With the summer heat enveloping the entire country, it certainly is time for trips to the pool.  The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of swimming pools is safety!! Knowing that over 900 children between the ages of 1–14 years die each year from drowning,  the discussion of water safety is a necessary part of summer.  Astoundingly, reports show that 9 out of 10 of those children who drowned were “under supervision”.

The AAP has recently endorsed allowing children between the ages of 1-4 to take swimming lessons. It was previously thought that encouraging swimming lessons for children under the age of 4 years might actually contribute to increased drowning.

In fact, recent studies have suggested that children ages 1–4 may be less likely to drown if they have had formal swimming instruction.

The AAP has not gone so far as to routinely recommend mandatory swimming lessons for this age group, but does endorse swimming lessons in younger children who are frequently exposed to water and are emotionally and physically able to participate.

Just as with any childhood milestone, different children will become more adept swimmers at different ages.  The AAP does not recommend formal “infant survival swimming lessons” for children under the age of 1 year.

I have heard many parents discuss infant swimming classes and I believe that parent- child pool time is great, but infant survival swimming has not been proven to be beneficial.

The AAP continues to recommend that most children ages 4 and older should learn to swim.  Swimming is a life skill that everyone should attempt to master, just like jumping rope, riding a bike and swinging.

When I am discussing water safety with my patients and families, I emphasize that drowning continues to be the second leading cause of death for children ages 1–19.  Because I practice in Texas, many families have a backyard pool of some sort, whether it be in ground, above ground or even a very large portable inflatable pool. All of these pose the risk of drowning.

I often have interesting discussions with parents who have a backyard pool who do not believe that it is necessary to have a barrier around the pool. They will say, “we never let our child outside alone” or “he or she is always being supervised by an adult”.  As you might expect, these are usually first time parents who have yet to experience the cunningness of a toddler.

Just as our children watch us and learn how to feed themselves, or drink from a cup or climb out of a bed, they too watch us open a door, or take a stool out to reach something. A toddler is more than capable or figuring out how to reach a door handle even with a lock, or climb out a window to go outside and head straight for the pool.

Drowning is also SILENT!!  It is not like the movies with screaming and yelling. The child quietly goes beneath the water and sinks.  It only takes minutes and the consequences of drowning are devastating.

Even for a child who is found and resuscitated there may be a life-long brain injury and the worst case scenario, death.  All families with a pool should install a 4 sided fence that is at least 4 feet high to limit pool access. It must be difficult to climb and have a self-latching, self-closing gate. The arguments I hear about “landscape aesthetics” fall on deaf ears.

Every family should also know CPR.

So sign your child up for swimming lessons, and have fun practicing flutter kicks and arm strokes. Just do it with an adult within arm’s reach of all new and novice swimmers and a fence around the pool!

That's your daily dose for today.  We'll chat again tomorrow.

Send your question or comment to Dr. Sue!