Expecting the Unexpected: Understanding CPR for Pregnant Women

Sudden cardiac arrest cases occur daily; if not aided in time, the results can be fatal. According to the AHA, nearly 900 Americans die of cardiac arrests per day. Additionally, sudden cardiac arrests do not necessarily occur in people with comorbidities, but even sportspeople of all ages leading healthy lives, as well pregnant women.

Maternal cardiac arrest is not a usual occurrence, but far from impossible. Statistics show that 1 in 9,000 women experienced sudden cardiac arrest in hospitals from 2017-2019 in the US. The consequences of maternal cardiac arrest can be emergency childbirth or death both for the mother and the baby.

If you have a loved one expecting a baby or simply want to prepare yourself to help a pregnant mother in need, you will find this article helpful. Here we break down maternal cardiac arrest, maternal resuscitation, and providing proper first aid for expectant mothers.

What Is Maternal Resuscitation?

Maternal resuscitation is a CPR for pregnant women who’ve suffered a cardiac arrest. According to Nicole Ford, an epidemiologist, cardiac arrest in pregnant women is not common but is very dangerous. It can lead to permanent health damage to the baby and the mother. However, sudden cardiac arrests outside the hospital are the real challenge and danger because the victim requires immediate help to survive.

CPR is a challenging first aid technique to perform on expectant mothers because of their fragile state and the baby. Therefore, there is a specific guide for providing first aid for expectant mothers, CPR to be specific, for any bystander or interested person who wants to take the initiative and give CPR to pregnant women.

Below we describe the technique in detail:

How to Give First Aid to Expectant Mothers

Due to the state of expectant mothers, there are certain CPR modifications for pregnant women. As you will see below, some steps are the same, but you may need to react differently given the situation:

      1. Recognize the Cardiac Arrest

    While the CPR methods may be modified, the symptoms of cardiac arrest in pregnant women are the same as with any other person. Therefore, disorientation, difficulty breathing, and the inability to respond to your questions are the first and most obvious signs that a person is in cardiac arrest.

    If you notice any of this behavior, please make sure to stay with the victim and have someone call the ambulance. If there’s no one else around, call 911 yourself and then immediately proceed with CPR.

        1. Begin with CPR

      Once you have called the emergency team, you need to position the victim on their back in a so-called supine position. The surface must be flat and hard; therefore, the floor is your best option.

      Once you position the victim, you need to press hard in the center of their chest to perform compression at a depth of one and a half to 2 inches. Aim for 100-120 compressions per minute. If you have trouble focusing and counting, just press down to the beat of Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees. Remember to use 2 rescue breaths after 30 compressions.

      When you give rescue breaths, it’s important to remember to position the head straight so that the airways are unobstructed and air can pass freely. Otherwise, the technique is ineffective. Also, remember to seal the nose when you provide the rescue breaths and wait for the chest to get back to normal before you continue with the next rep.

      Keep repeating the step until the emergency team arrives on the spot to take over the case.

          1. Support Your CPR with AED

        To increase the survival chances of the victim, use an AED. Usually, there is an AED device in most crowded places; therefore, check for signs with AED written on them and a heart on top. If there is one, just take it and turn it on. Modern AED devices have installed audio instructions that guide all bystanders throughout the entire procedure.

        Follow the instructions and do exactly as they say. You will have to strip the victim of all their clothes (including the bra) and place the pads in a diagonal position surrounding the heart. However, it’s crucial that the pads are placed on dry skin. Moreover, make sure that no one touches the victim before giving electric shocks.

        Once you complete all this, wait for the AED to analyze the victim’s heart rhythm. The AED will notify you when it’s time to give the shock and when to continue with CPR. Ultimately, make sure you keep providing first aid to the victim until the EMS team arrives. If you feel tired, make sure to switch with other bystanders to ensure the CPR is performed correctly.

        Special Occasions to Mind while Performing CPR on a Pregnant Victim

        Even if CPR comes with many advantages, it can be fatal if the bystander overlooks situations that require more attention. In the bullet list below, you will find how to react in special circumstances:


            • Stay vigilant: Rule number one is to always check for potential signs of danger that suggest it’s not safe to perform CPR. If the victim has been in a dangerous accident, you shouldn’t put yourself in danger to help them. Instead, keep your distance while waiting for the EMS team to arrive.

            • Obstructed Airway: If a victim has vomit or other fluids coming out of their mouth or nose without coughing, it’s a sign that the victim has an obstructed airway. In this case, you should first relieve the obstructed airway and only then proceed with the heart compressions. To do so, you will have to roll the victim onto one side and give them five back blows. Additionally, you will have to give them 5 abdominal thrusts to get rid of all the fluids obstructing the airway. After you ensure there’s nothing else to come out anymore, you can proceed with heart compressions and rescue breaths if needed.

            • Mother of twins or triplets: This situation can be risky and scary for most bystanders. However, in this case, when giving heart compressions, you need to use both of your hands to ensure that you apply adequate force. Every 30 seconds, check for a pulse and keep going until the victim fully recovers.

          In a nutshell, these are the main 3 situations where a bystander must be more careful before providing CPR to a pregnant woman.

          Statistics on the Frequency of Cardiac Emergencies During Pregnancy

          Before we conclude the article, let’s have a closer look at the statistics related to the cardiac emergency during pregnancy:

              • According to collected data from Nationwide Inpatient Sample from 1998-2011, nearly 1 in 12,000 baby deliveries ended with cardiac complications. The main triggers are heart failure, hemorrhage, amniotic fluid embolism, and sepsis.

              • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spotted an increase in the mortality rate during live births by nearly 6.7 more deaths in 2009 than in 1989.

              • About 59% of patients with cardiac arrests survived to hospital discharge between 1998-2011.

            Cardiac emergencies during pregnancy are not common but are highly complicated when they occur. The mortality rates are still high, which is why many health institutions suggest and encourage bystanders to learn a few things about CPR and pregnancy to be able to provide the required help to decrease the mortality rates and save lives.

            CPR for Pregnant Women: Key Takeaway

            To conclude this article, we will sum up the main points you need to remember about pregnancy and CPR. Namely, cardiac emergencies during pregnancy are not common, but they are possible. As seen in the stat list above, approximately 1:12,000 baby deliveries end with cardiac complications and sometimes fatal consequences.

            Providing CPR in case of a cardiac arrest in a pregnant woman increases the survival chances, but the bystander should be aware of pregnancy safety and CPR techniques for maternal care.

            You can always expand your knowledge regarding pregnancy and CPR. There are multiple trustworthy CPR centers that can teach you the appropriate techniques and help you gain CPR certification for childbirth professionals if needed for employment.

            We hope you found this article useful and that you learned the basics of providing first aid to a pregnant woman.