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Dr. Joni Bhutra: Swim safety tips for pools and more

Healthy Family

Posted: July 8, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: July 8, 2011 1:55 a.m.

With the longer days and hotter weather of summer, chances are you’ll be heading for the beach or the local pool.

As you plan your family’s time in the water, remember that drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional death among children ages 1 to 4, and children ages 10 to 14. Between May and August, drowning deaths among children increase 89 percent over the rest of the year. 

Home swimming pools are the most common site of drowning — making up 75 percent of drowning accidents. 

The other 30 percent occur equally in the neighborhood pool or in open water on vacation. According to a recent study, a child drowns under parental supervision 9-out-of-10 times. 

It’s important to teach your children to swim, so much so that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all children older than 4 years take lifeguard-instructed lessons to swim.

However, don’t assume that a child who knows how to swim is not at risk for drowning. All children need to be supervised in the water, no matter what their swimming skill levels.

A responsible adult should monitor children the entire time they are playing in water. Remember, most drowning accidents happen in the home when one parent is present, however, distractions, such as answering the phone, talking to a neighbor or finishing a chore are the most common cited reasons for lapse in supervision.

The American Red Cross warns caregivers to avoid distractions and watch their children closely. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, you should keep children under 5 no more than an arm’s length away, known as “touch supervision,” the entire time they are in the water.

For longer water vacations, especially those involving open water, invest in proper fitting, Coast Guard-approved flotation devices.

Check the weight and size recommendations on the label and  make sure it fits snugly on your child. For kids younger than 5 years old, choose a vest with a strap between the legs and head support — the collar will keep the child’s head up and face out of the water.

Inflatable vests and arm devices such as water wings are not effective protection against drowning.

In an open body of water, such as a lake, it is more difficult to predict what lies under the water when you go for a swim. 
So besides close supervision, and Coast Guard-approved flotation devices, make sure children wear water shoes or other foot protection so rocks or trash under the water do not injure them.

Safe Kids USA, a nationwide group of organizations that works to prevent childhood injury, advises parents to warn children against diving into open bodies of water and make them aware of dangers like uneven ground, currents and undertows.

Look for designated swimming areas, and avoid areas you are not familiar with.

While the summer is the most dangerous time for drowning, I do want us to remember that for infants under age 1, only two inches of water are needed for full submersion.

That means even the toilet bowl, outside fountains and the kitchen sink can be unsafe throughout the year. Never leave your child near water unsupervised, even for a moment.

But let’s return to the most dangerous place for your child to swim — in your home pool. 

If possible, do not put a swimming pool in your yard until your children are older than 5 years. Even inflatable pools are dangerous; a recent study shows that a child drowns in an inflatable pool every five days in the U.S. 

Here are some ways to help protect your children in your home pool:

- Never leave your children alone in or near the pool, even for a moment.

- An adult who knows CPR should actively supervise children at all times.

- Put up a fence to separate your house from the pool. Most young children who drown in pools wander out of the house and fall into the pool. Install a fence at least four feet high around all four sides of the pool.

This fence will completely separate the pool from the house and play area of the yard. Use gates that self-close and self-latch, with latches higher than your children’s reach.

- Keep rescue equipment (such as a life preserver) and a telephone by the pool.

- Remove all toys from the pool after use so children are not tempted to reach for them.

- After the children are done swimming, secure the pool so they can’t get back into it.

Remember, teaching your child how to swim does not mean your child is safe in the water.

Water is a great way to keep cool and fit, but remember: Simple safety measures can mean the difference between life and death for you and your children.

Joni Bhutra is a pediatrician at Santa Clarita Pediatrics. She is a native Californian and completed her training in pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Within pediatrics, Bhutra is especially interested in genetics and learning disorders.


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