How to Perform First Aid on a Drowning Child

Drowning is when someone has difficulty breathing because their nose and mouth are submerged in a liquid. When someone's drowning, it may not always look like the distressed call for help that most people expect from watching TV. They may go unnoticed, even if friends or family are nearby. 

We've updated our advice due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It is still essential to perform rescue breaths on a child. 

If a child is unresponsive and not breathing normally, you still need to call 999 or 112 for emergency help and start CPR or baby (infant) CPR straight away. 


What to do

When helping a child please follow the steps below. There is separate advice for helping an adult.

Step 1

Do not put yourself in danger when trying to rescue a casualty. 

Step 2

When the casualty is rescued from the water, you should first perform a primary survey. If this establishes that they are unresponsive and not breathing, you should ask a helper to call 999 or 112 for emergency help while you start CPR. Ask a helper to find and bring a defibrillator, if available. 

  • if you are on your own, use the hands-free speaker on a phone so you can start CPR while speaking to ambulance control
  • do not leave the casualty to look for a defibrillator yourself, the ambulance will bring one.
Step 3

Start CPR. Place the child on a firm surface and open their airway. To do this, place one hand on their forehead to tilt their head back and use two fingers from the other hand to gently lift the chin. Pick out any visible obstructions from the mouth and nose.

Step 4

Give five initial rescue breaths. 

Take the hand from the forehead and pinch the soft part of the nose closed. Allow the mouth to fall open. With the head still tilted, take a breath and put your mouth around the child’s, to make a seal. Blow into their mouth gently and steadily for up to one second, until the chest rises. Remove your mouth and watch the chest fall. That’s one rescue breath. Do this five times. 

If the chest doesn’t rise, check the airway is open. 

Step 5 

You will then need to give 30 chest compressions. Kneel by the child and put one hand in the centre of the child’s chest. Push down a third of the depth of the chest. Release the pressure allowing the chest to come back up.

  • Repeat this 30 times at a rate of 100 to 120 compressions per minute 
  • the beat of the song ‘Nellie the Elephant’ can help you keep the right rate
Step 6 

After 30 compressions, you need to give two rescue breaths.  

Continue to perform CPR, alternating 30 chest compressions with two rescue breaths, (30:2) until:   

  • emergency help arrives and takes over
  • the child starts showing signs of life and starts to breathe normally
  • you are too exhausted to continue  - if there is a helper, you can change over every one-to-two minutes, with minimal interruptions to chest compressions 
  • or a defibrillator is ready to be use - if the helper returns with a defibrillator, ask them to switch it on and follow the voice prompts while you continue with CPR.
Step 7 

Beware, many casualties that drown may bring up stomach contents, so be prepared to roll them onto their side to clear their airway. 

Step 8 

If the child shows signs of becoming responsive, such as coughing, opening eyes, speaking, and starts to breathe normally, put them in the recovery position. 

You may also need to treat them for hypothermia, covering them with warm clothes and blankets. If possible, replace the wet clothes with dry clothes. 

Step 9 

Monitor the child's level of response, and prepare to give CPR again if necessary

If you have used a defibrillator, leave it attached.

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