPR
  • Early defibrillation
  • Basic and advanced emergency medical services
  • Advanced life support 
  • Post-cardiac arrest care


When CPR fails in a child, an automated external defibrillator (AED), added to the rescue process can significantly increase the chances of survival. Brady says, “As soon as the AED arrives turn on the AED and follow the prompts. If the AED has a pediatric button or mode or has child/infant pads, utilize that functionality to deliver the appropriate shocks to the pediatric patient if needed.” 


In some cases using adult pads may be the only option. Learn how you can use adult AED pads on a child here. 


Using the AED as part of your CPR attempt is a must for patients of any age. “The AED is essentially the ‘power of the paramedic,’” says Brady, since this is the same therapy paramedics will provide if indicated upon their arrival on the scene. 


Related Article: FAQ: AED Use on Infants and Children


Devices that have great childcare options such as a pediatric button or key include the Philips HeartStart FRx AED, Physio-Control LIFEPAK CR2, and the ZOLL AED 3.



Are There Complications that Come with CPR on an Infant/Child?

A common concern from individuals performing CPR on an infant/child is that they’re too brittle or too fragile for full-blow chest compressions, which is only partly true. Because infants’ bones aren’t fully developed in their chest, they tend to be more cartilaginous which would make CPR feel more spongy and less rigid than on an older victim. 


Brady warns rescuers to not let this be a deterring factor from performing CPR on an infant, “The rescuer may feel changes in the child/infant chest wall as a result of performingcompressions to the appropriate depth on the chest. This is normal and should not be a cause for concern.” 


Another complication that may arise is that rescuers may not be properly trained in CPR protocol for an infant/child. 


Brady explains, “For child patients, the rescuer should only use one hand if possible (two can be used if absolutely needed) and only press 2 inches into the chest instead of 2-2.4 inches as you would on an adult. For infants specifically, use two fingers or the two thumbs encircling hands technique to best achieve the chest compression depth of 1.5 inches the diameter of the chest.”




Anyone who has the privilege of taking care of young children and babies should be ready to respond in the event of an emergency. Completing first aid/CPR/AED training courses that include training on infants and children can help you learn and be comfortable with the basics of emergency response, including providing high-quality CPR, using an AED, and delivering first aid. 


Have questions about infant/child CPR training courses? Don’t hesitate to reach out to the AEDSuperstore team at 800-497-3987 or complete our Contact Us form today. 


Reviewed by CPR Expert, Brady McLaughlin, MS, NREMT

Brady McLaughlin, MS, NREMT and CEO of GoRescue Brands, Inc., is a dedicated leader with a strong passion for emergency response. With a background in various first responder roles, including Chief of Police and firefighter/EMT, Brady was inspired to create Trio Safety in 2012 and later merged it with Stop Heart Attack to form GoRescue Brands in 2018. Under his leadership, the organization has trained over 267,000 students nationwide and earned recognition as an Inc. 5000 Award Company for three consecutive years (2020-2022), reflecting a commitment to excellence in promoting safety and well-being. 







DISCLAIMER: Information and resources found on the AEDSuperstore website/blog are intended to educate, inform, and motivate readers to make their health and wellness decisions after consulting with their healthcare provider. The authors are not healthcare providers. No information on this site should be used to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any disease or condition.



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