Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) save lives. Knowing how to use an AED correctly is crucial in emergency situations. An AED can be used on anyone experiencing sudden cardiac arrest, including pregnant women. The Canadian Red Cross AED Protocol indicates that no modification is required when using an AED on a pregnant woman.
To learn more about sudden cardiac arrest, read our blog Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) – What to do When Someone Goes into SCA.
To learn how to use an AED, make sure to register in one of our First Aid Training Courses.
Do Pregnant Women Have a Higher Risk of Going into SCA?
Women born with congenital heart disease (CHD) are at higher risk of having a child with CHD. These women will also likely be classified as having a high-risk pregnancy as the whole process can put tremendous strain on the heart.
Being pregnant makes the heart work much harder than normal. In fact, pregnant women’s hearts pump nearly twice as much blood per minute than in non-pregnant women. As well, being pregnant can cause changes in blood pressure and heartbeat. While these changes are considered normal, a woman with CHD can experience a very difficult pregnancy.
What to Do When a Pregnant Woman Goes into SCA
If a pregnant woman goes into SCA, the first thing to do is call 9-1-1. Make sure to tell the dispatcher that the person is pregnant, just in case an emergency cesarean section is needed. Then, it’s important to start CPR, delivering chest compressions just as you would with a non-pregnant person. When administering CPR, make sure to make hard and fast compressions at the centre of the chest at a rate of at least 100 compressions per minute. It is advisable that CPR on a pregnant woman should be done in cycles of 30 compressions and two breaths.
If there is an AED nearby, use it. Again, no modifications to AED protocol are required.
Is it Safe to Use an AED on a Pregnant Woman?
Medical experts say that using an AED will not harm the fetus. In fact, if steps are not taken to save the mother’s life, the unborn child will also likely die. If using an AED (or CPR) successfully revives the patient, it’s important to place her on her left side to improve blood flow to the heart and consequently to the fetus.
The electric shocks from an AED are only delivered if a shockable heart rhythm is detected. The electricity is delivered straight to the heart and does not affect any other systems or organisms living in the body. If the shocks are successful, the heart will resume normal function and will be able to deliver blood to those systems on which the unborn baby relies for nourishment and growth.
Pregnancy and CHD
The Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation summarizes key points for women with CHD who want to get pregnant:
- Most women with CHD can have a successful pregnancy, but it requires careful planning and discussion;
- For some women with CHD, pregnancy is not recommended;
- The risk of having a baby with CHD is greater if a parent has CHD;
- Pregnancy can cause serious damage to the heart, especially in women with severe CHD; and
- It is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and follow your adult CHD team’s recommendations.