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When Can Babies Go in the Pool?

Wait until they’re at least 6 months old before your little one takes their first dunk

Smiling parent holding smiling baby in a pool

There may not be anything quite so satisfying as spending the day poolside. But if you have a baby in tow, you may be wondering if a dip in the pool is right for them.

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When can babies go in the pool? And why might it be a good idea to wait?

We talked with pediatrician Brigitta Moresea, MD, about babies, pools and water safety.

Why wait until your baby is 6 months old

Dr. Moresea (and most pediatricians) advises that most babies can safely go in the pool when they’re about 6 months old.

That’s because water can pose a significant safety risk to younger infants. (And your older kids, too. In fact, drowning is the top cause of injury-related death in kids between the ages of 1 and 4. So, water safety should always be of the utmost importance.)

What’s the risk of taking baby swimming before their first half-birthday? Dr. Moresea explains.

Better head control

A wet baby is a slippery little thing. (You probably already know that after just a couple of bathtimes.)

When baby can’t hold up their own head, that means one of your hands has to be dedicated to cradling their noggin at all times. That leaves just one hand to support the rest of them. And that can be a tricky maneuver in the pool.

But when baby has better head control (typically, around the six-month mark), it gets a little easier to keep their head (and mouth, nose and eyes) out of the water.

“It comes down to water safety,” Dr. Moresea says. “When baby has good head control, it gets a little easier to keep them safe and supported in the pool.”

Of course, you need to stay vigilant with any kid in the water. Always use a two-hand approach. That’s true whether you’re hanging in the pool or giving them a bath.

Body temperature regulation

Babies can’t regulate their body temperature as well as older kids and adults. That means they can get too hot and too cold more easily.

A 78-degree pool may feel blissful to you on a hot summer’s day. But pool water can quickly cool a little baby’s body. And the reverse is true, too. Babies can heat up fast. That’s one reason babies and kids under 5 should stay out of hot tubs.

Dr. Moresea advises that even babies older than 6 months should keep pool time brief — about 30 minutes or fewer — to help keep their body temperature regulated.

Look for signs that it’s time to end your swim session early, like:

  • Skin that’s cool to the touch.
  • Chattering teeth.
  • Shivering.
  • Sneezing.
  • Fussing.
  • Pale, blotchy or blueish skin or lips.

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Sun exposure

Outdoor pools are likely to be too sunny for baby skin.

Why? Sunscreen isn’t recommended before 6 months. So, babies younger than that should be kept in the shade. And keep them covered in lightweight clothing, like swim shirts and hats.

If your baby is older than 6 months, it’s still a good idea to limit their time in direct sunlight. No sunscreen is perfect. And a sunburned baby is bound to be a miserable baby.

Safety gear

Even with good head control and support from a responsible adult, Dr. Moresea advises that babies and kids should always (always!) use a life jacket. And not just any life jacket.

“If it doesn’t say ‘Coast Guard Approved’ it’s not recommended to use,” she emphasizes

Some life jackets will say they’re safe for “30 pounds and under” or something along those lines. But those recommendations should be taken with a grain of salt.

A well-fitting life jacket is a must. And the vast majority of babies under 6 months old won’t fit properly in those devices.

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Remember, too, that blow-up water wings, rafts, innertubes and other pool toys shouldn’t be used as replacements for an approved life jacket. And no life vest can replace a dedicated and trustworthy adult maintaining hands-on support in the pool. Both supervision and appropriate safety gear are musts.

Are chlorinated pools and saltwater pools safe for babies?

Some pools use chlorine to kill off germs. Others use saltwater. Neither should pose a health risk to your baby, assuming the pool is maintained properly.

Chlorine levels in most pools should be safe for babies over 6 months old. Too little chlorine and you risk the potential for disease-causing viruses and bacteria lurking in the water. Too much chlorine could irritate sensitive baby skin. And if you’ve ever gotten an eyeful of chlorinated water, you know it’s not fun for you, let alone for your baby.

Saltwater pools may be gentler on the skin and eyes. But they still need to be well-maintained to be safe for you and baby.

Dr. Moresea suggests keeping chlorination levels appropriate in your own pool. And to use caution with public swimming pools if you’re worried about the chlorine content in the water.

If you’re eager to get baby some pool time, that’s understandable. Swimming is great exercise, and it’s fun to introduce your little one to new experiences. But it’s best to wait until they have good head control, fit well in a life jacket and can better maintain their body temperature. Stay safe. And have fun!

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Well-Baby Care Visits & Developmental Milestones (Age 0-12m)

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