Teaching your baby to swim is often recommended on the basis that it has benefits such as water familiarisation, learning breath control, free floating and propulsion. Australia’s famous swim coach Laurie Lawrence recommends it as part of his signature Kids Alive program for drowning prevention. But there are other factors to consider when deciding what’s the right time for your child.
It just takes 5 centimetres of water and less than 2 minutes for a child to drown
Drowning can happen wherever there is a collection of water whether it’s a swimming pool, bathtub, pond, bucket, dam, river, lake, ocean or tanks. Children have even drowned in eskies when the ice has melted.
Children are naturally attracted to water and they have little fear and no understanding or awareness of the danger. A child can drown silently in less than two minutes in only 5cm of water. Children under 2 years can topple easily into water hazards as their heads are heavier than the rest of their body.
What are the risks of children drowning?
Drowning is the most common cause of accidental death in Australian children aged between 0-4 years. An international comparison of drowning rates indicates that Australia has the second worst record in the world for toddler drowning. Between 1992 and 2004, 183 children aged 4 and under drowned in Queensland. Of these 49% were in a domestic pool and 15% were in the bath.
- On average, 14 children aged 0-4 years drown in QLD each year.
- Two thirds of these drowning cases occur in children aged between one and two years of age.
- Infants under 1 most frequently drowned in baths or buckets.
- For every toddler drowning, 3 or 4 others are admitted to hospital following an immersion incident. These children are at risk of brain damage from lack of oxygen.
Does teaching my baby to swim reduce risk of drowning?
There is insufficient evidence to suggest that a child under the age of three years can develop adequate swimming skills to prevent drowning. While water skills don’t make them drown-proof it is an important part of getting them comfortable with water.
Prevent drowning by:
- Keep watch – eyes on your child at all times in or around water – including the bath!
- Be within arm’s reach of small children in water
- Fence and gate your pool safely and according to the law
- Teach your baby water skills and, eventually, how to swim
- Learn resuscitation with Royal Life Saving Society Queensland
When can my baby start swimming lessons?
General advice is that you can start lessons from 6 months of age. Many swimming groups won’t take babies until they are fully immunised and before you start you might consider:
- Indoor swimming centres can be very noisy which can frighten little ones and damage hearing
- Be conscious of sun exposure for your baby. Use 50+ UPF sun protection suits
- Does your baby have any pre-existing conditions that may make them more vulnerable in the water?
If I have my own swimming pool can my baby swim?
Family life around the pool is a great place to enjoy the water with your baby. The same guidelines of introducing the baby from 6 months would apply and we recommend the following safety guidelines:
- Fence your pool around all four sides of the pool to prevent access from the house to the pool
- A non-climable fence that is at least 1200mm in height constructed so that it inhibits access by young children to the pool.
- A gate that is self-closing and self-latching which is regularly maintained and never left propped open.
- The gap under the fence is no more than 100mm from the ground to prevent a child from crawling underneath. The vertical bars should be closer than 100mm so a child cannot slip between them.
- Remove any moveable objects such as furniture and pot plants that could help a child climb over the fence.
- If you are having a party with multiple children and adults, allocate 2 people to be ‘life-guards’ in shifts of 20 minutes doing nothing else but supervising.
- Eyes on the kids at all times – not on your phone.
Need some advice?
Kidsafe Qld’s mission is to provide evidence-based practical advice to empower parents and caregivers to make informed choices to prevent childhood injuries. We are at your service and welcome any questions you might have around injury prevention and keeping kids safe at home, on the road and at play.
Call 3854 1829