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Stay Safe in the Water with Tips from Atrium Health Navicent


Children in a pool learning how to swim from an instructor.

Summer is here and many families already are planning pool parties and trips to the beach. Atrium Health Navicent encourages the community to exercise caution when cooling off in pools and natural bodies of water such as rivers, lakes and the ocean to reduce drowning risk.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death for children ages 5 to 14. More children ages 1 to 4 die from drowning than any other cause of death. In the United States, 11 children die every day as a result of drowning, and even if a child doesn’t die from drowning, it can lead to brain damage and other long-term disabilities.


The most important thing parents can do to help prevent drowning is to teach children how to swim. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all children ages 12 months and older learn the basics of swimming (floating and moving through the water) through swimming lessons.


“Swimming is a total body workout, it’s good for you and it’s fun, but you have to be safe,” said Dr. Yameika Head, clinical practice director of Pediatrics at Atrium Health Navicent. “Parents, and anyone else who is near a body of water, or who is supervising children in water, should learn how to swim.”


In addition to learning to swim, here are other ways that parents and others in the community can help prevent drowning:


  • Learn life-saving skills: Adults and older children should know how to perform CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).

  • Fence off swimming pools and other bodies of water near homes: Fencing with self-closing and self-latching gates can help keep children away from water when they aren’t being supervised. AAP research shows pool fencing can reduce drowning risk by 50 percent. Additional barriers can include door locks, window locks, pool covers and pool alarms.

  • Wear a life jacket: Children and weaker swimmers should wear life jackets in and around pools and other bodies of water – even if they know how to swim. Everyone, including children and adults, should wear US Coast Guard-approved life jackets whenever they are in open water or on watercraft. Read on for tips on fitting life jackets.

  • Supervise children in water: When children are in or near water (including bathtubs) they should be supervised at all times. Drowning happens quickly and quietly. Adults supervising should avoid distracting activities like playing cards, reading books, talking on the phone, drinking alcohol and using drugs. “We live in a world where everyone is glued to their phones. Parents need to have a ‘water watcher’ who is dedicated to keeping their eyes on the kids the whole time — no phone, no cocktail, no talking with friends — completely focused on the kids and stationed within reach of those kids,” Head said. “Kids in the pool must have your complete attention. It doesn’t take long to go under, and it’s usually silent. There’s no screaming or splashing, they just go down.”

  • Avoid alcohol: Adults and teens should understand how using alcohol and drugs increases the risk of drowning while swimming or boating. 

  • Reduce risks at home: Around the house, empty all buckets, bathtubs and wading pools immediately after use. If you have young children, keep the bathroom door closed, and use toilet locks to prevent access by young children. For toddlers, some of the biggest drowning risks are in the home, including tubs and toilets. “Keep an eye on little kids and make sure all the doors are locked. If a toddler goes missing, the first place to look is a body of water. That means pools, hot tubs, bathtubs, buckets, coolers, ornamental fountains, anything that can hold water,” Head said.

  • Talk to your teens about water safety: Parents should talk to their teenagers about how to stay safe while out with their friends. “Many times, when teens get together, they will all want to look like part of the crew. At times, teens may make poor choices which could turn deadly for someone who can’t swim. Talk to your teens now about behavioral expectations and what they should do to stay safe,” she said.

  • Make sure where you’re going is safe: Know the depth of the water and what’s on the bottom. If you swing out on a rope swing and don’t realize there are rocks at the bottom, or dive into a pool that’s not deep enough, it could lead to spinal injuries, a concussion or broken bones.

  • Understand your limits: The fact that you know how to swim doesn’t necessarily make you a capable swimmer. “People don’t realize that swimming in a pool is lot different than swimming in a lake or in an ocean. People think, ‘I know how to swim and I’ll be fine.’ That level of confidence can lead to a false sense of protection,” Head said.


What to do in an emergency:

If you see a person drowning, call 911 and remove them from the water if you can do so safely. Perform CPR until help arrives. Even if the child seems fine, it may be a good idea to get them checked out by a physician. For every child under age 18 who dies from drowning, another seven receive emergency department care for nonfatal drowning, which can result in brain damage.


“If a child goes under, immediately get the attention of others,” Head said. “If one person tries to save the child, and that person gets in trouble, then you have two people in need of saving.”


Anytime someone gets in any kind of trouble in the water, they should seek out medical treatment immediately, even if the individual seems to be OK.


The Pediatric Emergency Center at Beverly Knight Olson Children’s Hospital is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Designed specifically for children and families, the children’s hospital is staffed by board-certified pediatric specialists. Located at 888 Pine St. in Macon, care is available whenever injury or illness occurs.


Choosing life jackets:

Fit is important in keeping a child's head above water, and sizing is based on a child’s weight. Infant life jackets are for children weighing 8 to 30 pounds, child life jackets are for children weighing 30 to 50 pounds and youth life jackets are for those weighing 50 to 90 pounds.


For infants and small children, a life jacket should have a padded head support to help keep the child’s head above water, a grab handle to assist adults in retrieving the child out of the water and a straddle strap to help keep the life jacket from riding up, or to keep the child from sliding out. The more straps a life jacket has, the more adjustments can be made for sizing accordingly.


To fit a life jacket, pull all the straps as tight as they can go. Then, slide your fingers above each shoulder and pull up. As long as the jacket is not obstructing the mouth or the nose, it is a good fit. If it comes up over their face, that means you need to tighten the straps more.


Swimming safety aids:

When choosing swimming safety aids for children, you want to choose the right level of protection to suit your child’s specific needs. Factors like the ability to swim, swimming skills, height and weight all play a role. Here are a few swimming safety options:

  • Pre-swimming aids: For babies and children who are just beginning their swimming lessons, swim aids such as swim seats are a good option, as long as an adult is no more than an arm's length away from the child. Inflatable swim seats can be used as young as 3 months.

  • Life jacket: A life jacket will keep your beginning swimmer afloat and keep your child on their back to prevent drowning.

  • Floatsuits: Similar to life vests, floatsuits are flotation devices that include floats around the mid-section that can be removed. Simply remove a float as your child grows more confident in the water.

  • Arm bands: More commonly called floaties, arm bands are inflatable bands that are worn on each arm. These are ideal for children who already have experience with swimming but need a little extra help before they forego swim aids.

  • Kickboards: Kickboards are perfect for little ones that have developed their skills in the water. Kickboards are made from durable EVA foam and will help your child develop leg strength and kicking motions in order to improve their swimming abilities.


For more information about Atrium Health Navicent Beverly Knight Olson Children’s Hospital, or to find a doctor, visit https://childrenshospitalnh.org/

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