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Swimming Lessons OK for Toddlers, Experts Say

Pediatricians' group policy change based on evidence that some kids may benefit

MONDAY, May 24 (HealthDay News) -- The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued new guidelines on drowning prevention in children, taking into account the risks from popular inflatable pools and new evidence that safety instruction may be helpful for toddlers.

In a change from previous guidelines, the AAP no longer recommends against swimming lessons for kids aged 1 to 3 years because there's new evidence that instruction may help some young children avoid drowning.

Drowning is the second leading cause of death for children aged 1 to 19 years, and about 1,100 children died of drowning in the United States in 2006. Toddlers and teen-aged boys are at highest risk.

"Not every child will be ready to learn to swim at the same age," said Dr. Jeffrey Weiss, lead author of a policy statement that was released online May 24 and will be published in the July issue of the journal Pediatrics. "Swimming lessons can be an important part of the overall protection, which should include pool barriers and constant, capable supervision."

The policy statement doesn't recommend water instruction for kids younger than 1 year of age.

"To protect their children, parents need to think about layers of protection," Weiss explained in a news release.

"Children need to learn to swim," he said. "But even advanced swimming skills cannot 'drown-proof' a child of any age. Parents must also closely supervise their children around water and know how to perform CPR. A four-sided fence around the pool is essential."

A fence separating a pool from the rest of the world -- including the house -- is estimated to cut the risk of drowning by half, the pediatrics experts said.

But laws about pool fencing often don't apply to large inflatable pools that may require thousands of gallons of water. Federal officials counted 47 deaths of children related these pools from 2004-2006.

"Because some of these pools have soft sides, it is very easy for a child to lean over and fall headfirst into the water," Weiss said. "These pools pose a constant danger."

Weiss pointed out that while many parents are vigilant while watching their children around swimming pools, a moment of inattention on the part of distracted adults can lead to trouble. "It's not a lack of supervision, it's a lapse of supervision," he warned.

More information

For more about swimming safety, visit the Nemours Foundation's KidsHealth Web site.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: American Academy of Pediatrics, news release, May 24, 2010

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