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First Aid for Kids: Drowning

Medically reviewed by Mike Kenneth Go Doratan, MD · General Surgery · The Medical City Ortigas

Written by Kristel Dacumos-Lagorza · Updated Dec 15, 2022

First Aid for Kids: Drowning

Swimming is a very popular activity, especially in the summer. Children may be fond of playing in the water. However, the danger exists even for children who have been taught how to swim. Should an emergency arise, learn how how to save a drowning child. 

Global Statistics

Drowning is the experience of respiratory impairment from being submerged in any type of liquid. It usually results in one of three ways: death, morbidity (having disease), or no morbidity. 

A global report by the World Health Organization (WHO) showed that over 300,000 people drown per year. Drowning is in the top 10 leading causes of death, particularly among young people and children across the globe. Moreover, it is the top cause of injury-based death among children aged 1 to 4. These unfortunate statistics highlight the need to learn to apply first aid on how to save a drowning child.

How to Save a Drowning Child

Contrary to what people may think, drowning does not require a deep pool. It can happen with as little as 5 centimeters of water. Here are some pointers on how to save a drowning child.

Parents of children who are learning how to swim must familiarize themselves with these first aid tips should anything go wrong. If you have not been taught cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), consider taking courses in first aid.

Here is what you should do in the case of a child drowning or having drowned.

  • Get the child out of the water.
  • Call 911 or emergency services for help.
  • Part of how to save a drowning child is checking for signs of breathing. Open the child’s airway and gently tilt the head back to elevate the chin. Listen with an ear to the nose and watch for signs for breathing.
  • If there appears to be no breathing:

    • For children under 1 year of age, put your mouth over the child’s mouth and nose, giving two breaths. Each breath should last approximately half a second. Watch for the up-and-down chest movement.
    • For a child over 1 year, pinch the child’s nose and place your mouth over the child’s mouth to give two long breaths. Each breath should last about 2 seconds. Watch for chest movement before delivering the second breath.

    If there is no chest movement: try again and realign the head, lift up the chin and repeat the cycles of breathing.

    How to check for a pulse

    Check for a pulse with two fingers on the neck beside the Adam’s apple. In babies, feel the inside of the arm between shoulder and elbow and wait 5 seconds.

    • If there is a pulse, supply a breath every 3 seconds. Check for a pulse each minute and give breaths until the child is breathing normally again or when help arrives. 
    • If there is no pulse for children aged 1, imagine a line between the child’s nipples and place two fingers below the center of the chest. Do 5 fast compressions on the chest and place your mouth over the child’s mouth and nose to give one breath. 
    • If there is no pulse for a child over 1 year, use your hand’s heel to apply 5 compressions on the center of breastbone, above the conjoining of the ribs. After the compressions, pinch the child’s nose and place your mouth over their mouth and nose. Give one full breath. 

    Continue the cycle of chest compressions and giving breaths for 1 minute. After doing so, check for a pulse and repeat the cycle until you find a pulse or help arrives.

    Remember that the child must stay warm. Cover them with any available piece of clothing while applying first aid. If they are revived, they should be brought to the hospital as all near-drowning people need emergency attention.

    How to Prevent Drowning

    Besides learning how to save a drowning child, a parent must look into how to prevent drowning in children. The following outlines water safety guidelines in different swimming environments. 

    In pools, rubs, and resorts

    Before delving into the various swimming settings, go through these general safety points:

    • Learn CPR.
    • Never leave kids unsupervised in or near a pool, hot tub, or body of water during gatherings. Adults who can swim can take turns being the ‘designated watcher’. Air-filled or foam toys (e.g., water wings, noodles) must not be relied upon to keep kids safe.
    • Kids below 4 years of age must be watched at arm’s length even if they know how to swim. 
    • Teach children how to swim. Although it does not safeguard against drowning, it can help reduce chances.
    • Do not drink alcohol when near bodies of water and especially when looking after swimming children.

    In residential pools and swimming areas, take note of the following measures:

    • Build a fence that is at least 4 feet (1.2 meters) in height to separate the pool from the house and yard. Ensure that kids cannot easily climb over the fences or through the slats. Put self-closing and self-latching gates in place and make sure that children cannot reach the latches.
    • Install a floating-pool alarm or a below-water alarm.
    • Consider using a rigid and motorized safety cover for the pool when it is not in use. Place covers on hot tubs, take off removable above-ground pool steps or ladders, and empty inflatable pools when not in use. 
    • Remove toys in water as your child may fall trying to get a toy out of the pool.
    • Be mindful of your child playing or sitting on pool or tub drains, as the strong suction can trap body parts or hair.
    • Keep emergency equipment on hand such as a lifesaver with a rope, a reaching pole, or shepherd’s crook.

    Natural bodies of water

    Ponds, lakes, rivers, and oceans tend to be unpredictable in terms of water depth, temperature, currents, and weather. As such, when in natural bodies of water, observe the following guidelines, besides knowing how to save a drowning child:

    • Wear a life jacket especially when in boats.
    • When jumping into any body of water, go in feet first. Check for depth, temperature, and underwater hazards.
    • When swimming in public beaches, swim in the designated areas and heed posted warnings regarding unsafe swimming conditions.


    Drowning can happen even with very little water. A baby or a toddler can fall into a toilet, bathtub, or a bucket. This makes it important to know how to save a drowning child. But to avoid a drowning incident, here are some precautions:

    • Keep your bathroom door closed.
    • Never leave a child in the bathtub alone or under the eye of another child. Drain tub water immediately after use.
    • Close toilet lids. If possible, install childproof locks on them.
    • After use, buckets should be emptied and stored safely.

    Key Takeaways

    It is best to always be prepared. Knowing basic CPR and how to save a drowning child are essential especially as a parent of caretaker. Learn these crucial, life-saving skills to help you respond better should the need arise.

    Learn more about Healthy Habits here


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Mike Kenneth Go Doratan, MD

    General Surgery · The Medical City Ortigas

    Written by Kristel Dacumos-Lagorza · Updated Dec 15, 2022

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