A Child Stops Breathing: You Can Save Their Life


Imagine opening the door to your child’s favorite play place on a chill Saturday morning and hearing a frantic mother screaming. As she wails, “Call 911!” you look straight to her arms, where she’s holding her limp child. He’s not breathing. The lifesaving benefits of being CPR certified in this moment show the undeniable importance of first aid.

This happened to me this weekend, and it could happen to any of us, any time, anywhere. Here’s what I want you to know so the child can survive every. time. this. happens.

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Why Is Knowing First Aid Important?

What would you do in this situation? Would you know how to determine whether the child needed CPR? Could you drop to your knees and save his life?

Obviously, you could grab your phone and dial 911, which is what Husband did.

But since every second counts when a human brain is not receiving oxygen, could you just sit there calmly–waiting for paramedics to arrive–while a child (or anyone for that matter]) isn’t breathing?

I can promise you, after my experience, that the answer is a resounding no.

One of the biggest benefits of being CPR certified is that you could save a child’s life in this moment. And we need as many people as possible to have that experience.

We All Respond to Emergencies Differently

Such a terrifying situation shocks us, and we all respond to shock differently.

Some of us freeze; others panic; others jump into action. It’s basic psychology: fight, flight or freeze. But the thing to know is that, unless you’re a trained emergency professional, no one, no matter how they react, is calm.

Here’s what I learned during the most terrifying moments of my life.

We must learn what to do in emergency situations.

We ALL HAVE TO BE first aid and CPR certified so, if the time comes, we can save an unconscious child (or adult).

In the article that follows, I’m going to share what I desperately want you to know about the basic first aid knowledge we all need when an emergency occurs.

Follow along carefully: this cannot wait.

Important note: I am not looking for praise here. Quite the opposite.

Please do not praise me. It’s awkward and undeserved.

In no way was I convinced that stepping in to perform CPR would help, or even that I knew what I was doing. But I knew I had to use the skills I had learned during first aid certification class.

I was terrified. But when a little boy’s life is at stake, second guessing yourself or succumbing to your own fears is not an option!

Get First Aid Certified

Before Jack was born, Husband, my mom, and I took an infant CPR class.

Despite dealing with postpartum postpartum depression and anxiety, my concerns about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and sudden cardiac arrest were pretty average.

But in my opinion, even the most average person needs to have taken a CPR training course. You’ll learn more about my reasons for feeling that way as you read this story.

We hired a nanny when Jack was 6 months old, and we insisted she be first aid certified for both infants and toddlers, and that she keep her certifications renewed.

CPR and First Aid Training for Childcare

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of CPR and first aid certification for childcare. If you are responsible for a child at any time, please be CPR certified, and keep your certification up-to-date. I also require it of all Jack’s caregivers.

Everyone caring for a child should know how to perform basic first aid tasks, like

All of these skills, and more, are covered in a first aid class. In the Fall, our nanny mentioned that it was time for her to renew her first aid certification, and she thought we should take the class with her.

Not a bad idea, given that first aid for parents is essential, and we had only learned infant CPR. Thank God we agreed.

Our nanny collected a small group of caregivers who also needed first aid and CPR certification. One Sunday afternoon in mid-November, we all gathered in my living room to receive first aid training.

CPR Training is the Responsible Adult Choice

It’s sort of like buying flood insurance, or making a will.

Choosing to become first aid certified is one of those things that you really don’t want to do, mostly because you don’t want to face the reality that you may ever need those skills.

But imagine if that day does come, and you don’t know how to handle it. That was unacceptable to Husband and me.

So we chose to take the class, and thank God we did.

During the class, while our beautiful toddler lay sleeping upstairs, we imagined him choking, having a seizure, and worst of all, not breathing.

We held in our anxiety, fear, and tears, and we learned how to handle these unimaginable situations.

Practicing CPR on a dummy in a first aid certification class

When Emergencies Happen, Everything is Chaos

For someone who deals with tremendous parenting anxiety, people often think I would be the worst in emergency situations.

But as Husband has told many, many people, I’m exactly the person you want around when things go wrong.

My brain is always spinning, so when it’s forced into high gear in an emergency, it’s historically been really good at zooming straight to the important information and acting accordingly.

When everything around you is chaos, you have to be able to zero in on what matters. This is part of what first aid training allows you to do.

Assess the Situation

In first aid training, you learn that the very first thing you should do is assess the situation:

  1. What is happening?
  2. Does someone need help?
  3. Do I risk physical harm by helping? (i.e. if someone is nonresponsive in the middle of a street, trying to perform CPR while cars continue to drive by will likely make the overall situation worse, not better)
  4. What type of help do they need?

Ideally, your brain goes through a line of questioning similar to this one in less than a second. Because in emergency situations, seconds matter.

The more experience you have with first aid or CPR training, the more likely you are to effectively go through this process.

This is part of the reason first aid recertification is important.

Even without experience in emergency situations, you’re reminded of first aid and CPR protocols over and over again.

Then, hopefully, your training will continue to do its work, and you will jump into action.

A Little Boy Wasn’t Breathing

When we walked into Jack’s favorite play place and I heard a mom’s desperate, pleading screams for her son, the training I received not even two months ago kicked into action.

I had learned to rapidly delegate tasks. And that’s what you should do in these situations. When everyone is freaking out, delegate.

  1. “You, call 911!”
  2. “You, get the AED!”

These are the 2 tasks the first aid instructor taught me to instantly delegate, with clear instructions to point at people to avoid confusion. Because in the actual moment of emergency, there’s a lot of confusion and no time for it.

So when I walked into this play place and heard this poor mother’s desperate cries for help, I assessed the situation.

The mom was carrying her precious little boy out of the play area while his mouth hung open, his head falling back, limp.

This baby needed serious help. Fast.

Jump Into Action

This was happening as we were walking through the doors into the play place. The mom put her son on the ground and I saw Husband calling 911, so my eyes went straight to the boy’s tiny chest.

I was looking for 2 things:

  1. Is he breathing?
  2. Is someone performing CPR?

When you’re outside the situation, it seems crazy to think you’d need to look to see if someone is performing CPR. But amid the chaos, with so many people around but almost no one knowing how to take action, I had to check for that.

Here’s what I saw.

The little boy was not breathing. A brave woman was beginning CPR, both chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth. But I saw 2 things in her method that set off alarm bells.

  1. She breathed into his mouth first. I learned during CPR certification that chest compressions are far more important, and that many people don’t even administer mouth-to-mouth because of the risk of the patient vomiting.
  2. She was sitting beside the boy doing chest compressions from the same side. I learned in first aid training that it was important to have your weight directly above the patient, and to do hard and rapid compressions like a heartbeat. Softer compressions, which were my instinct during training, would not actually reach the heart, I was told.

Step In When You Know How to Help

I applaud the woman who was performing CPR, even if she wasn’t doing it correctly. No one else had jumped in to do it, and she was trying her best in an extremely stressful situation. This is brave and admirable.

But when I saw her method, I knew it wasn’t going to work. I dropped my purse and dropped to my knees (and I must have put Jack on the floor, since I’d been carrying him, but I don’t actually remember doing that.)

I looked the woman straight in the eye to make sure she understood me amid the chaos.

“I’m CPR certified,” I said. “Are you?”

She moved back for me to take over, and I began performing chest compressions.

Knowing First Aid Allows You to Work from Muscle Memory

I barely remember doing it. I have no memory of getting on my knees, getting my hands in position, or checking to be sure I was compressing the right place on the little boy’s chest.

But I know I must have done these things.

Because a mere 6 chest compressions later (that equals about 6 seconds), I felt this little boy breathe.

This sweet, precious, little guy, who mere moments earlier had been celebrating his friend’s birthday, had stopped breathing. His poor mom’s heart had probably nearly stopped, as well.

Now, his eyes were looking around, confused, and he was breathing. Thank God!

I reached out to his mom and yelled, “He’s breathing! He’s breathing!”

I doubt she heard me. I doubt she knows I exist. And that’s okay.

All she needs to know is that her baby is alive. He’s okay. He’s here.

Emergencies Happen in Seconds

Once the little boy was breathing, I looked up to make sure Husband was still on the phone with 911. He was handing the phone to the store manager to give the dispatcher the address of the play place.

That’s when I checked my own stance and realized that, indeed, I was in the correct position to perform CPR. My brain had somehow taken everything it learned in training 2 months ago and done it within mere seconds.

Because that’s how quickly this all happened.

This precious little boy was breathing again before 911 even knew the address of the emergency.

Once he woke up, he became nearly hysterical. Really, how could he have been anything other than so scared?

And his sweet mama, whose desperate wails from minutes earlier still ring in my ears, held him in her arms and held him tight.

He was okay. This is the importance of first aid training. This sweet little boy was okay.

A comprehensive first aid class will teach many skills beyond CPR, such as learning to use an AED to shock someone’s heart back into rhythm

What I Want You To Know About Emergencies

As I process my shock and thank God for the outcome we experienced, there are things I want you to know about emergency situations.

Please note that I am not speaking as an expert, so people who deal with emergencies regularly, please chime in in the comments and teach us all the many things I don’t know.

There’s SO MUCH I don’t know. I’m simply basing this advice on what I witnessed today.

(1) A lot of people do not know what to do

Get first aid certified so that you won’t be one of them!

The more people in a room who know how to react in an emergency situation, the more likely that someone will step in and help in a timely manner.

I’m so thankful that my brain kicked into high gear. It could just as easily have frozen or panicked, and had either of those things happened, someone else would’ve needed to takeover my role.

(2) Don’t assume someone else is handling it

This little boy was at the play place for a birthday party.

It was extra crowded. There were so many people around. But most of them either weren’t CPR trained, or their brains had gone into frozen or panic modes.

It’s essential that, when you see a crowd in an emergency, you make sure every important role is being performed! Someone has to step up and delegate or chaos ensues.

Despite the large number of people, 3 main people took action:

  1. The brave woman who began chest compressions
  2. Husband, who called 911
  3. Me, performing chest compressions.

Those roles were essential, but in a room with at least 50 adults, at least 10 of whom were first aid certified, only one woman was taking action before Husband and I stepped in.

Don’t assume important roles are being handled. Be sure someone is playing them, and be that person if they aren’t.

(3) An emergency can look like chaos

There were people within 10 feet of this little boy who were better suited to respond to this situation than I was. But amid the chaos, they didn’t realize what was happening or what type of help the little boy needed.

We happened to be in the exact place to see and react, but it could just have easily been that no one was in that specific position.

If you witness sudden chaos, stop what you’re doing and check on it! It could be nothing, or you could save a life.

(4) Don’t second guess your training

In the time that has elapsed since I watched that little boy and his mom pull away in an ambulance, I’ve thought through what I know about CPR hundreds of times.

How many times do you compress before you perform mouth-to-mouth? (Luckily, that wasn’t necessary, but I would’ve done it.)

How many compressions do you do before checking for a response again?

How long do you do compressions before allowing someone else to take over?

It’s good that I’m asking these questions now, as it allows me to brush up on my training.

But if I’d asked these questions at the time, or been afraid I wasn’t doing what I’d learned, I don’t know how the situation would’ve unfolded.

And don’t get me wrong–I was afraid. I’ve never been more viscerally terrified in my entire life. But I also knew that I had no choice but to act.

If someone who was more qualified than me came along and I was doing something wrong, that person would have taken over just like I did. Unless and until that happened, I had to do something.

(5) Trust people who are more qualified than you

I’m so thankful for the woman who first began CPR. I’m also thankful she let me take over as soon as I said I was CPR certified.

Within 30 seconds to a minute of the little boy regaining consciousness, a paramedic came up behind me.

As soon as I heard the words, “I’m a paramedic,” I moved back. “Here, take my spot,” I told him. “What should I do?” I asked.

He told me to get a cold, wet rag and asked for confirmation that 911 was on the way.

Had he arrived while I was performing chest compressions, I would’ve moved for him the same way that the first woman moved for me.

As an everyday person facing an emergency, you don’t want to be the most qualified first responder in the room. But if you are, follow your training until someone more qualified arrives.

(6) Be vigilant in a chaotic environment

This happened in a kid’s play place. It’s loud. There’s a lot of yelling. So when this mom started screaming for help for her son, most people couldn’t hear her.

Seriously, there were people who were less than 10 feet away who literally have no idea an emergency occurred.

The entire staff of the play place is CPR certified, but they were spread out across the play place and didn’t immediately know what was happening.

This is likely why it took the paramedic in the room 30 seconds to a minute to respond to the situation after the little boy was already breathing again.

Not because he wasn’t paying attention, but because the entire scene of a play place is chaos, so it isn’t easy to notice when something goes wrong.

In hindsight, I wonder if crowded places are among the worst for having an emergency because it’s hard for people to see and hear.

If you’re trained to handle an emergency situation, be vigilant in chaotic places in case you’re needed.


Here’s the thing about what happened. That precious little boy’s survival was a numbers game.

You can call the fact that Husband and I, both recently trained, were walking through the door (with a direct line of site to the emergency) whatever you want.

Fate, coincidence, luck, God. That’s up to you.

Regardless of what you call it, there are situations constantly occurring that aren’t so lucky.

What this mom needed for her little boy was for as many people as possible in that room to be trained in emergency situations.

That way, when the staff wasn’t directly at the scene, someone else could step in. When the paramedic in the room was not yet aware that an emergency was taking place, someone else was.

These things can happen to anyone, any time, anywhere. It could just as easily have been in a restaurant, and the grocery store, on an airplane, at work.

What matters most is that there are as many people as possible around who know what to do. Be one of those people.

Click here to find a first aid certification class through the American Heart Association.

And hug your child tight.

Frequent Questions About First Aid Certification

Why is knowing first aid important?

Knowledge of first aid is important because it allows you to mitigate risk during emergency situations and save lives during serious emergency.

What is CPR and first aid certification?

CPR and first aid certification classes teach you basic first aid skills like how to help when someone is choking, how to react during a seizure, how to provide CPR, and how to operate an AED.

Why is it important to be CPR certified?

Being CPR certified gives you the ability to save lives. A good first aid training class will also teach you how to handle other emergency situations, such as seizures, and how to operate an AED, which again, can save lives.

Who should be first aid certified?

Everyone should be first aid certified. Emergencies can happen anywhere, and the more qualified responders who are present, the better the patient’s chance of survival with minimal injury. It is especially important to be first aid certified if you work with small children or the elderly.

How do I get first aid and CPR certified?

The Heartsaver first aid training through the American Heart Association is widely considered the best first aid and CPR certification class.

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