Health Team

Swimming lessons key in drowning prevention

Posted July 29, 2014 6:10 p.m. EDT

— Shannon Friesen and her two boys, ages 4 and 5, spend a lot of time near water, but it wasn’t until recently that she thought about swimming lessons for her children.

“That's when we started to have this realization, we have not taught our children to swim,” she said. “They don't know how to swim.”

Drowning is the No. 1 cause of death for children under 5. Swimming lessons are the best way to prevent drowning.

“We like our instructors to be within arm’s reach, always pay attention to the students in the water with them (and) never turn their back on a student,” said Jeff Little, aquatics director for the A.E. Finley YMCA.

Children most likely to drown are those with a parent who is afraid of the water, said Dr. Graham Snyder, a WakeMed emergency physician. Parents can also pass down their fear to their children, who are also at a higher risk of secondary drowning, which occurs after someone has inhaled water into his or her lungs after being submerged for too long.

Symptoms of secondary drowning, which include being weak, confused and turning blue, may not show immediately, Snyder said.

A person can die from secondary drowning if he or she does not receive immediate emergency care, said Snyder, who added that drowning is greatly reduced with swimming lessons.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children should start swimming lessons between ages 4 and 5. By then, they don't have to re-learn the skill, the organization said.

One program, Infant Swimming Rescue, teaches toddlers how to save themselves if they fall in water.

For Friesen, she is glad her boys are learning how to swim.

“You can see at every lesson, your child improving and gaining the knowledge and skills,” she said.