Bath safety: babies and children

Bath safety: babies and children

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Bathroom safety basics

Drowning and scalds are the two main risks with bath time. You can avoid these risks by following the four golden rules for safe bath times:

  1. Always supervise babies, toddlers and children under five years in the bath. Never leave older children or siblings to supervise. They don't have the skills to see and react to an emergency situation.
  2. Check the water temperature is between 37°C and 38°C before you put your child in. Use a water thermometer or your wrist or your elbow.
  3. Get everything ready in advance so you can stay with your child for bath time - towel, face washer, cotton wool, clean nappy and clean clothes.
  4. Let the water out as soon as bath time is over.

Bath time can be stressful because it happens at the end of the day when you've got lots of things to do. When too many things are happening at once, it can increase the risk of injuries. If this sounds like your situation, you could consider changing your routine to make things easier.

How to prevent drowning in the bath

Drowning is one of the major causes of death for children under five years.

Very young children are prone to drowning. This is because they're top-heavy. They can slip into or under the water very suddenly, and they can drown in only a few centimetres of water. Also, drowning can be very quick - 20 seconds is all it takes. And young children can drown silently, without coughing or splashing, so you might not even realise they're in danger.

Constant supervision is the key to drowning prevention.

These tips can also improve bathroom safety:

  • Beware of distractions that could take you away from the bath and make you lose track of time. Turn your mobile to silent and leave it outside the room before you run the bath.
  • Run only enough water for washing and play. Belly-button height is plenty for a child who can sit up on his own.
  • Watch your child all the time, even if you're using a bath seat or cradle. A bath seat isn't a safety device. Without your supervision, bath seats won't keep your child safe.
  • Use a non-slip bathmat in the bath if your bath doesn't have a non-slip surface.
  • Keep bathroom and laundry doors shut when you're not using them. This will stop young children getting to taps or water sources on their own.
  • Print out our illustrated guide to baby CPR and our illustrated guide to child CPR. You could display these in or near your bathroom.

Never leave your child alone near water, even for a minute. When you and your child are in the bathroom, make sure your child is within arm's reach and within sight at all times.

How to prevent burns and scalds in the bathroom

Young children have very sensitive skin, which means that bath water that's too hot can scald them very quickly. The safe temperature for a child's bath is between 37°C and 38°C, whereas grown-ups tend to bathe in water between 41°C and 42°C.

The best way to prevent burns or scalds in the bathroom is to ensure that hot water is delivered to your basin, bath or shower at a maximum temperature of 50°C. But this isn't a bathing temperature. You still need to mix cold water with the hot water to get the right bathing temperature.

This means it's also essential to test the bath temperature with a water thermometer, or with your wrist and elbow. The temperature should be comfortably warm, but not hot. If your skin flushes when you put your elbow in, the water is too hot for a child's skin.

These tips can also help you prevent bathroom burns and scalds:

  • Keep your child well away from the bath until it's a safe temperature.
  • Always run cold water first. Never fill a bath with hot water first. Your child could put his hand or foot in the water and be scalded. Swirl the water in the bath so there are no hot and cold spots.
  • If you have a mixer tap, run the hot and cold water together. Increase the temperature by adding more warm water, not straight hot water. If you run hot water by itself, your child might put a hand or foot in the stream and be burned.
  • If you have a mixer tap, point the lever towards the cold setting when you've finished running the bath. Make sure your child can't get to the lever.
  • Make sure the hot water tap is turned off hard. When the bath is ready, briefly run cold water through the tap so water in the tap won't burn anyone.
  • Consider buying anti-scald devices for your home. You can ask a licensed plumber to recommend devices that keep hot water at a safe temperature.
  • Never leave your child in the care of an older child who might be able to turn on the hot water tap.
  • Never leave your child alone in the bath or in the bathroom. She could easily turn on the hot water tap and not be able to turn it off. If you're called away to the phone or door, wrap your baby in a towel and take her with you.

Basic first aid for burns and scalds involves cooling the burned area under running water for 20 minutes. You can print out our illustrated guide to first aid for burns and scalds for quick and easy reference in an emergency.