Preventing Drowning in Toddlers

Toddlers can drown in only a few inches of water—and in only a few minutes. Children must be supervised at all times around water. Even when lifeguards are present (e.g., in public pools, lakes, and beaches), parents and caregivers must watch children closely.

Toddlers should never be left alone in the bathtub—even with an older sibling. Parents and caregivers who must leave the room should remove the child from the tub.

Childproof locks should be placed on closed toilets and bathroom doors should be shut at all times. Any containers of standing water—including pails, water tables, and small toddler-sized pools, should be emptied immediately after use.

Home pools should be surrounded by a fence at least five feet tall. Gates leading to pools should be secured with a lock that is out of the reach of children. If the house itself is one of the barriers to the pool, the door leading to it should be locked as well. Alarm systems can help alert adults if doors or gates have been opened. After using the pool, toys should be removed immediately so that children do not try to enter the pool to get them.

Frozen lakes and rivers are also dangerous and children should never be near them alone. Children should be taught never to walk on the ice.

Toddlers should always wear a regulation life jacket (i.e., one that is approved by the U.S. Coast Guard and certified by Underwriters Laboratories [UL]) when riding in a boat, swimming, or playing near water. The life jacket should be a bright color, have no missing straps or fasteners, and be the correct size for the child's height and weight. Pulling up on the jacket by the shoulders is one way to test the size: if the child's chin and ears slip through the neck holes, the jacket is too big. Life jackets for toddlers should have head support so that they can float face-up. Inflatable rafts, bubbles, water wings, and toys are not designed to be life preservers and are not substitutes for regulation life jackets and adult supervision.

If your toddler has a near drowning experience, contact your health care provider immediately—even if the child seems to be okay. Serious complications, including secondary drowning and others, are common.

Call 9-1-1 if your toddler experiences any of the following symptoms in the minutes and hours after near drowning:

  • Breathing problems (shallow breaths, gasping, wheezing)
  • Bluish skin around the lips, cold skin, or pale appearance (after warming up from cool water)
  • Distended abdomen
  • Chest pain
  • Cough (may be accompanied by pink or frothy sputum) or vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Unusual behavior (irritability, confusion, restlessness)

Updated by Remedy Health Media

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 27 Aug 2008

Last Modified: 06 Oct 2015