The Rules of Water Safety for Babies and Toddlers

For the smallest children, the world is a hazardous place requiring outlet covers, cabinet locks and baby gates. Topping the list of dangers is water. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), drowning is the leading cause of death for kids ages 1 to 4.

“A child can drown in as little as one inch of water. That means that even the bathtub or a shallow kiddie pool can be hazardous,” says Sarah Lazarus, DO, a pediatric emergency department physician at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Dr. Lazarus recommends the “arm’s reach” rule: Kids under age 6 should always be within arm’s reach of a parent when in or near water. “I tell parents to never let their guard down because it’s easy to develop a false sense of security around water. Even if you are at a pool with lifeguards on duty, or, if your family gets out of the pool to eat, keep your little one within arm’s reach. No one can protect your child like you can.”

The AAP recently issued new guidelines on childhood water safety. Follow these tips from Dr. Lazarus and the AAP to keep your littlest splashers safe.

At bath time:

  • Keep a hand on your child at all times, even if you use an infant tub or bath seat.
  • Have all your bath supplies ready within easy reach before turning on the water.
  • Watch your child while the tub is filling up—it only takes a second for them to slip or climb in.
  • Test the water temperature before placing your child in the tub to avoid burns. Set the thermostat on your water heater to 120 degrees or lower.
  • Remove all bath toys after the bath is over so your child isn’t tempted to climb into the tub.
  • Keep toilet seats down and bathroom doors closed when not in use.

At the pool:

  • Keep all small children within arm’s reach.
  • Children should always wear U.S. Coast Guard–approved life jackets when near or in the pool.
  • Parents should remove all potential distractions. Phones should be nearby in case of an emergency, but otherwise put your phone away. No one is watching your child but you.
  • Caretakers should not use alcohol or other substances during swim time.
  • At this young age, Dr. Lazarus recommends no more than one child per adult in or near the water. If multiple young kids are in the pool, designate other adults or responsible teens as “water watchers.”
  • After using a baby pool, empty it out and turn it upside-down. The same applies to any other container of standing water.
  • Remove all toys from the pool. You don’t want your little one to go after a toy that was left behind.
  • Secure your own pool on all four sides with a 4-foot-high, self-latching fence.

Swim lessons help—but they’re not enough

Toddlers aren’t too young to start swim classes. In fact, the AAP recommends safely introducing kids to water as young as age 1. “Think ‘Mommy and Me’ and ‘Daddy and Me’ toddler swim lessons,” says Dr. Lazarus. “Although the classes won’t prevent drowning, they help you bond with your child in a safe and healthy way, and you can use them to establish safety rules and comfort around the water.”

Remember, just because your child took swim lessons doesn’t mean he can be trusted in the water. Keep all young children within arm’s reach.

What is non-fatal drowning?

According to Dr. Lazarus, non-fatal drowning (formerly known as near drowning) is any kind of submersion that causes a child to choke, gasp or vomit. The child may need oxygen, rescue breaths or CPR—and there can be brain damage or respiratory issues. “This type of injury is so significant that even if it’s not fatal, it’s still considered a drowning,” she says. Children who experience non-fatal drowning need medical help as soon as possible.

Many water emergencies happen quickly and silently—in the time it takes to answer a text or go grab a towel. Seconds count in preventing death or disability. Call 9-1-1 if your child has been submerged. And consider enrolling in CPR so you’re equipped with the skills that can save a life.

Swim Lessons for Adults

Remember, no one can protect your child like you can. It’s never too late for parents to learn how to swim. Schedule swim lessons today.