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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.


okthen Fri 01-Mar-13 11:49:28

My sister drowned hmm so this was difficult reading but useful. I'm ashamed to say I never ever take my kids swimming as I am too nervous. Even though it's probably the most important thing I could do to keep them safe around water hmm

mummy2benji Fri 01-Mar-13 09:28:06

That's terrifying - although I can swim and do enjoy swimming, I learned to swim late (late teens) due to a fear of water. I am trying to take ds (4) swimming and will book him in for lessons as it is so important to teach kids to swim, but these have been delayed due to his recurrent ear infections. Him falling into a canal would be my worst nightmare. As a parent it is your natural instinct to just dive straight in yourself, so your presence of mind was remarkable and commendable. So glad you were both fine.

Sommink Thu 28-Feb-13 20:47:04

Any person who has an incident in open water should be taken to hospital, Secondary drowning can occur up to 72 hours after the event.

Glad you were both ok

AnyFucker Sat 02-Feb-13 17:48:38

great idea, kate, thanks

mercibucket Sat 02-Feb-13 15:21:11

sorry i didn't explain. it means essentially all babies hold their breathe underwater

mercibucket Sat 02-Feb-13 15:19:34

very interesting and well done!

a small point about the baby swimming thing. all babies have a dive reflex and it is still present in 90 percent of children up to the age of 1. just in case anyone is thinking baby swimming lessons are essential -its not a taught response

TrucksAndDinosaurs Sat 02-Feb-13 15:02:24

Thanks for moving and editing.
FWIW this thread was started after I commented on a news story thread in a different bit of MN at suggestion of other posters and not in response to the toddler being pushed in pool incident thread which I see is currently active on this part of the site.

KateSMumsnet (MNHQ) Sat 02-Feb-13 13:38:12

Hi everyone,

At the suggestion of the OP (and lots of others on the thread) we're going to move this out of chat and into the Parenting topic, so it doesn't disappear.

We're also going to edit the title a wee bit (again with the blessing of the OP), so it's more likely to come up on a google search like "saving a small child from drowning".

Also, huge congrats to the OP on her quick thinking, glad her DS is ok smile

bootsycollins Fri 01-Feb-13 20:57:17

Terrifying, I'm glad your both ok you did amazingly well. Jeremy Vine (radio 2) had a phone in discussion the other day about prams rolling off, it's the stuff of nightmares.

Brawhen Fri 01-Feb-13 20:41:17

I pulled a child out from under the water in a busy paddling area on a lakeside two summers ago. I was there as one of my DC wanted me to go with him - I was the only adult actually in the water, and just turned round and happened to see that a little girl (roughly 4 yrs old) was struggling under water and could not get herself up - she must have tripped in to deeper water to one side of where everyone was playing. It wasn't very deep - would have been not more than her waist height - but she was stuck and was fully submerged.

I put my DS under one arm and pulled her out with an almighty heave. I thought I was going to dislocate her arm as I did so, and was lucky that I managed to keep my balance. I looked up, expecting to see several horrified adults running towards me from the shore to help. Not a single person had noticed - people just carried on eating their ice creams and enjoying the sunshine. It took me a good couple of minutes to find the girl's parents once I had manhandled both children the few yards back to dry land.

Luckily she was fine.

Water play is great, but don't take your eyes off them...

FlorriesDragons Fri 01-Feb-13 20:20:16

I felt sick just reading this - well done you and thank God your little boy is safe.

I didn't learn to swim until I was an adult and am not strong in the water so have made it a priority for my three year old to have swimming lessons and learn about water safety. Will be following up those links, thanks!

TrucksAndDinosaurs Fri 01-Feb-13 18:51:16

Glad it helps. Some people asked what we did afterwards: fortunately ( or possibly unfortunately) we were 5 mins from home. I cuddled him (and observed if breathing or had swallowed water - he was crying loudly but not coughing at all. Then we walked the two minutes home, stripped off him, looked for injuries (slight graze on back) and had warm shower together. Then I drove him to my friend who is a retired GP and she checked him and gave us cake.

She advised on what to watch for - concussion, water aspiration signs. As DS was eating cake and climbing on chairs we decided he was fine.

AnyFucker Fri 01-Feb-13 18:42:58

Thank you very much for this thread. Brilliant.

mrsjay Fri 01-Feb-13 18:38:38

god Im glad your son is safe and well and thanks for posting the info fwiw I think child first aid should be offered to all parents for free ( i know it wouldn't be cost effective)

jammybean Fri 01-Feb-13 18:31:46

This is my biggest fear. We live by the Thames and regularly walk along the river and canal paths. In some places the railings are wide enough for a little one to slip through esp. at high tide. Mental note to improve my swimming and take LO to swimming lessons. I don't think there's enough publicity on water safety, I would have panicked faced with that situation.

Glad you're both ok.

pofacedalways Fri 01-Feb-13 18:13:57

OP I know you didn't ask for praise but you did show incredible presence of mind in the immediate situation as well as in all the previous planning. Agree this thread should be moved from chat.

TrucksAndDinosaurs Fri 01-Feb-13 18:04:10

Thanks for not flaming me for running him by canal in first place!

HeadFairy Fri 01-Feb-13 16:48:20

Thanks for this OP, such such useful information to have written down and be able to read it and digest it at a time when you can take it in.

I used to be a diving instructor and I've seen people panicking in water (I think the stage you refer to as aquatic distress) and you're right, they can't wave, or shout, or swim. They're barely hanging on to life. And that's an adult, seeing a child in such distress would be terrifying.

I also took ds to swimming lessons from the age of 3 months, and he did much of what you described, swimming under water, swimming to the surface, holding on to the edge of the pool (I still mutter "hold on hold on hold on" when we're near the edge of the pool grin) and while I didn't manage to take dd as I had no one to look after ds at the time, I have taught her all the same things. At 5.3 ds can swim unaided, at 3.1 dd can swim confidently on her own with floats, without floats she can swim underwater and knows to swim upwards and not to breath underwater.

I think teaching children to swim is an essential life skill.

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.

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

Well donesmile

What a scary experience!

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

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

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.

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.

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.


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