It’s summertime, which means fun in the sun and often, the swimming pool.
Are you curious at what age babies can go swimming or have you even wondered, "Can babies swim?" While remembering to use sunblock on your baby is important when poolside (whether at home or on the road), being smart about drowning prevention is even more critical and can mean the difference between life and death.
Experts say you can take your baby in the pool supervised from a very early age (even days or weeks old like we did).
That being said, there are risks to having them become too comfortable around the water. For instance, did you know water wings and floaties can create a false sense of security for your baby, especially as they began to crawl and become more curious and comfortable?
As such, parents need to become wiser with our pool safety awareness.
Can Newborns Swim?
Stacy Van Santen, certified infant swimming resource instructor and active board member for the drowning prevention organization birthed out of one family’s tragedy, the Live Like Jake Foundation says, “babies under one year are not cognitively or muscularly developed to swim. Thus, older babies and walking toddlers can learn to swim. Younger infants and newborns can be professionally taught to float, not swim, for safety.” Stacy urges parents, “so many drownings happen when mom takes the floaties off to eat lunch and the child finds their way to the pool, thinking they can swim, not realizing it was only the floatation devices that allowed them to breathe.”
Scary and Sad Statistics About Children, Drowning, and Pools
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) on an article from MomsTeam, over 175,000 children die internationally every year from drowning related incidents, including over 350 children under the age of five in pools each year here in the US, with the majority of those deaths occurring in June, July and August; mostly in backyard pools.
As a swim mom and 5-time Olympian swimmer, Dora Torres states in an interview, “Swimming is the funnest sport there is.” While swimming and being around the pool, can be a blast, heed this advice in taking extra measures of precautions to make sure our babies are safe at the pool.
Most drownings occur, according to Kirstin Robison, spokesperson for Life Saver Pool Fences, when the child was thought to be in the house, nowhere near the pool area. In 67% of fatal drowning cases, a parent was responsible for supervising the child. Supervision can and does fail, and that's why you need additional layers of protection.
My Scary Brush with Baby’s Near-Drowning Experience
It was a glorious Florida summer day in the sunshine. The sunscreen was applied and myself and two best friends were chatting in the rays poolside. Our collective seven children were the only ones playing at the community pool that day. As the big kids splashed and swam, baby Luke, about 14 months old, was hanging out on the deck in between the other moms, playing contently with his toys and watching the big kids.
I hopped in the pool to splash and play near the steps with the five older children, thinking I had my eye on Luke and he was safely being guarded. Even though he was comfortable around water as he’d been in the pool with us so often, I thought he wouldn’t dare head to the water without coming straight toward mom at the stairs. The day at the pool was perfect. Until I saw my friend Amber jump up and yell, “LUKIE!”
Horror set in and prayers went up. That surreal feeling of life becoming slow motion flowed through my veins as I turned and saw Luke, floating upside down, just three feet behind me. Amber raced into the pool, fully clothed to grab him and turn him rightside.
No one heard a sound or a splash, including me. Thank God, it must’ve just been seconds in the water, and as soon as I grabbed him from her, he spit water out, coughed and began crying. We all prayed over him as I cradled him and begged God that he would be alright. I still get chills recollecting that story.
All praise to God, Luke was and is fine. I took him to the urgent clinic to x-ray his lungs and all was well, no signs of dry drowning. Gratitude still overwhelms me when I recollect the incident. I’ll never forget the moment the doctor said, “we’ll have to report this as a near drowning.” For weeks, I battled with thoughts of inadequacy in my mind, “how could I have missed him? I was right there!”
My Luke could’ve been a statistic. We were lucky; more than lucky. But it could have turned terribly the other way. We’ve heard the tragic stories of loss:
I had a blogging friend last year who wasn’t so fortunate, and she lost a daughter in a horrible drowning accident. They were staying in a friend’s home with a pool, and little River followed the cat out the pet door and fell in the water. She battled for her life in the hospital for weeks, gathering prayers from all corners of the world and all over social media. Ultimately, the battle was tragically lost for River. I pray my experience becomes prevention of loss for another family.
Infant Swim Resource
Immediately, (but not soon enough!) I enrolled Luke in ISR swim: Infant Swim Rescue. I, too, had wondered, can babies really swim? The mission of Infant Swim Rescue is simple: Not One More Child Drowns. Their training, however, is anything but simple. Certified Infant Swim Resource instructors are rigorously trained, according to Van Santen, “in child behavior, psychology, physiology and development, to name a few."
"We are all CPR certified annually and are required to do annual recertification. ISR has multiple levels of safety protocols and have been teaching students to self rescue for 51 years. ISR has over 500 instructors, and have provided over 800,000 lessons worldwide.”
Within a few weeks of ISR swim training with drowning prevention advocate and our certified infant swimming resource instructor, Stacy Van Santen, Luke would hit the water and immediately turn over to safely float on his back. He was taught the “swim, float, swim” technique for older babies.
Their method of infant swim rescue training involves, generally speaking, children ages 6 months to 1 year learning the skill of rolling onto their backs to float, rest and breathe, maintaining this position until help arrives.
A tragic story of a dock drowning of young Jake led one local Florida family to found the Live Like Jake foundation. Jake’s baby sister Josie, now two years old, began ISR training the summer after her brother drowned. Just 3 weeks after starting ISR, at just 6 ½ months old, she was able to roll over and float for safety. This video went viral, and today, the foundation provides drowning prevention awareness and scholarships for infant swimming resource training.
Layers of Protection Against Drowning
In 1987, Life Saver Pool Fence coined the phrase "layers of protection" to describe the most effective way to prevent drownings. 30 years later, everyone (including the US Consumer Product Safety Commission to the National Drowning Prevention Alliance) recommends layers of protection. The five key layers of protection are:
Nothing beats parent supervision. Proactive parent supervision is your most important tool in drowning prevention. When using the pool, active supervision means sitting close to the pool with your full attention on the child/children -- no reading, no texting, just watching the pool. At parties/events, designating a person as a Water Watcher, changing shifts every 15 minutes, can be most helpful. Life Saver Pool Fence company, whose goal is to protect every child on Earth, offers free lanyards and whistles to denote the water watcher. Through their pool fence donation program, they also offer free fences to the families of a fatal or non-fatal drowning victim.
High locks on all doors and windows.
Pool Safety Fence
Pool fencing is the only layer of protection that physically isolates the backyard from the pool. Fences should be at least 4' tall and have a self-closing, self-latching gate. Mesh pool safety fence, like the one we installed immediately when we got our own pool, has proven to be an effective layer of protection for over 45 years. It's very transparent, aesthetically pleasing, and easy to remove when entertaining only adults.
Drowning is silent. Alarms break that silence. There are door/window alarms, alarms that sit in the pool, and our favorite, the Safety Turtle which is worn on the child. If the child falls into the pool, an alarm inside that house goes off.
Self-Rescue Swimming Lessons
All children should receive swimming lessons as early as their parents and pediatricians feel comfortable. Swimming lessons can begin earlier than one might think, with organizations like the Infant Swim Resource training even infants to roll over and float, and to swim to the edge of the pool in the event that they fall in.
If all of the other layers of protection fail, parents and caretakers should be trained in CPR. Knowledge of CPR can make the difference between life, permanent disability, and death. These and other summer safety tips can literally mean the difference in your child’s life.
Have fun in the sun this summer, but above all else, be safe! Please share this story to help others prevent drowning.
More Summer Safety Articles
10 Summer Safety Tips for Your Baby - Pam Vredevelt
Safe Baby Sunscreen to Prevent Summer Sunburn - Sami Cone
How to Prevent Leaving Baby in a Hot Car - Linda Scruggs