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New Guidelines on Kids' Drowning Prevention

American Academy of Pediatrics Says Children as Young as 1 May Get Swimming Lessons
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

May 24, 2010 -- The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued new policy guidelines calling for children as young as age 1 to receive swimming lessons, depending on how often they are exposed to water and judgments made by parents about their maturity.

The AAP says its existing recommendation had been that most children age 4 and older should learn to swim, but now is "more open" to the idea of classes for younger kids.

The pediatric group says that in the past, it advised against swimming lessons for children 1-3 because there was little evidence that lessons prevented drowning or resulted in better swimming skills.

Also, the AAP says it has been concerned about whether parents would remain vigilant enough about supervising children who had learned some swimming skills. But it now says new evidence shows that kids age 1-4 may be less likely to drown if they have formal swimming lessons.

The studies showing this are small and don't define what types of lessons might work best, so the AAP says it is not recommending mandatory swimming lessons for all children 4 and younger.

Age for Swimming Lessons: Parents Make the Call

The new guidance calls for parents to decide whether to enroll a child in swimming lessons based on the youngster's frequency of exposure to water, physical abilities, emotional development, and health concerns related to pool-water infections and chemicals.

"Not every child will be ready to learn to swim at the same age," says Jeffrey Weiss, MD, FAAP, lead author of the policy statement. "To protect their children, parents need to think about layers of protection."

Still, the statement cites a report from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development that swimming lessons do not increase the risk of drowning in 1- to 4-year-olds and may reduce drowning risk in that age group. A study from China also showed a benefit of formal swimming instruction for the same age group.

One reason for its alteration of previous guidelines, the AAP says, is the emergence in the past few years of new drowning risks, such as inflatable pools that are large, inexpensive, and portable.

Drowning rates have fallen from 2.68 per 100,000 in 1985 to 1.32 per 100,000 in 2006, the AAP says. Still, drowning is the second leading cause of death for children ages 1-19, claiming 1,100 young lives in 2006.

According to the AAP, teenagers and toddlers are at greatest risk. "From 2000 to 2006, the highest death rates were seen in white boys 0 to 4 years of age and black male adolescents 15 to 19 years of age," the policy statement says. "In 2008, approximately 3,800 children younger than 20 years visited a hospital emergency department for a non-fatal drowning event, and more than 60% of those children were hospitalized."

No matter what, children cannot be made "drown-proof," Weiss says, so all children need to learn to swim and should be supervised very closely by parents and other adults when around water.

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