Sample date: April 20, 2014

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Healthy Babies Healthy Children Program

Water Babies

This page was reviewed or revised on Tuesday, October 27, 2009 4:08 PM

As parents get ready to open their pools for the summer, there are several issues for them to consider about having the baby in the water with them. On the one hand, water play has a number of advantages. It gives parents and children a chance to have fun together, encourages physical activity, development of large muscle skills and hand-eye co-ordination.

On the flip side, however, there are some potential concerns. Bacteria can be transmitted through water and infants can quickly become exposed to infections such as diarrhea, swimmer’s ear, swimmer’s itch, and other skin rashes. An infant’s body doesn’t regulate temperature as effectively as an adult’s and is at risk of hypothermia (dangerously low body temperature). Chemicals such as chlorine may harm emerging teeth.

Sometimes parents are concerned about "drownproofing" the baby. It isn’t possible to drownproof anyone, least of all a baby! Part of the process of attempting this is to force the baby under the water so that he will learn to hold his breath while under water. Although an infant may reflexly hold his breath, he will continue to swallow anything that enters his mouth. Excessive swallowing of water will cause "water intoxication" in a baby. Babies are more at risk because they have a smaller blood volume which requires less water to dilute. Water intoxication can cause restlessness, weakness, nausea, muscle twitching, stupor, convulsions, and coma 3 to 8 hours after the swim.

To help prevent or reduce any of these potential problems without keeping the baby totally out of the pool, here are some strategies to follow.

  • Never dunk an infant’s head under the water.
  • Be sure the baby has good control of his head, that is, that he can routinely lift his head to 90° angle.
  • Keep the pool extremely clean and water properly chlorinated.
  • Infants in diapers should wear waterproof pants that have snug elastic around the legs or tight fitting bottoms to help control bowel movements.
  • Water temperature should be 84-87° F. Limit water play to 30 minutes, but remove the baby before this time if the fingernails become blue.
  • Put a hat on the baby, and waterproof sunscreen (if over 6 months) with an SPF of at least 15 after testing for reaction on a small patch of skin.
  • Cover the baby’s body and head with a towel as soon as he gets out of the pool. Dry ears well.
  • Shower strong chemicals off the skin as soon as possible and avoid splashing water in the baby’s face.


In terms of general safety, be sure that all infant activity is one-to-one with a responsible adult. Coast Guard approved vests should be worn by all babies and young children when around water. Teach and enforce safety rules and limits around the pool. Enjoy your time in the water with your baby, but keep these rules in mind for baby’s safety and your peace of mind.

For more information about infant health, please call the Community Health Services at 519-383-8331 or 1-800-667-1839