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Drowning

Drowning

Since 2012, more than 40 children under five have drowned in the home, the majority of them either in the bath, a garden pond or a swimming pool. It’s not just these key areas you need to be aware of, though. Children can drown in as little as 5cm of water, and even a paddling pool can be dangerous, especially if a young child is left unattended.

This page is packed full of tips and advice to help keep your little one safe when they’re around water, whether you’re at home, out and about, or on holiday.

 
 

Baths

Bath

Bath time is not just about getting your little ones clean – it’s a time to play and relax before bed. Sadly though, it is also one of the most common places children drown – and it can happen very quickly.

1: Stay within arm’s reach

This is the single most important thing you can do to keep your child safe. Even if there's an older brother or sister in the bath, never leave them for a moment. Wet soapy babies are slippy, and if they slide down, or roll over, they can’t always right themselves, and you won’t always hear them trying. So even if the phone rings, or the doorbell goes, stay within arm’s reach.

2: Take care when running a bath

It’s impossible to have eyes in the back of your head. That’s why it’s important to take care when running a bath. Toddlers are naturally inquisitive, and love to climb. Even a few centimetres of water can be deadly, so stay in the bathroom.

3: Pull the plug

Just as it’s important to take care when the bath is running, a bath left full once a child has got out can still be dangerous. Pull the plug the moment bath time is over.

4: Avoid bath seats

Baby bath seats might look helpful, but by leaving your hands free they can give you a false sense of security. If you use a bath seat, remember that it is not a safety device. You still need to stay with your baby all the time. As ever when water is involved – supervision really is key.

5: Stop slips

It only takes a second for an accident to happen. Energetic toddlers and wet, slippy baths don’t go well together! A non-slip bath mat, or stickers can help stop a nasty fall. Wipe up any spill in the area immediately.

 

Garden ponds

Ponds make a great garden feature, and they’re good for wildlife too. Unfortunately they're not so good for young children. In fact, garden ponds are involved in more than half of all toddler drownings, with five under-sixes drowning every year in ponds in the UK.

Our advice is simple. If you have young children, or have children who regularly visit, you’re either better off placing a fence around a pond, a grille over it, or filling it in altogether, at least until they are old enough to be safely around ponds.

Grille it!

Grille it!

Covering a pond is a good option for some people. Just make sure you use a rigid metal grille rather than flimsy chicken wire. Don't forget to check it regularly to make sure it's up to the job of keeping young children out of the water.

Fence it!

Fence it!

Another good option, although it can sometimes give you a false sense of security; most young children are excellent climbers. If you do choose a fence, make sure it's at least 1.1m high and that access points such as gates are kept locked.

Fill it!

Fill it!

There are some great options for transforming your pond into something else while the little ones are young, such as a flowerbed or even a sandpit.

 

Even if your garden doesn’t have a pond, make sure it’s secure so that your child can't get into your neighbour’s pond or pool.

 

Holidays

Over the last six years 30 children under 10-years-old have drowned in holiday swimming pools abroad. Over half of these victims were under four-years-old.

Thankfully, there are some simple steps you can take both before you book your holiday and once you’re there to make sure your little ones are safe!

Before you go:

  • Check the safety arrangements in advance. Does the pool have a life guard? Is it fenced off? If not, you might want to look for alternative accommodation
  • Teach children never to swim alone
  • Take a first aid course. Know how to resuscitate a child.

When you are there:

  • Actively supervise all young children near water. Even if they have an older sibling who is a strong swimmer, you should always stay close by
  • Choose pools that are fenced with locking gates
  • Even if a pool has a lifeguard, know where your children are, and what they are doing in the water
  • Let children take swimming classes while on holiday. They are a great way of gaining water confidence and learning essential water safety skills
  • Inflatables are not a substitute for supervision or swimming ability.

Pool

Swimming pools can be a fantastic place for families – somewhere to have fun and splash about, as well as introducing children to water in a controlled environment. While accidents in public swimming pools are thankfully quite rare, there are still precautions you should take to ensure your little ones stay safe. To help you, we’ve made a list of answers to some of the most common questions about public swimming pools:

How old should my child be before I take them swimming?
Taking babies and young children swimming early is a great idea. Contact with water helps build their confidence and can be a great place to start teaching them about safety. The Amateur Swimming Association advises taking a baby swimming to a warm, well maintained public pool from the age of six months. Before this age, splashing around in the bath is probably the best way to get them used to the water.

How old should my child be to start swimming lessons?
It’s now generally accepted that children can learn to swim at any age, just as long as they’re comfortable and confident being in the water.

The important thing is to find a qualified swimming teacher. Often pools will offer specific classes for babies or toddlers, so it’s worth asking. Check with your nearest swimming pool or look online to find good local classes.

When will it be ok to leave my child alone in the swimming pool?
Never when they are a child. Each pool will also have policies about swimming ability and age or height restrictions.

What kind of swimming pool is best for my child?
Leisure pools with slides, flumes and rapids etc. can provide a more stimulating environment for children, but generally will be more suited to older children who are confident in the water and have some swimming ability. Supervision of children at leisure pools is more difficult, particularly during busy times with a lot of children engaging in different activities.

Does my child need armbands?
Both armbands and swim jackets can be helpful for children learning to swim. Ensure that your child is wearing the correct size, as the amount of buoyancy in each aid will vary according to size. It’s also important to remember that children can remove jackets and armbands in the water very quickly, so weak swimmers should always be supervised.

Is it safe to bring toys to the swimming pool?
Inflatable rings and inflatable animals can be fun at the pool, but those that require a child to hold onto them for support are only suitable for children that have some swimming ability. Again, they should only ever be used while you are there to support them in case they slip. Always check first with the pool if they allow toys.

Are swim seats a good idea?
Be wary of swim seats for very young children. Like bath seats, these can give you a false sense of confidence. They can tip over, or children can wriggle their way out, so it’s important never to leave a child unsupervised in such a seat.

Swimming/paddling pools

Paddling pools can be great fun during the summer. However, it’s important to always watch toddlers while they’re paddling, and to always empty the paddling pool straight after use. Also, be extra aware following periods of heavy rainfall, which could potentially re-fill a paddling pool, or cause other unexpected puddles.

If you’re lucky enough to have a swimming pool in your garden, the advice is similar to garden ponds: ensure it is surrounded by a fence with a self-closing gate. Again, it’s vital that, if using the pool, children are never left unattended, even if you consider them strong swimmers.

Ambulance

Drowning can be quick and quiet, and children are often not seen entering the water due to distraction or lack of supervision: a one minute phone call or message is ample time for a child to drown.

Death, or a life-changing injury such as brain damage, can happen in as little as 70 seconds, with only a very small amount of inhaled water needed to cause drowning.

Drowning is a process caused by water covering the airway (known as immersion). This leads to water being inhaled into the lungs, affecting or stopping breathing, then quickly stopping oxygen to the brain. This can result in life-changing or fatal injuries.

‘Dry drowning’, ‘near drowning’ or ‘secondary drowning’ are phrases you may have read in the newspaper or on social media.

These are misleading and non-medical terms – they are really referring to the medical complications that occur after a 'drowning event', which is when a person has been immersed in water for any period of time that leads to oxygen being prevented from reaching the brain.

After a 'drowning event', medical complications might take several hours to present and ultimately can be life-threatening.

Drowning is a medical emergency. Even if you only suspect a drowning might have happened, you should call 999 and get to hospital as soon as possible.

Look out for distress, coughing, struggling for breath, discharge from the lungs or loss of consciousness. Nobody will criticise caution when a suspected child drowning is concerned.

Early and sustained CPR can reduce the injury and greatly helps improves the chances of survival.

NB: NHS Choices has an in-depth guide on CPR. We’d also advise parents and carers to take a child first aid training course – they’re available from a variety of providers.

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