CPR stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation. It’s a combination of chest compressions and rescue breaths that help to keep blood circulating through the body and provide oxygen to the brain.

CPR can be performed on adults, children and infants. If you see someone collapse — whether they’re an adult, child or infant — start CPR immediately.

CPR can save lives, but it’s important to know that it’s not something that can be learned overnight. Anyone who wants to learn CPR should take an accredited course with a qualified instructor like MyCPR NOW.

This step-by-step guide will teach you how to perform CPR on a person who has stopped breathing or is not breathing normally. 

Step 1. Call for Help

Call 911 before starting CPR. If you are alone, perform CPR until help arrives.

Step 2. Open the Airway

To open the airway, position the head tilt or chin lift. On top of their head, put one hand on, and place the other just above the breastbone under the chin. With your palm facing up, gently lift the chin upward while pressing down on the forehead with your other hand to keep the head tilted back. 

This position keeps an open airway and maintains an open path for breathing. Do not use excessive pressure on the neck — only enough to keep it in this position.

Step 3. Check for Breathing

Place your ear close to the victim’s mouth and nose, and look, listen and feel for breathing. Look for chest movement, listen for sounds of breathing, and feel for exhaled air on your cheek. If you see or hear nothing, and can’t feel breath by putting your hand on the victim’s chest, then begin CPR.

Step 4. Give 30 Chest Compressions

As quickly as possible, give 30 chest compressions. Compress the person’s chest at a rate of 100 to 120 compressions per minute. Each compression should be at least 2 inches deep. 

If you’re performing CPR on a baby or small child, use less force. For a child under age 1, use about one-quarter the depth of an adult’s compression; for a child between ages 1 and 8, use about half the depth of an adult’s compression; for a child age 8 or older, use the same depth as adults.

The secret is to push hard and fast in order to get blood circulating again through their body. 

Step 5. Perform Two Rescue Breaths

After 30 seconds, open the person’s airway using the head-tilt-chin-lift technique. Then, look, listen and feel for normal breathing. If you see chest movement but hear no breathing sounds, or if you see no chest movement at all, begin mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Rescue breaths are quick breaths that you give to someone who is not breathing. They help get oxygen into the person’s lungs and restart normal breathing. 

To give a rescue breath, tilt the head back and pinch the nose closed. Take a deep breath and then put your lips on the person’s mouth and seal around it. Blow air into the mouth until their chest rises. This will take about one second (or less). For an infant or small child, don’t blow more than 1/3 of the way into their mouth—just enough to make sure they’re getting air.

Release your seal on their mouth and let them exhale naturally (if they are able to).

Step 6. Repeat

Repeat Steps 2-5 until help arrives or the person starts breathing on their own. If the person begins to breathe on their own, continue to monitor them while they recover. If they don’t start breathing again quickly, continue CPR with chest compressions and rescue breaths until help arrives.

CPR for Children and Infants

CPR for infants and children is the same as CPR for adults, but there are some important differences.

Step 1. Call 911 or Give 2 Minutes of Care

If your child is unconscious and not breathing normally, call 911 immediately. If you can’t reach a phone, start performing CPR. If you are alone, offer them 2 minutes of care before calling 911. If someone else is with you, have them call 911 while you begin CPR.

Step 2. Open the Airway and Check for Breathing

Lay the child on his or her back on a flat surface, such as a floor or ground. The head should be tilted slightly backward but not tilted too far back — don’t hyperextend the neck. Tilt the chin down to open the airway (sometimes referred to as a jaw thrust).

Look, listen, and feel for normal breathing for about 5 seconds. If you see chest movement but it’s weak or irregular, continue compressions as soon as possible (without interrupting compressions). If there’s no chest movement at all after 10 seconds of looking, listening and feeling, immediately begin mouth-to-mouth resuscitation if you’re trained in this skill.

Step 3. Perform 2 Rescue Breaths

Lean over the child and pinch his nose closed with your thumb and forefinger. If there is vomit in his mouth, clear it out first with your finger or a cloth.

Place your lips around the child’s mouth and make a seal over both of his nostrils with your other hand. Blow two quick breaths into his mouth while watching for chest rise (breathing). Each breath should take about 1 second to complete and make sure that no air leaks out from between your lips during this time.

If the child is still not breathing after two rescue breaths, start compressions. 

Step 4. Perform 30 Chest Compressions

The compressions should be about 1½ inches deep. To determine the correct depth, place two fingers on the center of the chest just below the nipple line. If you can’t feel the end of your fingers, you’re administering compressions that are too shallow. If you can feel your fingers at full depth, they’re too deep.

Rest your hands on top of each other on the center of the chest with your elbows straight and arms locked. Push down rapidly and release completely. Repeat this 30 times at a rate of 100 times per minute or faster if you are able to do so without losing effectiveness. 

The Final Word

When people think of first aid, they probably don’t conjure up images of performing CPR. But this simple lifesaving technique is essential in helping someone who has just suffered a heart attack or some other life-threatening medical condition.

However, learning how to perform the rescue breathing technique can be difficult and dangerous even for the most seasoned practitioners. There are many types of CPR and an understanding of how it’s done can save lives. If you’re not sure where to start, the guide highlighted above should teach you everything you need to know about safely performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).