Water Safety Tips for Infants and Young Children

Drowning is the leading cause of death in children ages 1 to 4. Infants are especially vulnerable—they can drown in as little as 1 inch of water.

But the good news is drowning is preventable. Whether it’s bath time or their first time at the beach, here are tips from our experts to keep your child safe around water.

toddler splashing in baby pool

“A child can drown in as little as 1 inch of water, so even the bathtub or a shallow kiddie pool can be unsafe,” says Sarah Lazarus, DO, a pediatric emergency department physician at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. It’s important to supervise kids every second they are in or around water. For infants and small children, you or another responsible adult should stay within arm’s reach of your child. And avoid anything that may distract you from watching them, such as cell phones, yard work or alcohol.

Another way to protect your child is by enrolling them in a certified swim program when you feel they’re ready. “Think ‘Mommy and Me’ and ‘Daddy and Me’ toddler swim lessons,” says Dr. Lazarus. “Classes won’t prevent drowning, but they help you bond with your child in a safe and healthy way. And you can use them to establish safety rules and comfort around the water.”

We also encourage parents to get certified in CPR so you are able to assist in case of an emergency.

baby in bathtub

Bathrooms—especially the bathtub—are a significant drowning risk for young children. So it’s important to baby-proof, close off and monitor your bathroom.

Curious crawlers and toddlers are often tempted to explore new areas, like toilet bowls, sinks and tubs. That’s partly why 69% of drownings in their age group happen during non-swim times, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Keep toilet seats down and all bathroom doors closed when you’re not using them.

When you give your child a bath, here are some other things to keep in mind:

  • Always keep a hand on your child and never leave them unattended. Remember that bath seats and rings will not prevent drowning and may give a false sense of security.
  • Gather all your supplies, like towels and shampoo, and prepare the bathing area before you turn on the water.
  • Test the water with your wrist or elbow before putting your child in the bathtub to make sure it’s warm, not hot. Setting your water heater thermostat to 120 degrees can help prevent burns.
  • Invest in no-slip strips for the bottom of the bathtub to prevent falls.
  • Avoid leaving toys in the bathtub so your child isn’t tempted to reenter afterwards.
  • Drain water from the tub immediately after each bath.

baby swimming with dad

Whether you’re in your backyard, at a friend’s house or at the neighborhood pool, it’s always important to follow general water safety rules, like keeping your small child within arm’s reach. And for children this young, Dr. Lazarus recommends no more than 1 child per adult in or near the water.

When you’re at the pool, here are some other precautions you should take:

  • Always empty baby pools or containers and turn them upside-down after use.
  • Ensure pools are secure on all 4 sides with a 4-foot-high, self-latching fence. The fence should separate the pool from both your house and yard and should be free of openings.
  • Make sure all drain covers are intact. Consider asking your service provider to install anti-entrapment drain covers for extra protection.

toddler on the beach

When out boating or enjoying the lake or beach, the same general water safety rules apply, but you’ll also want to be mindful of more risks. Here’s how to enjoy a safe day out on the water:

On the boat

  • Avoid taking young babies on a boat or any other watercraft until they can wear a life jacket.
  • Check your life jacket’s tag to make sure it’s U.S. Coast Guard–approved and ensure all children wear them while on board. The coast guard requires a life jacket to be worn in a moving boat until age 13, even if your child is a strong swimmer.
  • Make sure your child’s jacket fits properly—if the jacket hits their ears or chin, it’s too big.
  • Hold babies in your lap on the boat, while also wearing your own life jacket.

At the beach, river, creek or lake

  • Try to choose a location where a lifeguard is present.
  • Watch out for unsafe debris; rocks, broken glass, trash or seaweed could entangle an arm or leg.
  • Look for posted signs about dangerous rip currents, weather and jellyfish. Avoid swimming if there are warnings about these hazards.
  • Always make sure your child gets out of the water when storms strike, especially if you hear thunder or see lightning.
  • Teach your child to never stand with their back to the water, because an unexpected wave could knock them over.

family swimming in pool

The bottom line when it comes to keeping your young child safe in and around the water is supervision. You are your child’s best protection. Always keep young children within arm’s reach, and older, more experienced swimmers within eye’s reach.

We recommend swim lessons whenever you feel your child is ready. Unfortunately, survival swim classes will not drown-proof an infant. Even experienced swimmers are not safe from the risk of drowning.

And be extra cautious at bath time, especially if you have an infant. Make sure bathrooms are always secure, preventing curious crawlers from getting into trouble.