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Guest column, Maria Baumgartner: Keeping your kids safe in and around water during summer fun
Dr. Maria Baumgartner

It feels second nature to reach for SPF 30 sunscreen to keep ourselves and our families safe from the sun’s harmful UV rays. Most of us are familiar with the dangers that too much sun can cause — skin damage, eye damage and skin cancer. There’s another danger to be aware of as well this summer — water. 

My hope is that this column will help make practicing safe water habits also second nature. 

Over this past Memorial Day holiday across Georgia, there were three drownings and one boating death according to Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources. One of these incidents happened on Lake Lanier. Let’s chat about some simple tips and tricks that can keep your family safe this summer — whether at home or on vacation.

Diving into water safety

These facts below are not easy to talk about, but I would like to make you aware because awareness is the key to saving lives.

  • Did you know that babies most often drown in buckets, toilets and bathtubs? Young children should never be left unattended in the bathroom even if they appear to be maintaining without assistance. 
  • Drowning can occur within seconds in just two inches of water. 
  • Of those that survive a near drowning, 5-10% are left with long-term disability due to severe brain damage.  

Keeping our kids safe 

Although the youngest have the most supervision around water, toddlers are the age group with the most accidental drownings — with 69% of all drownings occurring with children younger than 4. What typically happens is that toddlers sneak away from watchful eyes and find themselves unsupervised with access to water. 

First and foremost, supervise children around any water source — even in the bathroom. Bathtubs can be lined with plastic bathmats that suction to the tub to prevent slips, and toilets and/or bathrooms should have child lock devices to prevent entry. 

Also, consider swimming lessons at a young age. Children can start swim lessons as early as 1 year old — and it’s fun! All children are different, so when you’re deciding if your child is ready to start swim lessons, ask your family physician. 

Next tip: avoid consuming alcohol when you have an active role in watching children. Impaired judgment and/or slow response time can make a huge difference if something goes wrong. 

If you’re a pool owner or have a spa at home, they should be fenced in for safety. When installing a fence around water, it should be at least 4 feet tall. 

When choosing a gate, choose one that is self-closing and self-latching. Having a pool alarm would be ideal. 

Don’t forget that pools tend to be filled with floaties, noodles and toys that attract small children to reach out and try to grab them. After a day in the pool, be sure to clean out anything that is floating or sitting on the bottom of the pool. 

Pool drains are easily overlooked. Drains have strong suction systems, and it is easy for small appendages to become trapped. Child water wings or arm floaties can easily slip off the arms and can puncture easily. 

These devices keep children’s arms from being able to move freely and can inhibit the child’s ability to learn to swim properly.

Lake Lanier’s unique dangers

We are lucky to have Lake Lanier in our backyard. As fun as it is, it does pose unique dangers. 

Always have your children wear a life jacket, have constant supervision and stay in designated swimming areas. Remember, water wings, noodles and inner tubes are not life preservers! These are toys and not designed for water safety.  

As children are jumping from docks, boats or water edges, it is important to teach them to jump feet first rather than headfirst as the depths of water are unpredictable and there may be hidden objects below the surface. Make sure to check if there are signs posted about the area, and it’s a good idea for an adult to conduct a test swim to check things out.

This goes without saying, don’t swim alone — whether you’re an adult or adolescent. Use the buddy system.

If you find yourself in a water emergency, call 911 immediately. One of the most important take-home messages I’d like to impress upon you, is to become familiar with CPR. The most effective way to improve outcomes of drownings is to start CPR as soon as possible — even before calling 911, CPR should be initiated if possible. Rescue breathing and chest compressions help return oxygen to the brain and prevent brain injury and death. You can ask your family physician for resources to sign up for a free class in your community.

As more of us in the community are getting out to enjoy summer activities, these simple tips can really help keep everyone safe. 

Share this article with your family and friends and remind each other to pause before starting your fun summer splashes. Enjoy a safe and healthy summer.  

Dr. Maria Baumgartner is a part of the family medicine resident program at Northeast Georgia Health System. Columns publish monthly from residents in the program.

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