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Water safety for babies

3-minute read

The 2019 Australian National Drowning Report showed that 19 children under 4 years and 8 children aged 5 to 14 years lost their lives through drowning. Babies can drown in as little as 5cm of water. Drowning is silent so you won’t necessarily hear any noise or struggle.

It's important to remember:

  • Stay with your baby all the time that they're in the bath. Never leave them for a moment, even if there’s an older brother or sister in the bath with them.
  • If you use a bath seat, remember that it’s not a safety device. You still need to stay with your baby all the time.

Toddlers can drown in very shallow water, such as in baths or ponds. 

  • Never leave young children alone in the bath, even for a second.
  • Empty the bath as soon as you’ve taken your child out.
  • If you have a garden pond, fence it off, fill it in or securely cover it.
  • Watch toddlers when they're in a paddling pool or playing near water. Empty the paddling pool straight after use.
  • Make sure your garden is secure so that your child can’t get into neighbouring gardens, where there may be ponds or other drowning hazards.

Royal Life Saving says a lack of adult supervision is still the number one issue in child drowning. Eighty-four per cent of drowning deaths in children aged 0 to 4 years resulted from a fall into water, while 16% occurred while bathing.

Royal Life Saving says many of the drowning incidents occur when adults are distracted attending to other children, watching TV, performing daily chores or mistakenly think someone else is supervising the child. The organisation says you have to keep watch at all times to prevent children from drowning.

Learn about resuscitation for babies and children.

Avoiding bath water scalds

Bath water scalds can be very serious injuries, needing prolonged treatment and care. They can kill a child. Toddlers may play with the hot tap, scalding themselves and other children sharing the bath with them. 

  • Never leave a child under five alone in the bath, even for a moment.
  • Fit a thermostatic mixing valve to your bath's hot tap to control the temperature and stop your child being badly scalded.
  • Put cold water into the bath first, then add the hot water. Always test the temperature of the water, using your elbow, before you put your baby or toddler in the bath. The water should feel neither hot or cold.

Flotation and aquatic toys 

Flotation and aquatic toys come in various shapes, sizes and materials and are popular with children for playing in water. Flotation toys can also help children stay afloat while they play. These toys come in styles that children can: 

  • wear
  • attach to their bodies
  • hold on to
  • sit in

Flotation and aquatic toys can include but are not limited to:

  • inflatable novelty shapes
  • inflatable toy boats for shallow water
  • unattached rings—complete or partial

Flotation and aquatic toys are not safety devices. Children who cannot swim could drown if their aquatic toy fails or if they do not use it properly. The risk of drowning also increases if a child gets injured while playing with a toy in the water. 

A competent adult should constantly watch children playing with flotation and aquatic toys. As children are still developing, they generally have limited motor (brain to muscle) coordination and are not able to judge potentially dangerous situations or react to them in time.

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Last reviewed: November 2019

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