With summer in full swing, we’re all very aware of the dangers of children drowning in swimming pools and baby pools, but I actually encountered a water danger much closer to home.
In our very own bath.
When my daughter was just a couple weeks old, we decided to bathe her with her 4-and-1/2-year-old brother, Finn, to bond them. We filled the tub with a minimal amount of water — just enough for my son to sit in and for my daughter to kick her feet in as she sat in a baby holder. It was a plastic white one, the type that cups the baby in a 3/4-sitting position and holds them in place.
Or so I thought.
After I had put the children in the bath, I suddenly remembered that I had left the diapers downstairs that I needed to change my daughter into. She seemed utterly secure in her little seat; being so tiny, barely over 7 or 8 pounds, she wasn’t kicking that much to loosen her position. I popped down the stairs for all of about 15 seconds.
All of a sudden, I heard Finn shout, “The baby’s in the water!!!”
I ran so fast it was like my feet were on fire. I flew up the stairs and down our short landing to the bathroom where indeed, my newborn was under the water. I grabbed her and she spluttered and coughed.
I screamed to my husband, and the mere seconds felt like hours. He tore upstairs and we checked her over; she was wide-eyed, but breathing normally and even cooing.
By now my son had started to cry at my screams, so I calmed him down. I kissed his sweet little face and thanked him for being such a clever boy. I felt sick to my stomach with what could have been. Tears were streaming down my own face; I was so frightened and so angry at myself for being so stupid. What do people always say about not leaving children in the bath?
It was honestly a matter of seconds — SECONDS that could have changed all of our lives forever. I feel beyond blessed and grateful that she was fine.
According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, there have been 78 cases of children under 5 drowning in baths in the U.K. in a 14-year period, from 1989 to 2003. Bath seats give us a false sense of reassurance. They are not guaranteed to stop your baby from slipping or toppling into the bath, and clearly, I had no idea of this.
Of course I knew that you shouldn’t leave children in the bath unattended (I never left my son unattended ever). But I felt stupidly secure that she was safe in her baby seat, and the fact that I was only grabbing diapers in a 30-second flit downstairs seemed OK. How stupid I was.
And how incredibly lucky I was to have such an attentive son, who thankfully called out when he couldn’t lift his baby sister out of the water himself, even though — bless him — he tried. As I type this, I am weeping, partly out of frustration at my own clear stupidity, partly out of utter relief, and partly out of the horror of what could have been.
And what about the United States? The USA Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) found a similar problem after 69 babies drowned in baths implicating bath seats and rings during the period of January 1983 to November 2000. They considered a petition to ban the seats on the basis that “baby bath seats present an unreasonable risk of injury and death to children. Each year at least eight babies die as a result of drowning associated with bath seat use,” as reported by the CPSC in 2001, but eventually rejected it.
While bath seats do require a warning not to leave a child unattended to be marked conspicuously and permanently on the seat, people do still take risks. Carers are tempted to leave a child “just for a moment” with fatal results. In my case, there were no permanent warning marks on the seat at all. However, I had been given the seat from a friend who had used it previously, so I have no doubt the stickers had worn off.
Details of press reports on fatalities of children left in bath seats make for terrifying reading. “Mother answered phone,” “unsupervised by 3-year-old brother,” “mother went to fetch a towel” are all noted in separate cases. All the cases sound so normal — just a tired parent trying to do their best and making the wrong judgment call in a split second, causing life-changing consequences.
Please, learn from me. Remember danger can lurk in the most mundane places — even your bathtub. And remember to never ever leave your children alone for a second.More On