Performing CPR on Adults vs. Children and Infants CPR: A BLS Primer

Posted On: 6/29/2010

If you’re a healthcare provider, you’re probably already aware that adults and children require different approaches to emergency care.  Children’s bones are much more likely to bend than break; their tongues take up more space in their mouths; and they have narrower airways which are more seriously impacted by inflammation.  These differences – among others – mean that using “adult” basic life support (BLS) protocols on a child or infant could actually cause serious damage. 

What are some of the differences in performing BLS on adults versus children and infants?  Some of the most evident distinctions occur in the CPR sequence, which is an important step in the BLS protocol.  Though not exhaustive, the following guidelines will help you adapt your BLS efforts to the person in need:

When to call for help
The first major difference when administering CPR is the stage at which you should call for emergency assistance if you’re the only person on the scene.

  • Adults CPR: Call 911 before you begin adult CPR.
  • Child and infant CPR: Begin child or infant CPR immediately and call 911 after you have tried resuscitation for at least one to two minutes.  Because children are more resilient than adults, they have a stronger recovery rate if they receive CPR immediately. 

Circulation/pulse
Where to check for a pulse also differs among adults, children and infants.

  • Adult CPR: Check the carotid artery (located in the neck)
  • Child CPR: Check the carotid artery (located in the neck)
  • Infant CPR: Look for the brachial artery (located on the inside of the upper arm)

Head position when attempting rescue breaths

  • Child CPR: When attempting rescue breaths, be very careful not to tilt a child’s head back too far. Children have fragile airways and in the case of infants you can actually block the airway if you do this.
  • Infant CPR: For infants, tilt the head into the ‘sniffer’s position,’ which is just far enough back for the baby to look like he or she is sniffing the air.

Compression hand position

  • Adult CPR: Two hands in the center of the chest
  • Child CPR: One or two hands in the center of the chest
  • Infant CPR: Two fingers in the center of the chest

Depth of compressions

  • Adult CPR: Two inches
  • Child CPR: One and a half inches
  • Infant CPR: One inch  

Health Education Solutions offers the BLS course online,  CPR Certification, and  First Aid with CPR and AED.

The information included in this article is based on the 2005 guidelines for CPR, first aid and advanced cardiovascular care.  Read more about how the 2010 guidelines impact 
BLS classes.




Topics:  BLS  |  CPR  |  First Aid  |  Pediatric Care  |