Would you know what to do if your child stopped breathing? HoneyKids editor Selina Altomonte talks about the day she almost lost her son, and why every parent should learn CPR and first aid.
I have a beautiful two-year-old boy who, like most kids his age, is a hurricane of a child who brings both overwhelming joy and panic to my life. He can make my day with a single smile, and yet drives me insane by climbing onto any precarious surface he can find. Industry standard for a toddler, you might say, but in so many ways, I’m lucky to have him.
Because more than once, I’ve come too close to losing my son. The one piece of parenting advice I’m adamant about sharing? Beyond child-proofing your home, putting together a good family first-aid kit, or even having an emergency plan, you should arm yourself with the skill to save your child’s life. You’ll find a guide to where to learn CPR and first aid for children at the end of this piece.
I had been taught, twice, how to resuscitate a baby. Both of my boys were born 10 weeks early and child CPR training was one of the conditions of being discharged from our neonatal unit. Our first 1.6kg wonder, who punched well above his weight, was a star graduate of St Thomas’ Hospital NICU and went home at just three weeks old. So when our even tinier bundle of joy arrived two years later, the neonatal team was confident that we knew our stuff.
We’d aced this before, so home we went with a pint-sized baby, in the middle of a London winter, when I should have been 33 weeks pregnant.
Our youngest, it transpired, is not your textbook child. It took 10 hospital admissions in the first year of his life to unravel why he would occasionally stop breathing. That’s another long story, but it has been terrifying. The first time it happened, he was just eight weeks old. And it was a textbook case of reflux, which affects so many infants.
I had just put him in his bassinet after a feed and walked to the kitchen to get my cup of tea. Like all exhausted mums, all I wanted was to sit down for one minute and enjoy the elusive luxury of finishing a hot drink. But I didn’t. I still turn cold when I think of what would have happened if I hadn’t gone back to my baby instead.
I caught him just as his face wrenched in pain. He immediately turned purple. Then grey. I scooped him up and he was already floppy. I yanked down his top and his chest wasn’t rising. My toddler was at nursery and my husband had left for work. We were alone.
There is a sharp moment when you realise that if you don’t do something – right now – your child will die.
I had been taught what to do at this very moment, but couldn’t remember the full sequence. I did remember to place him on a hard surface and not a cushion so his little heart would absorb the full impact when I began chest compressions, using two fingers. I knew to tilt his head back slightly to open his airways and start with rescue breaths. And how to find the right spot to press to pump his heart (between the nipples for an infant) and to alternate this with breathing over his mouth and nose.
The milk that was blocking his airways spewed out of his nose, but he still didn’t move. I stopped to call an ambulance and tried to make sense as I explained what was happening. I was hysterical. While I was on the phone, my baby let out a low moan. He was still alive, and I was too full of adrenaline to cry with relief. The paramedics arrived in minutes. He was breathing again but still pale, with a dusky purple colour around his mouth and on his fingernails – a sign of respiratory distress – and needed oxygen.
That night, in hospital, the young doctor on duty asked me if I had a medical background – is that how I’d known what to do? He congratulated me for what I’d done, but I didn’t feel heroic at all: I had fumbled, didn’t trust my own knowledge and in the most absurd moment of my panic, I’d even thought of checking what to do on YouTube.
“Something is always better than nothing,” he reassured me, “and it made the difference.”
I asked for a basic life-saving session one more time. The nurse who trained me told me that she teaches all new parents what to do if a child stops breathing or starts to choke. She said it’s the most meaningful gift she can give. Her best piece of advice? When the moment comes that you need to resuscitate a child, you need to have the courage of your convictions. You cannot be paralysed with fear, or delay because you’re worrying whether you’ve pumped their heart for 30 counts. Don’t be too gentle because you think you could fracture a tiny rib – a rib can heal; but you have moments to make a difference when your child needs your help.
If you haven’t taken a basic life-saving course, do it now. If your baby has other caregivers – grandparents or a helper – invest in a child CPR course for them too. And if you have had some training, take a minute to refresh what you know. It could be the most important thing you ever do.
FIRST AID COURSES IN SINGAPORE
Singapore Expat Solutions
Singapore Expat Solutions offers certified and non-certified first aid courses like First Aid To The Rescue. This half day course will let you pick up basic first aid knowledge, CPR and the confidence to respond to an emergency, especially those involving kids and babies. This one is suitable for families, caregivers and helpers who want to be able to respond to a medical emergency.
Mother & Child
Parents and helpers are welcome at Mother & Child’s first aid classes, which are held over two two-hour sessions that cover CPR along with emergency procedures for burns, cuts, fractures and seizures.
Singapore First Aid Training Centre
SFATC offers detailed first aid training for infant and childcare providers. But families, caregivers and helpers can also learn the essentials of first aid and CPR at a one-day program. Or simply brush up on your knowledge with a refresher course.
First Aid Tuition
These private courses are run by founder Anne Greetham, a fully qualified American Red Cross Instructor and a Registered General Nurse from St. Thomas’ Hospital, London. The Concise First Aid and CPR course, designed for parents, helpers and babysitters, teaches infant, child and adult CPR. You’ll get a manual to keep, and the course can take place in your home. If you want to qualify for American Red Cross certification, sign up for the Full CPR and First Aid course.
And psst – remember this number for emergency ambulance services in Singapore: 995