Fun in the sun and water are just two of those things in life that come as a pair. After all summer wouldn't really be summer without hot afternoons at the beach, lake, river, or pool, right? All of the above can be fun for your baby, too, but there is some water safety and general information you need to know to keep your water activities safe this summer.
Basic water safety for babies:
-Always have your baby within arm's reach. Even if he or she is in one of those nifty floating boats, wearing a life jacket or it's "only for a second." It only takes a second for a baby to inhale water; make sure you can quickly pull your child's head above water if necessary. You can leave your baby with another adult, but avoid trusting young children with the task.
-Take an infant CPR class. Whether you're planning water activities this summer or not infant CPR is an excellent skill to have as a parent. Babies have delicate ribs, which can easily be broken causing internal damage by adults who are not properly versed in CPR.
-If your baby is younger than six months of age don't allow their head to go under water. While all infants naturally hold their breath when placed under water, babies younger than six months will continue to swallow.
-Always inspect floaters or other inflated toys, boats, etc. before use for slow leaks for use in pools. In lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water of unknown depth or current do not use inflatable swim aids. Life jackets provide a safe alternative that cannot slip off, pop or leak.
-Check play areas for trash, glass, pollutants, wildlife and other not-so-safe stuff. At your local pool there's little to look out for other than uncovered pool filter suction spouts, but at outdoor water sources it can be hard to control what's present. Lakes and beaches in particular often have glass in the sand under the water.
-Have a rough idea of temperature before putting your baby in the water. Hypothermia can be a big concern with infants as their bodies lose heat much faster than an adult does. If the water is below 85 degrees Fahrenheit keep an eye out for signs your baby is too cold, such as shivering or blue lips and extremities. Keep in mind that cold breezes and air temperature can affect how quickly a baby gets cold. Be sure to have warm towels and dry clothing for when your baby is all done.
-Keep a cell phone and emergency first aid close by. It's always better to be over prepared than not have what you need if something does happen.
When can I start teaching my baby to swim?
You can start whenever you like. Keep in mind that most children under the age of four don't have the developmental advancement or attention span to take formal swimming lessons. Studies do show however, that some sort of water education for one to three year olds helps reduce the risk of drowning. No conclusive studies have been done on infants to suggest it is or isn't a good idea so it's really up to you. Many areas do offer baby swim lessons if it's something you're interested in.
Outside of the obvious risk of drowning, are there any health concerns I should know about?
Besides drowning and hypothermia, cuts, scrapes, and slips are a concern in babies that have learned to walk or crawl. Outside of this, there is also a risk of infection from waterborne bacteria or parasites. Try to choose pools that are chlorinated. After visiting natural water sources, bathe your baby and keep an eye out for signs of sickness or rash. Naturally, if you go to a lake and it just looks dirty, it may be a better idea to find a new place to swim.
You may also enjoy:
General Water Safety for Babies
AAP on Swimming Lessons for Kids