Swimming in the summer means fun for millions of families. But there's a dark side.
Each year, nearly 200 babies -- just 1 or 2 years old -- tumble by accident into a pool or spa and drown. It can happen in a flash. Often adults are near, but momentarily distracted. Drowning is second only to cars as a leading cause of accidental death in children.
In the past, some parents sent their toddlers to special swim schools to help keep them safe. But that was against the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which said you can't count on those results protecting a child from drowning. They also warned that parents could become less vigilant after their kids had the lessons.
Now, that's changing. A new study from the National Institutes of Health concluded that these swim lessons do help kids protect themselves.
And the parent's of 11-month-old Darcy Anderson believe it.
The baby is learning from instructors who are part of a program called Infant Swimming Resource , and right now, the Chicago class takes place at Presidential Towers Health Club.
For 10 minutes a day, 5 days a week, for 6 weeks, Darcy Anderson and instructor Andie Groff work on what to do if she should find herself face down in a pool.
"We basically show the children what to do based on touch," said Groff. "We are touching certain muscles in their body, the same thing when a children learn to tie their shoes. If you keep learning and keep tying, eventually it's second nature to you."
So over and over again, Darcy practices flipping from her belly to her back, where she will float, breathe, and wait for an adult to rescue her.
For kids slightly older than Darcy, the lesson is not only to float, but to swim to the side of the pool. And they will practice not only in a swimsuit, but in pants and shoes, and finally, in a winter coat. It's preparation for an accident that could happen anywhere, any time and in any season.
But the biggest danger is the season currently upon us.
Pools in the summer can be water magnets for little children. It's fun. It's where the toys are, and it's cool. What kids can't know is how quick and silent a drowning can be. Parents often look away for less than five minutes before the tragedy.
A simulation video from Infant Swimming Resource underscores the point, showing a father leaving for just a few minutes. That's all the time it takes for a child to fall in. But the child is trained in self-rescue, and the video then shows how the child manages to float on his back, calling for help.
Still, pediatricians warn that even with these skills, adults need to take safety precautions.
Here are just a few of the tips from national safety organizations:
1. Remove the toys when they're not in use.
2. Never leave a child unsupervised.
3. Surround a pool with a 4 foot fence. Make sure it has a self-closing, self-locking gate.
4. Add other barriers to small children, like safety covers and door alarms. There's even an alarm that goes off if there's a splash in the pool.
5. Older pool filters have enough suction to keep a child submerged. So install new, safety filters for your pool.
6. Check the pool for glass bottles and other hazards and keep electrical devices away from the water.
7. Remove ladders to above ground pools, when not in use.
8. Post emergency phone numbers near the pool and keep a first aid kit, bouys, and long poles near the pool.
9. Consider taking CPR training.
10. And if a child is missing, look in the pool first.
For these tips and lots more safety information, check our links with the Centers for Disease Control, the Consumer Products Safety Commission, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Insurance Information Institute, the Association of Pool and Spa Professions, and the American Red Cross.