In Bangkok, almost every family has access to a swimming pool. There is no doubt that swimming is great exercise and most children enjoy themselves very much in water. But what concerns me the most is the risk of drowning. In my practice, I’ve dealt with near drowning cases every year. It is a tragic and completely preventable accident that occurs far too often while children are enjoying themselves in the swimming pool or even taking a bath. Every near drowning case is serious. Some of these accidents result in Pneumonia that requires hospital stays and mechanical ventilation, but others are even worse tragedies for the whole family. When a person drowns there is laryngospasm, a reflex that is intended to protect water from getting into your lungs. But this also blocks oxygen supply to vital organs of our body, most importantly our brain. If our brain cells lack oxygen supply for even a few minutes, it poses a high risk of permanent brain damage and death. Toddlers are most at risk of drowning but even infants can drown in a bathtub or a sink basin. Since prevention is the only key to protect our children from drowning, let’s talk about how to be safe in water.
The first thing that every parent MUST understand is that drowning can occur in a matter of seconds. Young children in or near any kind of water, no matter how shallow, must be constantly and closely supervised. This means you cannot step away to answer a phone call, send an email, answer the door or check on dinner while your children are in or near water. Drowning can happen that fast. When your children pay a visit to the homes of friends or other family, this must also be understood. Constant, undivided adult supervision is absolutely essential.
The second thing that must be understood is that flotation toys, water “wings”, “noodles” and other such devices do NOT protect against drowning. It is very possible for a child to drown while wearing or using these things. Only an authentic, certified Life Saving vest is designed to keep a child’s head and face above water.
Third, every parent should learn how to provide CPR. CPR delivered immediately and correctly can save your child’s life. I will discuss this more in another blog post.
The American Academy of Pediatrics AAP recently published a policy statement about the prevention of drowning. The AAP has indicated that swimming lessons are OK after age 1, depending on the child’s physical, emotional and developmental maturity. Some parents will even choose to begin swimming lessons when their children are infants. I encourage all parents to take an active role in their children’s swim lessons and to always carefully supervise their children in and near water. But please, do not make the mistake of believing your child is drown-proof because he or she is comfortable in water and knows how to float. This false sense of security around water could have serious consequences.
A well-done study was published in 2009 that found formal swimming lessons for children between ages 1-4 years of age can provide a 88% reduction of risk from drowning. This is not true for informal lessons (the kind that parents might teach to their children), these were formal lessons taught by professional swim coaches.
- Never leave your toddler or child even for a moment without supervision when in or around pools, spas, bathtubs or any open water.
- Whenever swimming, your infant or toddler should always be an arm’s length away. A supervising adult, with swimming skills, should be in the pool with them. Put on your bathing suit!
- Remember that swimming lessons alone do not provide “drown-proofing” for children at any age.
- Parents, caregivers and pool owners should learn CPR.
- If you live in a condominium, consider approaching other parents and the building management to discuss a drown-prevention program in your building. This can include hiring a professional swim instructor to come to your building, applying proper barriers to prevent children from accessing the swimming pool without adult supervision, provision of certified flotation devices, installing a floating pool alarm and CPR classes.