Swimming Pool and Water Safety for Babies and Children
Swimming is the most popular summertime activity for children, according to the American Red Cross. But sadly, drowning is the leading cause of death for American children younger than 5. And according to emergency room doctors, children are more likely to drown in a backyard pool than in any other body of water.
A group might gather poolside for a party or other social event, but if no one is watching the children, it can result in tragic consequences. To avoid such needless danger, it is imperative that parents take necessary precautions whenever their children are in or near the water.
Water Safety Tips for Children 6 Months to 4 Years Old and Beyond
To begin, a parent should never assume that “someone else” is watching their young child or that “everyone” is keeping tabs on the kids, because this is how tragedies can occur.
It’s a great gift to give your older children to teach them how to swim or sign them up for age-appropriate swimming lessons; however, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children not be signed up for formal swimming lessons until after their fourth birthday; this is to insure that they are developmentally able to learn the skills necessary to stay safe in the water.
Until then, doctors recommend a parent-child program that focuses on water games, swimming readiness and how to stay safe in and around the water. In the first few years of your child’s life, the aim should be to get him or her comfortable with being in the water, but not to teach them how to swim. Time spent in the water in the early years should be about having fun; you can play games with your child in the water, such as splashing and playing other gentle games.
The AAP recommends that parents not install a swimming pool in their homes until children are older than 5. But what if you already have a pool, and you now have a little one at home?
Home Swimming Pool Safety
These are some of the precautions you need to take, to keep babies and small children safe around your home swimming pool:
- Never leave children alone in or near a swimming pool. Young children must always be supervised by an adult who can swim
- It is not enough to be near the pool — you must insure that you have a clear, unobstructed view of your children at all times
- Keep children away from pool drains and other openings; talk to children who are old enough about the danger of getting their hair, clothes, etc. caught in these
- Have a professional inspect drain suction fittings and covers regularly, to insure their safety
- Never use inflatable flotation devices instead of approved life vests, as children can easily come out of them or push them away, not understanding the risks
- A baby should be held at all times while in the water. There are special infant flotation vests that can be purchased for babies who weigh 18 to 30 lbs. Infants typically reach 18 lbs. between 4 and 11 months. Older children and inexperienced swimmers should be outfitted with U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets, though parents must not rely on these alone to keep their kids safe
- Never trust a small child’s life to an older child; teach children who cannot swim to always ask for permission before entering the pool
- Never submerge a small child under water; they can swallow enough water to cause medical problems, including nausea, seizures and possibly death
- Dress a child who isn’t potty-trained in a swim diaper that will prevent feces from leaking into the pool, which can pose a major health risk for other swimmers
- Stay within arm’s reach of all small children when they’re near the water, and avoid being distracted when supervising them
- Be aware that drinking alcohol impairs judgement, balance and coordination; it affects a person’s swimming and diving skills
- Install a fence 4 – 5 feet tall around the pool, with a self-closing, self-latching gate and without any footholds; gate should open outward
- Remove any structures that can provide access to the pool, such as outdoor furniture and playground equipment
- When not using the pool, remove all toys and floats from pool area that could attract children to the pool
- Keep a safety cover on the pool when not using it
- Use all the same precautions if you have a hot tub in your home; safety covers in pools and hot tubs add a layer of protection
- Establish rules for your family and always enforce them; set limits based on each child’s age and ability
- For an above-ground or inflatable pool, remove access ladders and secure safety cover when not using pool
Safety in Public Swimming Pools
While life jackets can and should be worn by children in private pools, some public swimming pools may discourage or prohibit their use. This is because safety authorities believe that life jackets may give parents a false sense of security, discourage them from watching their children. In addition, personal flotation devices can make a lifeguard’s job more difficult because they are bulky and can make it harder for lifeguards to see the bottom of a pool.
While it’s not a big deal if only one child is wearing a PFD, if several children are wearing them and they cluster together, the guard may not be able to see the bottom of the pool. Lifeguards must always be able to scan the pool’s floor, to check for possible drowning victims.
Children should only be in designated pool areas supervised by lifeguards; but even if a lifeguard is on duty, parents should always be responsible for watching their own children. Even as your kids get older, don’t just drop them off at a public pool or at the beach; always insure that you designate an adult to watch them.
Once children are older and they learn to swim, parents should encourage them to use the “buddy system”: even if a public pool or beach has a lifeguard, children should not swim alone.
Safety Around Other Bodies of Water
Babies can drown in as little as an inch of water, in less than 30 seconds. Therefore, parents must be vigilant not only of pools and hot tubs, but bathtubs, inflatable baby pools, buckets and toilets.
In addition, even if you aren’t going to swim, you must take precautions around natural bodies of water, including ocean shoreline, rivers and lakes. We all know that the tide rises later in the day at the beach, and we know that river levels can fluctuate wildly; but many people don’t know that water levels in lakes can vary through the day, as well, by as much as feet.
What to Do in an Emergency
- Emergency personnel advise parents that if a child is missing, to check the water first; even seconds count in preventing death or disability
- It’s a good idea for parents and caregivers to learn CPR and rescue-breathing
- Keep rescue equipment, such as a plastic ring buoy and a reaching pole, near the pool
- Keep a phone and emergency numbers handy
By Cynthia Sanchez. A graduate of the University of Washington, Cynthia has extensive experience writing about health and wellness topics for different media.