Overview of Basic Life Support

In October 2010, the American Heart Association released updated guidelines for performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in adults and children 3 months of age and older who are in cardiopulmonary arrest. The new CPR guidelines are referred to as the "CAB sequence." The letters C-A-B stand for the following:

  • Circulation (Chest Compressions)
  • Airway (Clear the Airway)
  • Breathing (Perform Rescue Breathing, also called Mouth-to-Mouth Resuscitation)

Basic life support involves performing chest compressions at the rate of at least 100 compressions per minute, calling 9-1-1, and continuing CPR until the person starts breathing on his or her own or emergency medical personnel (e.g., EMTs, paramedics) arrive.

Techniques for performing chest compressions and rescue breaths differ in newborns, babies under the age of 12 months, children over the age of 1 year, adolescents, and adults.

Chest Compressions

Locate the person's breastbone (sternum) and administer hard, fast compressions that depress the chest. The breastbone is in the center of the chest, just below the nipple line. Perform chest compressions at the rate of about 100 compressions per minute.

In infants under the age of 12 months, place your hands around the chest if possible and use your thumbs to compress the chest at the breastbone. If this is not possible, use two fingers to perform chest compressions. In children over the age of 1 year, use the heel(s) of one or both hands (depending on the size of the child) to perform chest compressions.

In infants and children between the ages of 1 and 8 years old, compress the chest by about one-third to one-half of its depth with each compression. In older children and adolescents, compress the chest by about 2 inches.

Rescue Breathing

In infants and very young children, the rescuer should cover the child's mouth and nose to perform rescue breathing. In older children and adults, the rescuer should pinch the nose closed. Each rescue breath should be delivered in about 1 second and should be administered with enough pressure to cause the person's chest to rise.

Knowing basic life support can help save a life. It's important—especially for parents and caregivers—to take a CPR course to learn how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation and get re-certified every 2 years. Contact your local American Red Cross chapter or the American Heart Association for more information about CPR courses in your area.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 27 Aug 2008

Last Modified: 10 Sep 2015