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Saving a small child from drowning / what to do when your child falls in water

(43 Posts)
TrucksAndDinosaurs Fri 01-Feb-13 13:51:46

So my toddler fell into a canal the other day, and very luckily I was able to get him out safely. This is not intended to be a praise or blame thread, but at the suggestion of two other posters I am starting a thread to share ideas and links and info about what to do when a child falls in water and how to prepare for it.

Firstly, this is what helped us.
Twenty years ago I did basic lifeguard training.
I also keep up with my first aid.

We walk that canal path most days and as we walk I am always running a mental rescue/hazard check - safe entry and exit points, who is about,current flow, water depth and visibility,hazards such as moored boats which could crush us and also boats with easy access via steps and ladders at the back so a child could be placed in one from the water and both scramble out.

I also carry a mobile.

The other helpful thing is that DS and I swim every day and have done water safety practice since he was a baby.

When 4-6 months he was 'dived down' in my arms and pulled underwater and resurfaced so he 'swam'' underwater. This taught him not to breathe in underwater and not to panic.

When about 9 months and to this day he has been taught to sit on the side and jump in on command. ( We sing Humpty Dumpty had a great FALL 1-2-3- jump!) At first I caught him, standing directly under him in the pool, then I let him go down deeper and bob up as he got older and now he jumps in and knows to kick for the surface and also hold breath underwater and not panic.

(All this without armbands so he is used to his unfloated weight although we do swim with armbands he rest of the time and at 2.1 he swims independently in them.)

We practice holding onto the side of the pool for a count of ten, longer nd slower counts each time so he automatically grabs the side.

We practice swimming to my hand and grabbing - the automatic drowning response is not to reach and grab. I practice looking out for drowning whenever I at the pool or beach because it does not look like what you think,

Here is a good link about what people look like when drowning.

Key part pasted below
The Instinctive Drowning Response
Drowning does not look like drowning - Dr. Pia, in an article in the Coast Guard, described the instinctive drowning response like this:

1. Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary or overlaid function. Breathing must be fulfilled, before speech occurs.

2. Drowning people?s mouths alternately sink below and reappear above the surface of the water. The mouths of drowning people are not above the surface of the water long enough for them to exhale, inhale, and call out for help. When the drowning people?s mouths are above the surface, they exhale and inhale quickly as their mouths start to sink below the surface of the water.

3. Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water?s surface. Pressing down on the surface of the water, permits drowning people to leverage their bodies so they can lift their mouths out of the water to breathe.

4. Throughout the Instinctive Drowning Response, drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements. Physiologically, drowning people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment.

5. From beginning to end of the Instinctive Drowning Response people?s bodies remain upright in the water, with no evidence of a supporting kick. Unless rescued by a trained lifeguard, these drowning people can only struggle on the surface of the water from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs.

Signs of Drowning
This doesn?t mean that a person that is yelling for help and thrashing isn?t in real trouble - they are experiencing aquatic distress. Not always present before the instinctive drowning response, aquatic distress doesn?t last long - but unlike true drowning, these victims can still assist in their own rescue. They can grab lifelines, throw rings, etc. Look for these other signs of drowning when persons are in the water:

? Head low in the water, mouth at water level

? Head tilted back with mouth open

? Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus

? Eyes closed ? Hair over forehead or eyes

? Not using legs - Vertical

? Hyperventilating or gasping

? Trying to swim in a particular direction but not making headway

? Trying to roll over on the back

? Ladder climb, rarely out of the water.

I did shout for help but nobody came. I shouted 'HELP BABY IN WATER! HELP BABY DROWNING! ' ( being specific rather than just screaming which might have been taken for horseplay)

I kicked off my shoes (they would have impeded entry: laced up trainers I wouldn't have bothered)

I looked for hazards and entry and and exit points.

Then I got in and got DS who was underwater, looking up and kicking for the surface. He had floated under the dock so it was dark and harder for him to kick for the light as trained.

He was fine and with an adrenalin surge I was able to lift him to the dock at head height and then roll him to safety before pulling myself out and I have no idea how I do that but I must have done a chin-up. However I could have swum out and round a moored boat with steps and got onto the boat and then onto the dock instead.

Anyway, not a yay me thread and I shouldn't have perhaps let DS run by canal at all but it happened and we were ok and if a thread about it with further ideas and links will help other parents and children then something good has come out of a scary experience.

DS played 'dinosaur fall in water, help help, mummy dinosaur get him out' for next two days but seems fine, albeit noticeably careful by canal these days.

We continue to swim and practice.


MammaTJ Fri 01-Feb-13 13:56:55

A long read, but well worth it. The council shut down our local pool and got it knocked down shortly after. Can't teach my DC can I?

I am so pleased your DS is ok.

DoctorAnge Fri 01-Feb-13 13:59:25

Oh my God you were so good not to panic.

I would have shit myself.

LottieJenkins Fri 01-Feb-13 13:59:37

I am glad you managed to get him out. I didnt learn to swim till I was ten due to a fear of water caused by sister jumping into a pool with me when i was tiny and letting go of me! When I was six I went backwards on my tricycle into the moat at my Dads farm and luckily Dads gardener was looking out of the window in his flat and raced down and got me out.
Wilf was taught to swim very early an was swimming without armbands by the time he was five!

freerangelady Fri 01-Feb-13 14:00:29

Thank you for posting

LtEveDallas Fri 01-Feb-13 14:00:51

That is both shocking and informative. Well done you (for the save and the thread smile)

One thing I would like to add if I may (was also a lifeguard many moons ago). When I taught DD to swim, one of the things I taught her was to lie on her back and 'starfish' if she was tired. I also spent a lot of time teaching her 'sculling' because you can do that for a long time without tiring.

By the time she was 3 she was confident in water without armbands (I've never used them) and now she is older I have moved on to getting her to dive down and pick up heavier and heavier objects alongside proper strokes etc.

BabsAndTheRu Fri 01-Feb-13 14:04:41

Just read your post and going to save it, thank you for taking the time to post all that information. Sorry you had to go through that experience, I think your son is lucky he has a level headed mum who was calm and controlled in a crisis. I know you didn't post for praise, but credit where credit is due.

NeverQuiteSure Fri 01-Feb-13 14:06:02

Gosh, that makes frightening reading. Very useful though. Thanks for posting.

My two DC are close in age (18 month gap) and DH works away so I've had very limited opportunities to teach them both to swim to the level I would like. Open water terrifies me, although not as much as pools and hot tubs with soft covers which always strike me as absolute death traps.

MmeLindor Fri 01-Feb-13 14:14:41

Thanks for taking the time to write this all down. I will come back to it later when I have time to read it properly.

HoratiaWinwood Fri 01-Feb-13 14:14:46

Watching thread to show DH when he is home.

The emergency response thing is remarkable. When I have had to deal with an emergency (clearing airway and giving mouth to mouth to an adult was the most significant) I have been eerily calm and time seemed to move more slowly. But then I've never had to save my own child.

Well done OP and thanks for the very useful guide.

MackerelOfFact Fri 01-Feb-13 14:20:02

Thank goodness you are both OK and thank you for posting this. I didn't know about the signs of drowning until reading them on MN a couple of years ago, and it can't be repeated too often IMO.

Just out of interest, what is it best to do once the child/victim is out of the water? Do they need to go to A&E/GP? Should you take them to the nearest indoor place (shop/cafe etc) to warm up, or get them home ASAP so you can get them warmed up and in dry clothes? I know I wouldn't have a clue what to do next after the shock of the accident itself.

GoSuckEggs Fri 01-Feb-13 14:24:08

I live on a boat on the canal, and water safety will obviously be a top priority when we have DCs! thanks for such great info!

ScrambledSmegs Fri 01-Feb-13 14:39:19

OP this is very informative, thank you.

One thing - could you please report the thread to MNHQ, as it's currently in chat and will therefore vanish after 90 days? I really think it's too good to be lost.

LtEveDallas Fri 01-Feb-13 14:56:51

Mackerel, I was always taught that all potential drowning victims should be taken to A&E and observed for 24 hours in case of Delayed Drowning. That includes victims that didn't loose consciousness or need mouth to mouth.

It's rare, but does happen. Symptoms are barking coughing, spluttering, lethargy, rolling eyes. Even a small amount of water in the lungs can kill, so it's best to err on the side of caution.

Id also get the child into dry clothes asp, even it that means them stripping off and you losing your blouse! Wet clothes will always make you colder, even if it's only a swim suit.

MmeLindor Fri 01-Feb-13 14:56:57

Could MNHQ move this out of chat and give it a title such as

How to save your child's life if he falls into deep water

or something

To make it stand out more?

HecateWhoopass Fri 01-Feb-13 15:00:19

I didn't know any of that about drowning. Thank you.

I think MN would do well to have a page on things like this. As a resource.

5madthings Fri 01-Feb-13 15:04:16

Good thread and I will def be making sure I teach my children these things.

My kids know how to float on their backs like a starfish to stay afloat as well like lteve described.

RalphGnu Fri 01-Feb-13 15:11:44

Oh you poor things, must have been terribly frightening.

Thanks for the info and glad your DS is safe and well.

BoffinMum Fri 01-Feb-13 15:36:15

Well done.

I learned how to do this from the ex Army swimming instructor who taught swimming at my primary school. I very much doubt kids get the chance to learn this sort of thing now. I recall very clearly the information about the bobbing up and down thing we were supposed to look for, also taking off as many clothes as we reasonably could before we jumped in, jumping in so we hit the top of the water keeping our eyes at all times on the person we were trying to save (i.e. not diving underneath the water ourselves), and bearing in mind there was a risk we could be pulled under too as they grasped, so to be prepared for that. We practised all this a lot.

We go swimming a lot in our family, and I have seen the bobbing up and down thing start, and consequently hauled my kids out of the water, and taught them to look out for it with their siblings, but we have never had to do it in such a scary situation. I think the OP showed terrific presence of mind and I am glad she posted here with information about how to react in such as situation.


BoffinMum Fri 01-Feb-13 15:37:41

I reckon you should always go to A and E with this sort of thing as canal water is filthy and there's a risk of Weill's disease etc. I am sure the staff would be very understanding even if nothing seemed obviously wrong at the time.

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 01-Feb-13 16:21:10


I didn't know any of that about drowning. Thank you.

I think MN would do well to have a page on things like this. As a resource.

Hi there, we do have this page on child safety and this page on summer hazards.

Happy to look at doing a page based on information in this thread if people want it.

HecateWhoopass Fri 01-Feb-13 16:29:17

oh. blush

well. Shows how little I venture out of chat grin

will have a browse through that. Ta

HumphreyCobbler Fri 01-Feb-13 16:38:29

I know someone who died of delayed drowning sad
I didn't even know it was a possibility

thanks for this thread, very informative

iwanttolearn Fri 01-Feb-13 16:39:19

Well donesmile

What a scary experience!

SaraBellumHertz Fri 01-Feb-13 16:46:54

What a terrifying experience.

We live close to a beach, communal pool and like many of our neighbours have a pool.

Swimming skills are an absolute non negotiable much for my DC.

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