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What Is CPR?

CPR is a lifesaving action used in emergencies when someone isn't breathing or their heart is not beating.

CPR (or cardiopulmonary resuscitation) combines chest compressions (pressing on the chest over the heart) and rescue breathing (mouth-to-mouth resuscitation). If someone isn't circulating (moving) blood or breathing well, CPR can help get oxygen-rich blood to the brain and restart breathing.

When Is CPR Helpful?

People can need CPR for many different emergencies, including:

CPR is most successful when started as quickly as possible, but a person must first decide if it's needed. It should only be done when someone isn't breathing or their heart isn't beating. Remember to also call 911 for emergency services.

What Are the Three Parts of CPR?

The three basic parts of CPR are easily remembered as "CAB": C for compressions, A for airway, and B for breathing.

C is for compressions. Chest compressions can help the flow of blood to the heart, brain, and other organs. CPR begins with 30 chest compressions, followed by two rescue breaths. According to the American Heart Association, rescuers doing compressions should "push hard, fast, and in the center of the chest."

A is for airway. After 30 compressions, check the person's airway to make sure it is open for breathing. The airway may be blocked by the tongue when someone loses consciousness or by food or another foreign object.

B is for breathing. Rescue breathing starts after the 30 compressions, when the airway is open. Someone doing rescue breathing breathes for the victim by forcing air into the lungs. This includes breathing into the victim's mouth at the right times and checking for signs of life.

How Can I Learn More About CPR?

Every parent should know how and when to do CPR. Done correctly, CPR can save a person's life. It brings blood to the heart, brain, and other organs and starts breathing until health care providers can give the person advanced life support.

To find a CPR course in your area, check nearby hospitals and local chapters of the American Heart Association and the American Red Cross. You also can look online at:

  • American Heart Association offers many levels of CPR courses. Training can be classroom-based, online, or blended (online and in person). A basic course covers adult, child, and infant CPR and choking. You'll practice on mannequins and can ask questions and get personalized instruction.
  • American Red Cross offers different levels of CPR courses. Training can be classroom-based, online, or blended (online and in person). Online refresher materials can help keep your CPR skills up to date.

CPR is a skill that must be practiced. So it's wise to repeat the course at least every 2 years to maintain your skills. This also allows you to learn about any new advances or discoveries in CPR techniques.

Remember, taking a CPR course could help you save your child's — or someone else's — life someday.

Medically reviewed by: Yamini Durani, MD
Date reviewed: April 2023