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Water safety for babies

6-minute read

Most babies love the feeling of being in water and being able to splash around. But while water can be fun, it also has associated risks. Babies and young children don’t understand that they could drown in water, which is why it’s so important for parents to always be careful and supervise them when they’re around water.

Where can drowning happen?

Drowning is the leading cause of death for toddlers between the age of one and three years and can occur anywhere. Make a point of always being aware of where your child is, especially when there’s water around. Pools, spas, creeks and dams are all potentially dangerous, and even small amounts of water can cause a child to drown.

Most drowning deaths happen in bathtubs, backyard swimming pools and spas. While young babies are not as much at risk of drowning as toddlers, it’s good practice for parents of newborns to start safe water habits in preparation for when their child becomes more mobile.

How do I keep my baby safe around water?

Never leave your baby alone when they’re in or around water, even for a moment.

It’s important to:

  • be fully aware of where your baby is at all times
  • keep your baby within arm’s reach
  • never rely on a water floatation device to keep your baby safe
  • empty bath water when you’ve finished bathing your baby
  • never leave your baby in the care of other children, only responsible adults
  • always check the temperature of water before bathing your baby — burning and scalding, as well as drowning is a risk around water
  • do a first aid and resuscitation course, especially if you have a pool or spa

What do I need to be aware of once my baby’s crawling?

Babies are inquisitive and once they’re mobile, can cover a surprisingly big area in a short space of time. Water bowls for dogs, open toilets, sinks, laundry buckets with soaking clothes and even large pot plant saucers all hold enough water to cause a small child to drown.

If you have a pool, make sure it is fenced and complies with the Australian Standard for safety barriers for swimming pools. Each state and territory also has its own standards which need to be complied with.

How much water can it take for a child to drown?

Drowning can happen very quickly and very quietly. All it takes is a few centimetres of water and 20 seconds for a toddler to drown. Because toddlers are naturally inquisitive, they’re often drawn to water and want to get close to it.

How do babies respond if they fall into water?

Babies who fall into water are very quiet. They don’t have the awareness of calling out for help when they’re at risk of drowning. If they’re in a pool or large body of water, they sink to the bottom quickly and their lungs fill with water. Toddlers have much of their weight distribution in their head and upper body and if they fall head first into a toilet bowl, they may not have the strength to right themselves.

What should I do if my baby swallows water?

Most babies swallow some water when they’re having a bath or going for a swim. They’re generally fine, as long as the water goes into their stomach and not their lungs. It’s important for parents to limit the amount of water they swallow.

If you think your baby may have inhaled water into their lungs, sit them upright. Monitor them for any breathing changes and call an ambulance immediately if they are not breathing and/or their colour changes.

Are there any flotation devices which are recommended?

If you use a floatation device on your baby, make sure it conforms to Australian Standards for swimming and flotation aids. Always check the label for the recommended size and age and check to see there are no holes, tears or leaks before using.

No flotation device is a replacement for adult supervision in and around water. At best, they can help a child become more familiar and to build confidence with being in water. They are not for safety.

When should my baby learn to swim?

Many parents are keen for their baby to learn to swim and want to know when is the right time and age for classes to start. The general advice is that babies can go into water right from when they’re born and in fact, many mothers choose to have a water birth.

The risk to very young babies of having swimming lessons too early is that they could become cold by being in water which isn’t suitably warm. Water can also pose a safety risk with infections. This is why it can be better to wait until a baby is around two months of age before taking them swimming.

A heated pool at a temperature of around 32 degrees Celsius is ideal for babies aged younger than six months.

Where can I go to learn resuscitation?

Depending on where you live in Australia, there are a number of organisations where resuscitation classes are held. Resuscitation guidelines for babies aged under one year are different for older children and adults. St. John conduct first aid training, as does the Australian Red Cross.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2022

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Need more information?

Water safety | Emergency services and safety | Queensland Government

Information to help you stay safe in and around the water.

Read more on Queensland Health website

Drowning and water safety | NT.GOV.AU

Read about how to stop children from drowning at your home.

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Drowning prevention and water safety | Kids Health

If children aren't supervised closely in or around water, they can drown quickly in just a few centimetres of water.Drowning is very quick and silent. Most parents and carers think they will hear if a child is drowning, but this isn’t true. A young child's head is heavy compared to the rest of their body, so they can’t lift themselves once they're under water. 

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Water safety for children - Better Health Channel

Toddlers are most at risk of drowning because they are mobile and curious but don't understand the danger of water.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

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In Australian waterways in the 12 months to 30 June 2017, 291 lives were lost to drowning. Here are some water safety tips for use at swimming pools, inland waterways and the beach.

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Water safety for kids | Raising Children Network

Close adult supervision at all times is the key to drowning prevention and water safety for kids around dams, ponds, swimming pools, beaches and lakes.

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Water expanding products can pose a choking hazard, always keep them out of reach of young children.

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Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

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