Aug. 15, 2017 -- Experts are warning parents of potential dangers of using “baby neck floats” while their little ones are swimming.
Adorable photos of babies wearing the inflatable devices around their necks while in the pool are flooding social media.
"There are no proven benefits to using the inflatable neck rings and there is risk associated with them," says Sarah Denny, MD, a pediatrician in the emergency department at Nationwide Children's Hospital, Columbus, Ohio.
"The devices might give parents a false sense of security," she says -- children could slip through and drown. “This is not a U.S. Coast Guard-approved flotation device."
The ring could also potentially put strain on a baby's neck, which could cause injury, says Denny, who's also a member of the executive committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Council on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention.
There is no published research that has specifically studied neck floaties. One study from 2005 that looked at swimming therapy for infants used a neck floatie and said it was “non-injurious,” but did not offer any additional details.
Two U.K. groups involved in infant swim teaching and health have also weighed in recently, urging parents to consider the possible dangers of the inflatable devices.
The American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement on the prevention of drowning says parents should avoid all inflatable swimming aids. They "should be cautioned not to use air-filled swimming aids (such as inflatable arm bands) in place of PFDs (life jackets). These aids can deflate and are not designed to keep swimmers safe."
Flotation devices ''have not shown any decreased risk of injury and provide a false sense of security for parents," says Charles Suastegui, MD, attending emergency room doctor at Nicklaus Children's Hospital, Miami.
Nor do swim instructors endorse their use. "We wouldn't recommend that you use them," says Lisa Zarda, executive director of the U.S. Swim School Association. "It should be more about you being in the water with the children."
In 2015, one U.S. manufacturer of infant neck rings recalled its product voluntarily after 54 reports of broken seams on the Otteroo Inflatable Baby Float. It is now back on the market, selling for $35.
After the recall, ''we thickened the plastic," says Julie Forbes, a spokeswoman for Otteroo. "We made a lot of improvements." No injuries were reported with the 54 cases of broken seams, she says.
Forbes says the devices are “not a potential death hazard'' and can help in infants' motor development. The floats are for babies over 8 weeks old, according to the company website, and parents need to be close to their children when using them.
Experts stress that that no air-filled products are safe.
Parental involvement is key. "Any time a baby is in the water, we want arm's length supervision,'' Denny says.
Adds Suastegui: "The only proven method for water and drowning prevention safety is direct supervision and fencing around pools," as well as swimming lessons.