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Water Safety for Babies & Families

Jan 14, 2022 | 4 Minute Read

Splish, splash baby’s taking a bath—but is anyone watching? Water safety is essential for all families. Drowning is one of the leading causes of unintentional death in children ages 1 to 4 years old.

Children younger than 5 years of age often drown in swimming pools or bathtubs. Toddlers younger than one are more likely to drown at home in a bathtub or a bucket before they reach their first birthday. These types of accidental drownings usually happen when parents or caregiver haven’t planned for their wee one to be in or near water.

Prevent Drownings

Basic water safety can assist in the prevention of drowning in children. Infants and toddlers often have access to water adults may not consider risky, such as water in bathrooms, pools, tubs, buckets and even bathtubs made for babies.

Drownings happen as often in the home as outside of a child’s home. Knowing how to protect your little ones from drowning is essential. When it comes to water activities, two of the most important things parents and caregivers can provide to protect children against drowning are supervision and a life jacket.

Drownings Inside the Home

Drowning can occur in babies and young children in as little as 2 inches of water. Some measures to prevent this from occurring inside the home include:
  • Watch toddlers when they are in the bathroom; never leave a young child in a bathroom alone, even with the door open.
  • Always be present and have a designated observer when a baby or toddler is in presence of a young sibling while in a bathtub, pool, spa, or wading pool.
  • Babies reclining in bath seats need constant supervision; always keep one hand on baby because even in the presence of an adult, baby’s sudden movement may cause the device to tip over, causing baby to fall out.
  • Buckets should be stored empty, dry, and out of reach when not used.

Water in the Yard

Lawns and yards are abundant with water sources, both intentional and unintentional:
  • Cover garbage cans to keep them from collecting rain water.
  • Buckets should be stored dry, empty and out of reach.
  • Garden ponds should be fenced to keep small children from entering the enclosure.
  • Wading pools should be empty when not in use.
  • Tall, stable child protective fence enclosures and alarms should encircle all outdoor swimming pools to prevent small children from entering the pool unsupervised.

In and Near the Water

Water is all around us—what are good parents supposed to do to keep their littles safe? Instilling good water safety habits in you and your child(ren) early makes it easier in the long run.
  • Teach your child to ask for permission before entering the water.
  • Place your child in a life jacket when playing near water, on docks, boats, rafts, or inner tubes.
  • Stay within touching distance of your child at all times in all types of water.
  • Designate rotating adult "water watchers" during social events to watch children in or near water; observers should be focused on the children in the water when it’s their turn to observe.
  • Remove distractions while watching children near or in water (e.g., talking to others, reading, or looking at cellphones/tablet devices/computers).
  • Ensure you are aware of in water outings your childcare facility may provide. Inquire about water supervision and provide your child with a life jacket for any water outings.
  • Select areas with lifeguards available for swimming and playing. However, even when lifeguards are present, you will still need to watch your own children closely.
  • Enroll in infant and toddler water classes to promote water safety and play. However, these classes should not replace supervision. Swim lessons by age 4 are ideal. Swim lessons do not provide 100% protection against drowning, no matter the age.
  • Swimming devices such as water wings, floaties, rafts, or plastic rings are not designed to keep swimmers safe. Avoid using them in place of a life jacket.

Pool or Hot tub

All pools and hot tubs pose a drowning risk. Having barriers, fencing, alarms, safety covers, and rescue gear for pools or hot tubs provides many layers of protection for your child's safety.
  • Enclose pools on all sides with a fence at least 4 feet high and an entrance that has a self-closing or self-latching gate. Ensure the fence is difficult to climb to prevent your child from getting inside without assistance.
  • Learn how to perform CPR on infants and children.
  • Keep hot tubs covered when not in use.
  • Remove toys from in and around pools when not in use.
  • Ensure rescue gear (e.g., life jacket, lifebuoy, and reach tool) are next to the pool.
  • Add a pool alarm, power safety cover, and alarms on doors leading to the pool.
  • Keep a phone near the pool with emergency contact numbers. Post number(s) near the pool as well.

Vacations

During vacations, children often have access to water via pools, hot tubs, and open water (rivers, lakes, and oceans). Ensuring some basic safety can aid in preventing drowning.
  • Determine where the pool and hot tub are located.
  • Find out if lifeguards are onsite at the swimming location, and specifically what hours the water source is guarded.
  • Keep your child in sight at all times when near water.
  • Ensure your child wears a life jacket
  • Make sure all sliding doors accessible to the pool in the hotel room are closed and locked.
  • If a child goes missing, be sure to check the pool first.

Additional Water Safety Resources

Water is all around us. Creating safe environments for children to play in and around water is the first step in protecting them from drowning. Below are some additional resources to assist you in creating this safe environment for your child. Please consider discussing water safety tips with your child’s health care provider.

These essential resources provide additional information to help you keep your family safe around water:
  • Drowning Water Safety Checklist provides tips to families traveling to oceans, lakes and rivers.
  • Water Safety at Home provides tips to families on how to keep children safe in and around water at home.
  • How to Fit a Life Jacket video provides an overview on making sure you have the right life jacket properly fitted for your child.
  • Pool Safety provides resources and guidelines to prevent children from drowning in pools.
  • The American Red Cross provides education and resources on water safety for children.
  • Enroll your child in swim classes by securing one via online search of the YMCA and Red Cross.

Shawana S. Moore, DNP, MSN, CRNP, WHNP-BC

Shawana S. Moore, DNP, CRNP, WHNP-BC, is a Philadelphia-based, board-certified women’s health nurse practitioner and the director of the Women’s Health-Gender Related Nurse Practitioner Program at Thomas Jefferson University.

The information contained on this article should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your health care professional.