Do infant swim programs prevent drowning?

Too often we hear of drowning incidents involving infants and toddlers. Drowning is the most common cause of unintentional death and injury in young children. That’s why many parents turn to swim programs to prevent their child from becoming another statistic. Many of these programs claim to reduce the risk of death by drowning in youngsters. But, many 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 was vehemently opposed to children under 4 years old taking swim lessons and 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.

Swimming ToddlerSupervision 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.

It is 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 go swimming when they are not being watched.

Today, the AAP does not recommend infant swim programs for babies under 1 because there is no evidence that they help to lower their drowning risk. According to the AAP, at this age infants can’t raise their heads out of water well enough to breathe. Instead, they may show reflex movements that mimic swimming. The AAP says that by age 4, most kids are ready for actual swim lessons. At this age, they can typically float and tread water, which can help them learn to swim.

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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