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Infant swimming

With summer here, parents frequently pool their thoughts and ask me whether it is okay for their infants to be in the water. Let me dive right in and provide some information on infants and swim programs. Five to ten million infants participate in water instruction programs annually. The main purpose of these programs is to help these young children and infants as young as 6 months of age enjoy fun time together in the water with their parents not to teach young children how to swim or be safe. In fact, there is no proof that swimming programs for infants and toddlers decrease the risk of drowning, or make young children safer in the water. In fact, children are not really developmentally ready for swimming lessons until after they turn four. We also know that infants can get sick in the water. They can experience hypothermia (body cooling), water poisoning from swallowing too much water, and can even spread communicable diseases to others in the pool unless they are wearing waterproof diapers. So what kind of program do I recommend? I recommend those programs that follow YMCA guidelines, where instructors know CPR and infants and toddlers are never submerged Thus, supervision whether you re in a swimming program or just playing in a friends pool is essential, and not just by instructors or life guards but by parents as well. In the water, make sure you are within an arms length of your infant or toddler and able to touch him or her at all times. Even if your child is older and knows how to swim, remember that a child can drown in the time it takes to run inside and answer a phone. Be sure to keep a phone near the pool so that you can continue to supervise your child while he or she is swimming. Also, it is important that pools should be gated and locked when you are not there to supervise, so young children do not get near them and attempt to go in when you are not around. Remember, too, that you cannot waterproof a young child even with the best set of water wings and swimming lessons. So keep an eye on your child at all times when in or near water. Hopefully, tips like this will make a big splash when it comes to knowing how to keep your young child safe in the water. Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Childrens Hospital at Fletcher Allen and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch First with Kids weekly on WOKO 98.9 FM and WCAX-TV Channel 3. Visit the First with Kids archives at www.vermontchildrens.org.

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