Dr. Alan Greene on Swimming Safety

When is it safe to teach our baby to swim?


Our family has a swimming pool. When can we start teaching our baby how to swim?


    Swimming is a wonderful, safe activity when done correctly. Though swimming is a great summer activity to keep kids moving and healthy, there are a few safety issues. Most people are aware of the drowning risks and how important it is to teach kids water safety.

    The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn't recommend swimming with kids until age 3. This is the age when most children are able to learn to keep their heads above water. When kids swim at an earlier age, it's even more important to be vigilant.

    The health issue that most people don't think about is the spread of infection in swimming pools and water parks. In the last 10 years, there have been more than 150 serious outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness where people have been swimming. Several children have died from ingesting bacteria such as E. coli.

    These infections are caught by swallowing pool water. They usually are not contracted through the skin. There are six things that can be done to minimize infections from pools:

      1. Don't swim when you have diarrhea. This is especially important for kids in diapers.

      2. Teach your kids not to swallow pool water. It's best for them to avoid having the water in their mouth, but if they will even just avoid swallowing it, they will avoid most illnesses. Until they are old enough not to swallow the water, it's best to try to keep their heads out of the water.

      3. Wash your hands with soap and water often. Especially after using the toilet or after changing diapers.

      4. Take your kids on bathroom breaks often. Waiting until they say "I have to go" may mean that it's too late.

      5. Change diapers in a bathroom and not at poolside. Germs from a diaper change can stay on a pool deck and spread illness.

      6. Wash your child thoroughly, especially his rear end, before taking him swimming. We all have invisible amounts of fecal matter on our bottoms that will end up in the pool if we don't wash.

        By doing these things we can keep our families and our friends safe. Thankfully, chlorine at appropriate levels does kill most of the germs that cause infections, but it takes time for the chlorine to work, so these safety tips are important even in well-chlorinated pools.

        All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.