baby in the pool

Is a chlorine pool safe for babies?

Mr Golden Sun is shining down, and you want to discover if your baby will take to the pool with a splash and a splash.

But first things first! There are several things you need to prepare for and be aware of before you decide to take your little one for a swim. Read on to learn about the potential water dangers and the best ways to keep your baby safe while having some fun.

When you’ve got a baby that you’re itching to get into the pool, you surely must face many anxieties and questions about chlorine and babies! How early is it to bring my baby into a pool? Is it safe to dunk a baby underwater? However, one that always stands out is the question: is chlorine safe for babies? We all know the effects of swimming in chlorine – especially if swimming has been a big part of your life. You can’t help but wonder if the chemical riddled water that turns hair green and dries out skin is harmful to your new and vulnerable baby. There are a few things to address before making a decision.

It’s hard to find anything better on a hot and humid summer day than taking a dip at the local swimming pool. And while your older children will likely swim until their fingertips resemble prunes, how safe is that chlorinated pool water for your baby?

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The chlorine conundrum

Though less harsh alternatives are on the market as a replacement for chlorine, the pungent pathogen killer remains the most popular choice for keeping swimming pools clean.

But, according to a study by the Journal of American Academy of Pediatrics, in addition to being nasally offensive, chlorine has also been shown to irritate the more delicate skin and upper respiratory tract of babies, causing an increased risk for rash, asthma, bronchiolitis and other respiratory infections.

Why? Babies are at a greater risk for respiratory infections because their lungs are still developing, and they tend to swallow water while swimming, which can contain irritants.

baby in the pool with father

Is it safe for my 5-month-old to swim indoors?

Some research suggests that infant swimming in chlorinated pools might increase the risk of airway inflammation. Still, there isn’t enough information conclusively linking infant swimming and asthma to warrant keeping healthy babies out of indoor pools.

Researchers theorise that chlorine — a common disinfectant used to keep pools clean — binds with swimmers’ sweat, dirt, skin cells and urine to create byproducts in the water and air that might harm an infant’s lungs and put him or her at risk of developing asthma. Indoor pools have higher concentrations of these byproducts than do outdoor pools. Babies might be at particular risk because their lungs are still developing, and they tend to swallow irritant-laden water while swimming.

Studies examining the relationship between infant swimming and asthma, however, have produced conflicting results and further research is needed.

If your baby participates in infant swimming in indoor pools and you’re concerned about asthma, opt for a well-ventilated facility. Ideally, staff members will open doors and windows in the pool area and use fans to boost airflow over the surface of the pool when it’s crowded. Also, rinse yourself and your baby in the shower before entering and after leaving the pool, wear a swim cap, and regularly check your baby’s diaper. This can reduce the formation of irritants in the water and air.

How does chlorine work to clean swimming pools?

Chlorine is a chemical most often used to keep swimming pools free of bacteria and other dangerous things for swimmers. Chlorine kills bacteria through a chemical reaction that oxidises the cellular structure of bacteria, making it harmless (HowStuffWorks). Pool maintenance workers and pumps ensure the balance of chlorine and pH levels in the water. This provides an optimal and enjoyable swimming experience. That sounds safe. And for the most part, it is completely safe for both adults and children. So then is there a reason to worry? It’s important to remember that although this process cleans and disinfects the water, it can produce annoying side effects. With long bouts of exposure, these side effects could be potentially hazardous. 

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What are Trihalomethanes?

Trihalomethanes and chloramines are the byproducts of the free-acting chlorine binding with the dirt in the pool – or other words the bacteria, and any other things that might be brought in on human bodies like sweat, urine, dead skin cells, and body products like lotions. These trihalomethanes float above the pool water in gaseous form and can cause irritated eyes and nasal passages. These are also the main cause of that “chlorine smell” we all recognise from an indoor pool. While you can’t avoid it completely, if the smell of chlorine in a pool is overwhelming, you should try to steer clear. Big municipal pools, public pools, and other trusted locations will usually balance the water. So, this is something to watch out for when you’re visiting lesser-known establishments or less frequented facilities.

Why is my skin itchy after I get out of the pool?

So what causes itchy skin and watery eyes – is it those pesky chloramines? Yes, these can cause itchy eyes, dry skin, and sneezing; another likely cause is the pH levels of the water. To facilitate a pleasant swimming experience, the pool’s pH level should match the natural pH level of our eyes and skin. The combination of the wrong pH and chlorine levels are the cause of itchy dry skin woes of swimmers everywhere.

Infant Pool Safety Tips

Infant pool safety here are several things you need to be aware of when introducing your little one to a swimming pool, or outside conditions in general—first, sunscreen. If your infant is younger than six months, you should not expose them to sunlight for long periods out in the sun. Their skin is too sensitive. You also should avoid using sunscreen on children younger than six months of age, which is another reason to avoid having them in the sun for long periods of time. The greater ratio of the surface area of their skin in relation to their body weight means that they are more susceptible to absorbing the chemicals in the sunscreen.

Furthermore, as you have probably noticed, babies have a tendency to put their hands in their mouths … meaning they are likely to ingest some sunscreen even despite your best efforts. If you do decide to take your baby out in the sun, try to do it outside of the sunniest hours of the day (from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.) and consider alternatives methods of sun protection like hats and UV resistant clothing. Always keep your baby in the shade as much as reasonably possible. And when they do reach the six months mark, and your pediatrician gives you the go-ahead to slather him or her with sunscreen, consider baby sunscreen that is formulated to be more gentle on their sensitive skin.  

Pool chemicals

If you maintain your pool, or even if you have someone do it for you, then you are probably aware that there are many chemicals used to keep the pool free of bacteria, algae, etc. These chemicals go beyond just chlorine. The list can include harsher chemicals, such as acid. It is important to monitor the levels in your pool—chlorine levels, acidity, PH levels and so on. If the levels are too low, bacteria and algae can form in the pool, which can lead to potential health problems, especially for infants and toddlers. If the levels are too high, it can cause skin irritation for infants and adults alike. Saltwater pools can be infinitely more conducive to accommodating babies’ sensitive skin. Along the same lines, you will want to be sure that babies swallow as little pool water as possible. If you are confronted with a pool that smells of chlorine, consider avoiding it altogether if your baby is in tow.  

Body temperature

Another thing to keep in mind when swimming with infants is water temperature. Infants do not regulate body temperature as well as adults, or even toddlers do. As mentioned earlier, babies have much more skin surface area in relation to their body weight, which is the primary reason for their sensitivity to temperature. Their temperature tends to fluctuate more. Test the water to ensure that the temperature is suited for younger children before just diving in with them. Ideally, a pool will be between 85 and 87 degrees Fahrenheit. If you notice that your baby feels especially cold or he starts to shiver, it is time to get out. Alternatively, babies are also sensitive to warm water and should under no circumstances go into the especially warm pool water or a hot tub.

Swim diapers

When Can Babies Go in the PoolSure, swim diapers are cute. But they also play a very important role in safely swimming with your infant. Traditional diapers are not just taxing on a pool’s filtration system (they expand as they absorb water and tend to disintegrate). Still, they are also less effective at preventing the contamination of pool water with fecal bacteria. Recreational water illnesses are a serious concern (and yet another reason you want to ensure your baby does not ingest pool water). Phoenix area infants and toddlers have gotten incredibly sick and even died in cases of bacterial infections from pool waters in the past. If you do think that your pool may have been contaminated by fecal matter (stuff happens), get everyone out of the pool immediately. After disposing of the incriminating matter, increase the chlorine levels in your pool and follow the other steps outlined in the Center for Disease Control’s recommendations.

Check out our post on Is it good for babies to swim?

Water safety

Water wings, floating devices, and other flotation devices are wonderful and allow kids to have some independence safely. The sensation of weightlessness and their increased range of motion in the pool can be a lot of fun for babies! But, always keep them within an arm’s length. Things can change in a heartbeat. Additionally, be sure to stay out of the deep end and in an area of the pool where you can comfortably touch the bottom. Although the above recommendations may seem overwhelming – especially to new parents – rest assured that you can enjoy the swimming pool with your infant this summer.

Never leave your baby alone — or in the care of another young child — in or near a pool. Drowning is the number one cause of injury-related death trusted Source among children 1 to 4 years old, with children 12 to 36 months old being at highest risk.

It takes as little as one inch of water, as few as seconds, for a child to drown. And it’s silent.

You should always stay within one arm’s reach whenever your baby is near the pool. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests using touch supervision. This means your baby should always be within an arm’s reach near the water so that you could reach out and touch them instantly. This may be tiring, but nothing is more important.

Keep your towels, phone, and any other items you may want within an arm’s reach too, minimising the number of times you have to carry your slippery little swimmer in and out of the water.

In addition to close and constant supervision, the AAP recommends using 4-foot high pool fences on all four sides of the pool and with childproof, locking gates. If you own a pool, be sure to check the gate frequently to make sure it works and locks properly.

Water wings, floaties, or other inflatable toys are fun but don’t rely on them to keep your baby safe in the water and stay out of the deep end. A life jacket approved by the United States Coast Guard will fit more snugly and is safer than the standard arm floaties we remember from childhood.

Regardless of what you may use to help your small child stay afloat, always remain within an arm’s reach as your baby explores this weightless, free-range playtime.

For additional safety, keep rescue equipment (a shepherd’s hook or life preserver) next to the pool and enrol your little one in swim lessons as soon as he or she is developmentally ready.

EvidenceTrusted Source reveals that many children older than one-year-old will benefit from swim lessons. However, there are many classes available for infant “self-rescue” survival swimming (also known as ISR lessons).

Sun safety for babies

According to the AAP, babies under six months of age should be kept out of direct sunlight. If you’re out and about with your babe, it is best to stay in the shade as much as possible and limit sun exposure during the hottest hours of the day (between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.). Even on cloudy days, the sun’s rays are strong enough to cause a sunburn.

Using umbrellas, stroller canopies, hats with neck flaps, and UPF 50+ sun protected clothing that covers your baby’s arms, and legs will help prevent sunburn.

For sunscreen, don’t apply anything less than 15 SPF and be sure to cover the smaller areas, like your baby’s face, ears, neck, feet, and back of hands (don’t forget how often babies put their hands in their mouths).

You will want to test the sunscreen on a small area of your baby’s back first, to make sure it doesn’t cause an allergic reaction. Remember to reapply sunscreen after swimming, sweating, or every 2 hours.

If your baby gets a sunburn, apply a cool compress to the affected skin. If the sunburn blisters, seems painful, or if your baby has a temperature, contact your pediatrician or family doctor.

More safe swimming tips

  • Consider becoming CPR certified. You can find CPR classes with infant-specific training through your local fire department and recreational centres or via the American Red Cross and the American Heart Association.
  • Do not swim during a storm. Conditions can change quickly.
  • Never leave your baby alone — or in the care of another young child, or an adult under the influence of drugs or alcohol — in or near the pool.
  • Don’t keep your baby in the pool water for longer than 10 minutes at first. When you get out, be sure to wrap your baby in a warm blanket or towel immediately. Babies younger than 12 months shouldn’t stay in a pool for longer than 30 minutes at a time.
  • Install a four-feet high fence, with a childproof gate lock, on all four sides of the pool (even inflatable pools).
  • Don’t leave pool toys out, enticing your little one to venture near the water.
  • Do not let your baby swim if your baby has diarrhea. Always use appropriate swim diapers for little ones who aren’t potty trained.
  • Don’t take the baby into a pool if the drain covers are broken or missing. Do a safety check on the pool each time before entering.
  • Enrol your baby in swimming lessons as soon as you feel your child is developmentally ready.
  • Rinse off your baby with clean water after swimming to help prevent potential skin irritations and infections.

So this brings us back to our original question – Is chlorine safe for babies?

Yes, chlorinated pool water is, in fact, safe for your baby. However, this doesn’t mean that every pool is safe. You still have to make sure your baby is old enough before he or she ventures into the pool. You also have to take some things into account. Such as, how busy the pool is, the temperature of the water, and whether the pool is indoors or outdoors. The chlorine water itself does not pose a risk for your little swimmer. Swimming in the pool will be comfortable so long as the pool is balanced. Make sure to take a soapy shower right after getting out to avoid any skin dryness. Your baby will be excited to keep coming back to the pool for more splashes and fun!

Even though it is safe for your baby to get into the water at any age, even you should wait to go in the pool until you’ve been cleared by your doctor or midwife to avoid getting an infection post-birth (usually about six weeks, or until seven days after vaginal bleeding stops).

Waiting until your baby is six months is also safer for your little one’s growing immune system and body. In the meantime, you can enjoy warm baths for water fun.

This may feel like an overwhelming amount of precautions, but following the guidelines and tips mentioned above can help keep your baby safe as you enjoy the warmer weather and some poolside fun with your little one.

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