Whether you’re at the beach, the lake, the pool, or even giving your little one a bath, follow these safety steps to help prevent drowning, and keep your little one safe in and around the water.
Water play is exciting for babies and toddlers, but the water can be very dangerous for little ones. Toddlers are more at risk for drowning than any other age group, and drowning is the leading cause of injury death in children 1-4 years old.
The good news is there are plenty of safety steps that you can use to help prevent drowning, and keep your little one safe in and around the water. Whether you’re at the beach, the lake, or the pool, or even giving your little one a bath, these tips are essential for keeping your little one safe.
For an overview of many of these water safety tips, watch this video from St. Louis Children's Hospital:
Watch your child at all times!
Whenever your child is in or around water, an adult must keep a close eye on them at all times, and stay nearby. This is the most important step to keep your child safe and help prevent drowning.
This also means watching your child whenever they are in the bathroom!
NEVER leave a child unsupervised in or around any body of water, as they could drown if left unwatched even for a few seconds.
Always designate a “water watcher,” who will constantly pay attention to your children in or around the water. They must be fully focused on supervising your children, and not distracted by anything (including a cell phone, book, or conversation with another adult.) If you’re with other adults, take turns being the “water watcher” – you might pass around a card or lanyard.
And for all children ages 4 and under, use the “touch supervision” rule when they are in or around water – a responsible adult who can swim must always stay within touching distance of your baby or toddler.
Don’t buy blue swimsuits.
Choose the swimsuit you dress your little one in with care. Your child should always wear a brightly-colored swimsuit so they’re easy to spot in the water, and easy to find and rescue in case of an emergency. The best swimsuit colors for children are neon yellow, neon green, red, orange, and bright pink.
Avoid buying blue swimsuits, and avoid buying other swimsuits that mimic the colors of the water.
But remember – the best way to keep your child safe in the water is watching them at all times. Bright swimwear is no substitute for close supervision.
Approach baby swim lessons with care.
You might have heard of baby and young toddler swim lessons, and you might be wondering when the best time for your child to start these lessons is.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends waiting to start swim lessons until your child has reached their first birthday. There’s no evidence that starting swim lessons before the age of 1 (even self-rescue lessons) reduces their drowning risk.
You can start “parent and me” lessons as early as 6 months if you wish, to help acclimate your little one to the water. But even though babies may show reflexive swimming movements and look like they are natural swimmers, there isn't enough evidence that baby swim lessons help little ones build on those skills and help prevent drowning.
Start swimming lessons when you and your child are ready.
Once your little one reaches their first birthday, you can start swimming lessons whenever you feel your child is ready. The AAP recommends swim lessons for children as early as age 1, because “recent studies suggest that water survival skills training and swim lessons can help reduce drowning risk for all children including those 1 to 4 years.”
That doesn’t mean every child is ready for swim lessons at age one. Decide when to start based on how comfortable they are in water, how often they’ll be in or around water, physical skills, emotional readiness, and willingness to learn. Your pediatrician can help you determine when your child is ready, so it’s best to talk to them before you sign your child up for lessons.
How to choose the right swim instructor for a toddler?
Swim lessons can’t prevent drowning on their own, though. Even swim lessons don’t replace close supervision. Continue to use “touch supervision” with all children age 4 and under, even if they start to become more confident swimmers.
Dress your child in a life jacket.
Outside of swim lessons, whenever your child is swimming or playing around a body of water, they should wear a brightly-colored life jacket. That life jacket should go over their swimsuit or built into their swimsuit). Be sure that the life jacket is U.S. Coast Guard approved, and that it fits securely and snugly. A life jacket is too big if it hits your little one’s ears or chin.
Even when they have a life jacket on, you’ll still need to use touch supervision to keep your child safe.
Don’t rely on floaties.
Swim wings, floaties, inflatable rings, inner tubes, and rafts don’t work the same way as a life jacket, and shouldn’t be relied on as safety gear. Don’t use them in place of a life jacket. They’re still fine for your child to play with and use when your little one is within arm’s reach of you, though.
Always remove floaties, inflatables, and other pool toys from the water when you are done using them. If they are left in the water, they could tempt your little one to reach for them, and put them at risk for drowning.
Child-proof your water areas.
One of the most effective ways to prevent drowning deaths is to make sure your little one can’t access bodies of water when you aren’t watching.
As the AAP reports, “The biggest drowning threat facing families with toddlers is unexpected, unsupervised access to water: swimming pools, hot tubs and spas, bathtubs, natural bodies of water such as ponds, and standing water in homes. For example, 69% of all drownings among children age 4 and younger happen during non-swim times.”
So, be sure to check your home and yard for any potential water dangers and set up the necessary child-proofing. This includes the following:
- If you have a pool (whether that’s an in-ground pool, above-ground pool, or big inflatable pool), make sure it’s fully surrounded by a fence on all sides. The fence needs to be at least 4 feet high, have full contact with the ground, and have no gaps that are larger than 4 inches.
- Install a self-closing and self-latching gate to secure your pool. Secure the gate with a lock every time your children are done swimming. Make sure the latch and lock are out of your toddlers’ reach. And teach older children to make sure the gate latches every time.
- If you have a small kiddie pool (wading pool), empty it every time after your child is done using it. The same goes for water play tables and other items that hold more than an inch of water.
- Install childproof locks or doorknob covers to secure all doors that lead outside. Remind other adults – and older siblings – to fully close those doors every time they use them, so young children can’t follow them outside and potentially find a water danger.
- If you have a hot tub or spa, fence it in, and lock it immediately after use.
- If your backyard has other open water sources (like a pond, fountain, well, or drainage ditch), fence them in in the same way as you would fence a pool – with a fence at least 4 feet high.
- Empty standing water containers immediately after using them (this includes coolers with melted ice, water buckets used for cleaning or DIY projects, and large pet bowls)
- Empty trash cans/recycling bins if they get filled with rainwater.
- Don’t set up birdbaths or fountains.
Child-proof your bathroom.
Securing bathrooms is another important water safety step, because bathrooms have several water hazards. Filled bathtubs and toilets pose drowning risks.
- Secure the bathroom door with latches or door knob covers when you aren’t using it, so your child can’t gain access to these drowning hazards when you aren’t watching.
- Think about placing a lock or latch on your toilet seat lid.
- You might also protect the bathtub drain with a drain lever cover, so your child can’t fill the bath accidentally.
When you’re giving your child a bath, always keep them within arm’s reach. Have all the supplies you need ready before the bath. And always drain the bath right after you’re finished using it, no matter who was in the bath.
Be ready to respond.
If you haven’t already, it’s a good idea to take infant and toddler CPR classes in case you would need them. You should also familiarize yourself with the signs of drowning, so you can quickly identify drowning and respond if your child is in danger. And if you don’t already know how to swim, it’s a good idea to take lessons of your own so you’re ready to rescue your child if the need arises.
Even though you likely won’t need to use them, these preparedness steps could make a big difference or even save a life.
All health-related content on this website is for informational purposes only and does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the advice of your own pediatrician in connection with any questions regarding your baby’s health.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
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