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Several tragic drowning incidents have been reported over the summer leaving many stressed parents with one more thing to worry about. Toddler and infant swimming courses can cost thousands of dollars per session with each program claiming they can reduce the risk of death by drowning in youngsters. Drowning is the most common cause of unintentional death and injury in young children.
For the most part, these lessons center on bath time activities that help children be more comfortable in the water.
When do these lessons start and are they safe?
In 2010, the American academy of pediatrics vehemently opposed initiating children less than 4 years old to swimming for several good reasons. Their stance has softened over time.
Drowning involves water invading airways causing an inability to breathe. The injuries related to drowning are usually the result of panic. Cerebral hypoxia, or lack of oxygen to the brain is the primary means of death or disability in drowning related incidents.
Younger children are much more likely to drown in bath tubs and swimming pools but have been known to drown in almost any larger containers of water including toilets, buckets, fish tanks and fountains. Even deep puddles can be dangerous. Younger children, particularly toddlers that have gained mobility through cruising/walking, have large heads and little bodies. They also have poor balance, coordination and strength. This is why you will never see a 15-month-old on an Olympic gymnastics team. They are also curious. This is a recipe for disaster if poor supervision is added to the volatile mix, and it very often is.
Supervision is the most important factor in pediatric drowning. Other important issues such as swimming ability and medical conditions come into play but even a seizing child who can’t swim is unlikely to drown if an adult is watching closely.
Firstly, it important to note that there’s no such thing as “drown proofing”; the titanic couldn’t sink and we all know how that story ends. The only prevention for drowning is direct observation by a competent adult. Common sense dictates that there must be a decrease in the risk of drowning when swimming ability is increased. When you consider a 2 year old child, who suddenly gets a cramp, regardless of swimming ability or level of instruction, the answer is not so straight forward.
Data has shown that parents of children enrolled in swimming lessons develop a false sense of security increasing the incidences of poor supervision. These children are also more likely to jump in the deep end and to go swimming when they are not being watched.
As stated earlier, the American pediatric association changed their stance on swimming instruction to children under 4 years old based on a study in 2010. The study showed that there was no risk in teaching young children to swim; not that there was a great benefit as these courses teach water safety rather than actual skills. They rely on normal reflexes seen in mammals known as the diving reflex.
Today, the AAP does not support prohibition but it also does not recommend lessons for children under 4 years old. It however, still discourages programs for children under 1 year old.
The surest way to prevent drowning is to never leave your child alone when in, around or near enough water to drown in. Avoid distractions, put fences up around pools and cover ponds. Learn to swim if you don’t know how to and ensure that your child always has a flotation device on while in the pool.
Do your toddlers know how to swim? Have they attended classes? Please share your thoughts in the comments section
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First published at sciencebasedmedicine.org