First Aid: Adaptations for Pregnancy

First aid is not always a one-size-fits-all approach – there are some circumstances which call for an adjustment in the way first aid is administered. Due to the associated anatomical and physiological changes, pregnancy is one such example where some changes should be made. Pregnancy can also cause rescuers to hesitate to administer first aid due to fears of harming the mother or baby – therefore it is important to know what steps to take in an emergency situation.

First Aid Complications for Women

Someone delivering cpr to a womanIn a previous blog on Heart Attacks, I introduced that there are complications that women may encounter in a first aid situation, especially if the first aider is a male. Recent studies have also shown that females are less likely to receive Bystander CPR then males. Research led by Dr Hanno Tan at the University of Amsterdam found that only 68% of women are likely to receive bystander CPR compared to 73% of men.

This could be in part to a fear by rescuers to place their hands on a female for fear of repercussions, or in the case of pregnancy a fear of damaging the unborn child. What is certain though, is failure to act will result in the worst possible outcome for both mother and child.

First Aid and Pregnancy – Cardiac Arrest

First aid steps for a pregnant woman in cardiac arrestPregnancy causes many changes in anatomy and physiology that can create an extra strain on a woman’s body, as well as the position of the child in the womb also creating further complications. If you suspect a pregnant woman is in cardiac arrest, the steps to take are exactly the same as if she were not pregnant.

Call 999 for immediate medical help making sure to inform the call handler that you suspect the woman is pregnant. Send for a defibrillator and begin compressions at a rate of 100-120 beats per minute to a depth of 5-6cm. (Current guidance with regards to rescue breaths during the COVID-19 pandemic is to continue CPR without them and to place a light cloth over the casualties face) Once the defibrillator arrives, switch on the device and follow the voice prompts. You will not harm the baby by using the device.

If the casualty begins to show signs of life, and begins breathing normally on their own, and notwithstanding any other injuries, they should be placed in the recovery position on their left-hand side. This is also true if your casualty is unresponsive and breathing normally.

First Aid and Pregnancy – Choking

first aid training for choking

A pregnant woman with a severe blockage due to choking can also create complications for the first aider in that abdominal thrusts must not be applied.

In these circumstances, the rescuer can either continue with back blows or place their hands on the chest area and perform a thrust there (similar to CPR) to attempt to remove the obstruction.



By administering first aid before emergency services arrive, thousands of deaths could be prevented every year in the UK. For an overview of what to do if an incident occurs, visit the NHS website. If you’re ever in any doubt call, 111 for advice, or 999 in an emergency.

Pregnant Persons Risk Assessments are also required in all workplaces – WA Management can provide a comprehensive, up-to-date risk assessment so if your company is missing this, please get in touch.

Written by Neil Ward, Training Consultant at WA Management.

first aid training infographic

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