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What to Know About Inflatable Pool Toys and Safety

Reviewed by Mahammad Juber, MD on September 21, 2022

Swimming is an aerobic activity  with many benefits. It’s considered one of the best exercises to do at any age, promoting both physical and mental health.

It’s no wonder why so many parents choose to take their kids swimming from an early age. Still, while being in the water can benefit even babies, it’s also important to take the necessary safety precautions when bringing them to the pool.

You’re likely to have seen parents using inflatable pool toys and floaties to help introduce their kids to being in the water. Inflatables can also be relaxing and fun, and it’s normal to find them in home pools, schools, gyms, and recreation centers.

Still, just because inflatable pool toys are available everywhere doesn’t automatically mean you should use them or that they’re safe for your children. 

Knowing which types of these toys to avoid, following maintenance protocols, and being aware of potential dangers will help make sure pool time with the kids is always recreational and safe.  

Should Infants and Toddlers Even Be Swimming?

Many swimming lessons for infants begin around three months old.

In addition to helping develop their joints and muscles, there are several other benefits of baby swimming:

Cognitive skills. Kids who swim from an early age can be six to fifteen months ahead of their peers in cognitive development like problem-solving, counting, mathematics, and language skills. Some kids can even become as much as seventeen months ahead in terms of story recall and ability to follow directions. 

Motor skills. Swimming also improves babies’ motor functions such as walking and running. Fine motor skills like balance and coordination also develop faster in babies who swim.

Improved confidence. Early swimming in children can even play a hand in personality development, particularly with building confidence.

You might have heard that swimming can cause infections in babies or predispose them to  asthma, but the newest research has found no correlation between the two. There’s even an indication that the opposite might be true. Infants who don’t swim at all might be at greater risk of developing respiratory infections and asthma later in life. 

What Are Inflatable Pool Toys?

Pool toys come in many shapes and colors and are designed to be attractive and stimulating for children. Kids can use them for fun, but they’re also helpful in keeping children afloat during supervised lessons and training. 

Kids might wear them, attach them to their bodies, or even sit directly on them. Pool toys can range from armbands, floaties, noodles, and seats to inflatable balls, rings, tubes, and rafts. 

Are Inflatable Pool Toys Safe?

Even though they can help keep a baby afloat, pool toys are not safety devices. Therefore, they should never be seen as a replacement for adult supervision.

Certain toys like baby neck floats — an inflatable ring that helps babies float by supporting their neck — actually pose a danger of serious injury or death, and using them is not recommended. 

A major factor contributing to safety concerns is the false sense of security created by many inflatables. This is a common occurrence and can happen to both kids and their parents or supervisors. 

Inflatable pool toys can give children an exaggerated sense of their swimming abilities, tempting them to venture out into more dangerous areas of the pool. Regularly using these devices can also give young kids the impression that they can float without them, which can lead to serious accidents.

Seeing kids happy and playing in the water can also lead parents to let their guard down. They may get distracted and leave children unsupervised for a moment, which is all it takes for an accident to happen.  

In addition to safety concerns, inflatable toys and floaties may also teach bad swimming posture to children. Many of these devices hold kids vertically in the water. While this is convenient for playing, it doesn’t teach kids how to get a feel for their buoyancy — the ability to stay afloat. These early experiences could lead to frustrations with their swimming posture as they get older.  

Is There A Safe Way to Use Pool Toys?

Almost all water-related injuries connected to pool toys result from a child being left unattended in the water. 

The answer to the question Are pool floats dangerous? will usually depend on other factors, and making sure that kids have hands-on supervision at all times is the most critical thing to remember when using inflatable toys and floats with young children. 

Additionally, there are a few other things to keep in mind if you decide to use these devices with your kids:

  • Inflatable toys should be deflated and cleaned after each use. 
  • Make sure you store all inflatable toys safely away from reach.
  • Before inflating a toy, carefully check for any leaks or tears.
  • Always read the label to see if the size and weight recommendations match your child.
  • Follow all assembly instructions and check the warning labels.
  • Remove all jewelry, shoes, glasses, and watches when using inflatables in a pool.

It’s important to note that wearing a personal flotation device (PFD) — a lifejacket — is not the same as a pool toy. PFDs do provide safety and are what the US Coast Guard recommends for young children to wear in the water.  

Safety First

Drowning is the leading cause of death in children between the ages of one and four. Kids that young can drown quickly and silently in as little as two inches of water. 

This fact shouldn’t deter parents from getting their kids accustomed to water early, but it does make safety the first priority whenever you take children to the pool.

Fortunately, if pool toys are properly cleaned and maintained, and as long as your baby is under constant supervision, baby pool floats and inflatable toys are unlikely to pose any risk to your kids. However, the drawbacks of using inflatable pool toys might be a reason to consider alternatives and keep these toys away from infants and toddlers entirely.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Paediatrics: “Drowning Prevention for Curious Toddlers: What Parents Need to Know.”

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission: “Aquatic Toys.”

Canadian Red Cross: “Fun with floaties: water toy safety.”

Griffith University: “Swim study reveals a smart pool of talent.”

Harvard Medical School: “5 of the best exercises you can ever do.”

International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: “A Non-Randomized Pilot Study on the Benefits of Baby Swimming on Motor Development.”

Journal of Business and Social Review in Emerging Economics: “Infant Swimming Increase the Risk of Atopy and Respiratory Tract Infections: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.”

Kids Health: “Floaties and pool toy safety.”

Royal Life Saving Australia: “Pool Toy Safety.”

Swimming.org: “The benefits of baby swimming.”

University of Missouri Health Care: “Just How Safe are Pool Floaties?”

US Food and Drug Administration: “Do Not Use Baby Neck Floats Due to the Risk of Death or Injury: FDA Safety Communication.”

US Coast Guard: “Child Wear of Personal Floatation Device (PFDs) Federal versus State Requirements.”

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