With summer upon us, it’s time to start thinking about swimming. If you’re pregnant, remember that swimming is a safe and beneficial exercise. And for children of all ages, swimming is also safe, given a few precautions. The advice here is meant for infants and toddlers, though many of the same tips can also be used for school-aged children and teens.
Never Too Young
First of all, remember that it is important for the safety of your child for them to feel comfortable in water and to know how to swim at some point. Knowing how to swim, or at least how to keep themselves afloat, is a good skill to have for their entire life. And getting them to feel comfortable in the water, and preparing them for swimming lessons later in life, starts as an infant.
We all start our lives after being submerged in fluid for 9 months, so there is nothing unnatural about swimming, even as a newborn. The biggest risk to newborns in a pool is not the chlorine or the water, but the sun or heat, so make sure your infant is either in the shade or appropriately covered with clothes, a hat, and sunscreen.
The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend swimming lessons for those younger than 1 year old. For those between 1 and 4, there is some controversy over whether swimming instruction will decrease the risk of drowning, as some studies indicate it might help. The AAP does recommend swimming lessons for those 4 years old and older.1
But whatever age you start lessons, the following are important tips to keep your youngest ones safe:1-3
- An adult should always be in the pool when supervising infants and toddlers providing “touch supervision” at all times, and avoiding distracting activities.
- The adult providing supervision should refrain from drinking alcohol and, ideally, be trained in CPR.
- Do not let your children use inflatable toys or mattresses or “floaties” in place of a life jacket: too many parents think these are protective, and they are not designed for that purpose.
- Never leave children alone in or near the pool or hot tub or beach, even for a moment.
- Pay special attention to small bodies of water that toddler and infants are drawn to: bathtubs, fountains, ponds, even the bucket of water you use to wash the car. Empty all containers of water when done using them. Empty and store inflatable or formed plastic swimming pools after using them.
- Never swim alone in open water. Even good swimmers need swim buddies.
- Never swim after dark in open water, even with a buddy.
- Infants and toddlers should not be in spas or hot tubs, as they can get overheated easily.
- If you own a backyard pool, make sure the pool is adequately and completely fenced. This is for the safety of your children and other children.
- Although they are important, don’t be fooled into thinking that swimming lessons will “drown proof” your child. Nothing should take the place of constant, direct supervision by a competent adult.
- Water Safety: Tips for Parents of Young Children. 2015.
- Mott TF, Latimer KM. Prevention and Treatment of Drowning. Am Fam Physician. 2016 Apr 1;93 (7):576-82.
- Gaida FJ, Gaida JE. Infant and toddler drowning in Australia: Patterns, risk factors and prevention recommendations. J Paediatr Child Health. 2016 Oct;52 (10):923-7.