Stories about: Swimming

Drowning Can Happen to Anyone–Including Your Child

When I was a child, something happened to friends of our family that changed how I thought about water safety forever.

The mother took her 3-year-old daughter to the beach near their house. She sat on the sand while her daughter played nearby—and somehow, inexplicably and tragically, she fell asleep. When she woke up, her daughter had drowned.

Tragedies like these happen to other people, we often think. It wouldn’t happen to us. Especially something like drowning, because that seems so simple to prevent. Go to places with lifeguards. Make sure your children can swim. Keep an ear out for shouting or splashing. Glance at the water regularly.

The problem is, none of that’s enough.

I should say that I love the water. I grew up on the north shore of Long Island and spent much of my childhood in or near water. I still spend a lot of time in or near water, as do my children—none of us can imagine anything different. But as much as I love water, I also respect and fear it.

It’s a sunny day. You and your daughter had a bad night—she kept waking up with an earache—and you are both exhausted and cranky. After lunch, you decide to take her to the beach for a few minutes. It’s spring, too cool for swimming, there won’t be other kids to play with, but she loves it there. It will cheer you both up.

Two summers ago, in a public pool south of Boston with plenty of lifeguards, a woman slid to the bottom of the pool and drowned. There were people all around her, but the water was so murky that nobody saw her. That may seem like an extreme case, but actually, people drown with lifeguards present all the time. It’s easy for lifeguards to be distracted by other swimmers, by conversation or by the myriad of things that can distract anyone.

You brought a chair to the beach, and you sit down in it with your daughter nearby. Together, you build a sandcastle. She gets up and walks toward the water, looking for seashells. Remember, you tell her, don’t go near the water. She comes back, sits and puts seashells on the castle. The sun is so warm on your face; you lean back in the chair, closing your eyes as you listen to the surf and to the sound of your daughter playing next to you. This was such a good idea, you think.

My youngest two, heading into the water

Once I got caught in a rip current, or something like it. I suddenly found myself further out than I expected, and it was hard to swim back in. Luckily, I was not only a good swimmer, but I knew what to do: swim parallel to shore until I could swim back in. But not everyone is so lucky—and good swimmers get tired, hit their heads or get tossed by waves and lose their bearings.

What many people don’t realize, too, is that drowning can be very silent. When a drowning person makes it to the surface, they don’t scream or flail—they take the biggest breath they can before they drop below the surface, and it may be less than a minute before they don’t come up again (to learn more, check out the great post, Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning by Mario Vittone).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most young children who drown in pools were last seen inside the house, had been out of sight less than five minutes and were in the care of one or both parents at the time.

You open your eyes. You feel odd. Could you possibly have fallen asleep? No—you couldn’t have done that. You wouldn’t have done that. You look next to you—your daughter isn’t there. Panic rises in your throat as you jump to your feet and look frantically around you, screaming your daughter’s name. You run to the water—and see her, a few feet out, under the water, motionless.

This could happen to anyone. Including you.

Here’s what the CDC says you should do to prevent drowning:

  • Learn life-saving skills. Everyone should learn to swim. Grownups (and older teens) should learn CPR.
  • Fence it off.  Pools should have fences that go completely around them, separating them from house or play areas, and have self-latching and self-locking gates.
  • Use life jackets. The CDC suggests that children wear life jackets near any natural body of water, like a lake or ocean. They can help weaker swimmers in pools, too.
  • Be on the lookout. When kids are in or near water (including the bathtub), an adult should be supervising them. Like staring at them. Not reading a book or sunbathing or otherwise multitasking. Staring at them.



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Understanding the FDA's new sunscreen rules

Sun safety
Wide-brimmed hats are one way to keep your baby's skin safe from the sun

Long, lazy beach days, backyard barbecues and pool parties are all part of the perfect sunny summer day. But while we’re soaking it all up, we should also take in the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) new sunscreen regulations that were announced on June 14 – the first change the organization has made to its recommendations in the past 30 years.

Up until now, sunscreen makers could claim that a product offers  “broad spectrum coverage,” but that phrase wasn’t clearly defined. Starting in 2012, this definition will be clearer:


  • Sunscreen can only be labeled “broad spectrum” if it protects people from both ultraviolet-A (UVA) and ultra violet-B (UVB) rays.
  • Because sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of less than 15 offers less comprehensive protection, it will now come with a warning label explaining that it may not protect skin from cancer, burn or premature aging.
  • Since sunscreen can be washed and worn off, the words “waterproof,” “sweatproof” and “sunblock” will no longer appear, and instead we’ll see the term “water resistant.” It’ll also offer directions on how frequently it should be reapplied.
  • SPF numbers will be lower. The SPF numbers had been confusing in that they’re not actually proportional. (SPF 30 is not actually twice the coverage as 15.) The FDA will cap sunscreens at SPF 50 (which is near 100 percent coverage), since SPFs 70-100 were doing little more than SPF 50.

Because the regulations won’t be in place until 2012, Stephen Gellis, MD, program director of Dermatology at Children’s Hospital Boston, suggests using common sense and keeping your own skin’s burning potential in mind when choosing a product. He says that sunscreen should be a second or third defense, and that staying out of the sun or covering up is a much more powerful way to keep your skin healthy.

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Have a safe and happy Fourth

Happy 235th birthday America! With any luck your weekend celebrations will be full of cookouts, swimming and maybe even a firework display or two. But as the festivities begin, please keep in mind that kids are at an increased risk for injury during holidays.

Of course you already know about firework safety: How could you not when every July 3rd news agencies from coast to coast run stories to promote it? It’s an important reminder, but the majority of the injuries that occur on holidays happen during everyday activities. With this in mind I spoke with a few experts around the hospital to create this list of potential accidents and injuries that parents should be on the look out for this weekend.

Summer sun. The Fourth of July is a great time to get outside as a family and enjoy some sun, but don’t forget the sunscreen! For babies younger than 6 months though, the suggestions rely around simply keeping them out of the sun. Stay in the shade, and dress them in lightweight clothes and long-brimmed hats that cover arms, legs, face and neck.  But we know that constant shade isn’t going to work for everyone, so if your young one is going to be out in the sun this weekend, make sure she has small amounts of sunscreen covering all exposed areas like the hands and neck. Should a burn occur, treat it with a cold compress.

Older, more active kids should have at least one ounce of sunscreen applied to their bodies when exposed to direct sun, applied once every two hours (or immediately after swimming.)

When the sun is at it’s peak between 10 am and 4 pm, hats and sunglasses are a great way to protect their eyes and face. And because water reflects the sun’s rays with intensity, buy waterproof ones to splash around in. If their clothes and glasses are too fancy to get wet, bring a cheaper set to be worn during water play.

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Dangers of kiddie and inflatable pools

Tuesday marked the first day of summer. It means fun in the sand and surf, but with it often comes tragic stories about children drowning. But it’s not just in ground swimming pools and rip tides that are dangerous to young swimmers. Kiddie or inflatable pools, even with their limited amounts of water, are responsible for many of the season’s water related injuries. These pools are often bright colors and adorned with recognizable cartoon characters to attract young children, but their walls and supports are flimsy. With even a small amount of pressure they’ll bend or push downward. A child who runs up to a SpongeBob Square Pants pool and pushes on a picture of their favorite undersea friend can quickly have gallons of water dumped into his face and mouth. In some cases even a small amount can be deadly.

According to a new study, published in Pediatrics, there were 209 fatal drowning reported from 2001 through 2009 caused by portable, above ground pools. Most cases involved children younger than 5 years. When averaged together, this adds up to one toddler drowning death every five days during the summer months because of poorly supervised kiddie pools.

Not surprisingly, many of these deaths happened when the children were unattended, or when miscommunication between caregivers led to everyone assuming someone else was watching the children. Even when that confusion lasts only a matter of minutes, it can have deadly consequences. The same amount of time it takes to answer a phone call or check an email can be long enough for a child to drown.

Even if a child is taller than the standing water, drowning is still a very serious threat

In light of this information here’s a few safety tips to keep your child safe around water this summer.

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