I’ve got 2 boys under the age of 5. While reading a Pediatrics article just now my stomach flipped. It’s because I read:

Children younger than 5 years, especially boys, are at greatest risk from drowning in swimming pools.

The words startled me as pediatrician but as Mama, too. Three thousand children under the age of 5 were treated in the ER each year between 2006-2008 for injuries associated with submersions. Private pools were the riskiest pools of all. Over half of the children who drowned and died (129/209) did so at their own home. Wrong, terrible, traumatic.

94% of the fatal and nonfatal downing injuries in portable, above-ground pools in the US between 2001 and 2009 were in children younger than 5 years. If you have, or entertain, or care for, or ever have the responsibility for a child under age 5 near water, think about safety ahead of time. That pool you buy at Target for $11.99 comes with real responsibility. That pool you buy at Target for $11.99 comes with real risk. Don’t believe because of a portable or above-ground pool’s size, cost, or convenience, it’s any safer than the ginormous pool at the YMCA. The article this week would suggest it may be alarmingly deceptive from a danger stand-point. Those plastic blow up pools just look so benign…

  • Keep your eyes on your prize. Keep your eyes on your child at all times when there is a pool filled with water. Never leave your child alone. The article found injuries and drowning happened with short lapses in supervision (documented cases included: those supervising answering the telephone, doing chores, or falling asleep). Clearly, you need to be especially vigilant with those under age 5 when curiosity trumps judgment in their lives. However, know that your eyes aren’t enough. Supervision at the time of the drowning/injury was documented in 66% of the cases, with 43% of the children injured or killed being supervised by an adult. So, having an adult around is simply not enough.
  • Drowning victims may not look like you expect: Remember that drowning may not look or sound like it does in the movies. Drowning can be alarming rapid and alarmingly quiet. In the article, children were found to drown or be injured in above-ground pools from entrapment, being entangled in cover of pool, slipping or tripping in/out of flotation devices, being landed on by another child, due to collapsed pools, trying to retrieve objects from the pool, and/or having removed their own life jackets. Drowning in a young toddler can happen in seconds when a little one toddles into the pool and slips under the surface. Splashing and noise may not be the norm.
  • Don’t let the depth of the water deceive you. The mean depth of the water in fatal drowning was only 2.1 feet. The smallest amount of water in which a child died was 0.2 feet (a matter of inches).

Although these horrific statistics scare, they also provide insight into who is at risk for drowning in portable and above-ground pools and what we can do to make this better. The children and their stories pop off the page; just now while writing this post, I learned this on Twitter:

This isn’t just statistics. Many of us have heard real stories of drowning or near-drowning. Drowning and submersion injuries are preventable deaths. These are the things we can do something about! However, it’s important to remember not one single solution exists, layering protection and education around children, especially those a high risk is what will make change. Children under age 5, who lack a robust sense of danger around water, are those to think about most…

Tips on Preventing Injuries & Drowning In Above Ground or Portable Pools:

  • Never leave children alone when a pool is at your home. Never leave your children alone at someone else’s pool.
  • Preventing children from reaching the pool unsupervised in the first place is a key step in safety. Fencing is recommended around any pool that remains filled. Children may fall into portable or above-ground pools if they lean against the soft side of an inflatable pool. Although these pools are often exempt from local pool fencing requirements, the AAP states: “It is essential that they be surrounded by an appropriate fence just as a permanent pool would be so that children cannot gain unsupervised access. The AAP suggests that fencing be 4 ft high, nonclimbable, and without any openings underneath it. You can even purchase temporary fencing.
  • EMPTY wading pools or portable pools immediately after use.
  • If unsure where your child is, go to the pool FIRST to look for them, not last! (Good point, Dr Shifrin)
  • Don’t leave floating toys in the pool–they can lure a toddler or child in.
  • Remove ladders from above-ground pools when the pool is not in use whenever possible. Block ladders if you can’t remove them. Further, use door locks and alarms on your home to prevent children from entering the pool or pool area without your knowledge.
  • Swimming lessons only provide limited protection. New research finds that children ages 1 to 4 may be at a lower risk of drowning if they have had some formal swimming instruction. However, there is no evidence that swimming lessons or water survival skills courses can prevent drowning in babies younger than 1 year of age. “Teaching your child to swim does not mean they are safe in the water.”
  • Never trust a life vest, a flotation device, or even one single person to protect a young child in a pool. Layering protection around pools from fences to supervision to safe equipment to is essential!
  • Learn CPR. Again if it’s been a while. An essential and incredible tool for your children and their friends…

What’s your story? What have you learned about pool safety that I’m missing?  If you’re not going to erect a fence when you put up a portable pool, what do you think you will do? What else can we do to prevent drownings this summer? Think fast. And share…