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Climbing Babies at Risk of Bathtub Burns

Babies' Abilities to Climb Often Underestimated

WebMD Health News

May 2, 2005 -- A hot bubble bath may be tempting after a long, stressful day but keep a close eye on your toddler while you're filling the tub. A study new shows many babies can climb into bathtubs on their own, putting them at risk for drowning or hot water burns.

The researchers videotaped 176 toddlers, ages 10-18 months, as they tried to climb into a standard bathtub containing toys but no water. Overall, 35% of the babies climbed in on their own: 10% of the 12-month-olds, about half of the 15-month-olds, and almost 80% of the 18-month olds. One-fourth of the children climbed in head first and the rest climbed in sideways.

If you're a parent of a young boy, take note: almost twice as many boys as girls climbed into the tub.

Walking Not a Prerequisite for Climbing

The researchers found that one 10-month-old baby who could not yet walk was able to climb into the tub, suggesting that the study "may not have demonstrated the youngest age at which a child can climb into a bathtub."

It's a warning to parents not to assume that if a baby can't walk, he or she can't climb into the tub.

"At least some children at the youngest age limit used in our study are capable of independently climbing into a bathtub," they write.

According to researchers David Allasio, MSW, and Howard Fischer, MD, the findings call into question the common belief that many hot water burns in young children are the result of abuse.

"In addition to evaluating the burn pattern on a scald victim, health care professionals also need to consider the child's developmental abilities when determining the reliability of the description of how the burn occurred."

They say the study may have underestimated the children's climbing ability, since the absence of a shower curtain in the study may have hindered the child's balance. They add that the presence of distracting strangers may have also had an affect.

The study appears in the May edition of the journal Pediatrics.

Preventing Hot Water Burns

To protect your child from hot water burns, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following precautions:

  • Lower the thermostat on your water heater so water coming from the tap is less than 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Test the temperature of bath water with your forearm or the back of your hand before placing your child in the water.
  • Never leave children alone in the bathroom for any reason.

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