Pool safety during summer family travel

The pool at Aulani, one of our favorite resorts.

The pool at Aulani, one of our favorite resorts.

It’s no secret that summer is prime time for family vacations, and many wandering pods build their trips around resort hotels with pools. This makes pool safety an important part of the family travel experience. Sure, many resorts employ their own lifeguards to keep visitors from putting themselves in danger. Still, the responsibility to keep kids safe falls almost squarely on us moms and dads.

To get a better idea of how parents can promote pool safety when they travel with kids, I chatted recently with Dr. Kristie Rivers, a Bundoo pediatrician who also serves assistant medical director of the pediatric hospitalist program at Chris Evert Children’s Hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Rivers specializes in child safety. Here are some of her most salient tips.

The resort is not responsible for your kids. “As parents you have to always be on guard, whether you’re at home or at a water park or public pool,” Rivers says. She notes that just because a lifeguard is present doesn’t mean your kids will avoid injury.

No running. “Those signs are up for a reason—running around pools usually leads to slipping, and slipping can create all sorts of injuries,” says Rivers. “I tell my own kids that when they’re near a pool they need to walk at all times. That way it is second nature, and they’re never tempted to do anything else.”

Be aware. Rivers notes that it’s critical for every family to establish pool rules and enforce them without fail. “No playing around the drains—if a child’s hair gets caught, that child could drown,” she says. Rivers advises that families should prohibit breath-holding games, and only should allow children to jump or dive into deep ends (with at least 5 feet of water), provided they know how to swim.

Avoid the ickies. “Parents may not realize that the chlorine in a pool doesn’t kill germs instantly,” Rivers says. “E. coli, norovirus, and giardia all can be found in pool water that’s heavily chlorinated, and if kids swallow even just a little bit of the water that’s contaminated, they can get sick.” She also adds that the potential germs carried by diarrhea in resort pools can be just as problematic, and recommends that if parents or children see “floaters,” they should report them to a lifeguard or other staff member immediately. “If your child has had diarrhea at any point in the last two weeks, he or she should not go into a pool,” she declares.

Mind the nappies. There’s a reason diaper companies make swimmy diapers—regular diapers aren’t designed to hold in poop and pee when they get wet. Rivers notes that parents ALWAYS should put their children in swimmy diapers, even if it means making a special trip to the store to buy them. “It’s common courtesy,” she quips. “Even babies can spread germs.” She adds that parents should check swimmy diapers every 30-60 minutes, and change them immediately when the diapers become soiled.

Practice sun safety. Even the sunscreens that say they’re waterproof really aren’t. The lesson, according to Rivers, is to reapply on the kids every hour. “Once you reapply, give the sunscreen a few minutes to work,” she says. “The last thing you want is to be diligent about reapplying, then have it all come off because you didn’t follow simple instructions on the bottle.”

Just say ‘no’ to floaties. Here’s a shocker: the American Association of Pediatrics does not recommend floaties for your kids. “Floaties give them a false sense of buoyancy,” explains Rivers. “Also, they can deflate without warning and might put your child in danger.” She notes that floaties even can lull parents into a false sense of security. To avoid this, just say no.

Regulate temperature. Believe it or not, pools often are not warm enough for infants. In fact, Rivers says that infants under six months old probably shouldn’t be in the pool for more than ten minutes at a time. “It sounds crazy, but they could develop hypothermia,” she reveals.  “At the first sign of shivering, get your baby out of the water right away and wrap him up in a warm towel.”

Keeping kids healthy on Spring Break vacation

This led to some serious hand-washing.

This led to some serious hand-washing.

In most parts of the country, Spring Break starts up next week. That means tens of thousands of families will be jetting off to faraway places for vacation. With flu season still upon us, it also means families need to be extra-specially careful to make sure youngsters don’t get sick. As part of an ongoing partnership with Bundoo, I recently chatted about this subject with Dr. Sara Connolly, a Bundoo expert and board-certified pediatrician at Pediatric Partners in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. Here are some of Connolly’s most important tips.

It’s not too late to vaccinate. It might be March, but Connolly said kids still can get flu vaccines. “Even though we’re at the tail end of flu season, we’re still seeing flu cases all over the country,” she said. “Considering a flu will sideline the whole family, if you haven’t gotten one yet, why risk it?”

Lots of hand washing. “When you’re sitting in the airport—or on the airplane, for that matter—your child has a knack for finding the dirtiest and grimiest spots,” joked Connolly. By washing hands regularly, however, your little one can make sure the germs he or she picks up don’t have the chance to wreak havoc. Connolly suggested carrying alcohol-free hand sanitizer as well—this comes in handy when you can’t find a sink and it’s not toxic if your littlest one manages to ingest it.

Baby in a bubble. Speaking of the littlest ones, Connolly added that it’s best to keep babies as far as possible from other travelers. Her advice: A sign in the stroller, that reads (something like): MY LITTLE BODY IS TOO SMALL FOR YOUR BIG GERMS; PLEASE DON’T TOUCH. If push comes to shove (literally), she suggested talking down strangers firmly. “You’re the parent,” she noted. “You should have no problem telling people, ‘Babies are adorable but please don’t touch them.’”

Stick to the routine. When families travel, we tend to get out of our routines. We keep the kids up for the 10 p.m. fireworks display at Disneyland. We eat lots of chicken fingers and French fries. Connolly said that while some families see these routine-busters as inevitable, the changes could compromise developing immune systems. “The younger your kids are, the more you should stick to your patterns from home,” she warned. “Even if it seems weird eating at 5:30 p.m. on vacation, doing that will keep their bodies operating normally.”

Fight bugs. Bugs are notorious germ carriers, which means it’s important to put your kids in the best position to avoid bug bites on the road. Connolly’s advice? Lots and lots of bug spray. For older kids, she suggested applying spray at least two or three times a day, and at least once after sundown. For babies, she recommended spraying the outside of the stroller—obviously, when your child is NOT inside. “Anything to keep the bugs away will help,” she said.

Sunscreen. Nothing ruins the mojo of a family trip like a nasty sunburn. To avoid this, Connolly suggested liberal application of sunscreen on everyone in the family, multiple times a day. She noted that sunscreen now is available in stick, spray, cream, lotion. For younger babies, there even are wipes that contain lotion. “The smaller the child is, the easier it is to get them protected,” Connolly said. She added that in addition to good sunscreen, parents should have kids wear sun-protective clothing to minimize the effects of the sun.

Before wrapping up our conversation, I asked Connolly how much of a difference we doting parents can make by wiping down the seat area on an airplane. Her response: In a nutshell, not much. “It certainly makes us feel better, but the reality is that virus particles that have been sneezed or coughed out onto the tray table or armrest likely are still alive and might get you sick,” she said. For parents who insist on doing the wipe-down (FWIW, that would be Powerwoman and me), Connolly noted that baby wipes always are the best approach, and that you do NOT want to use bleach wipes (lest one of your seatmates have an allergy). She also said that airplane bathrooms are the dirtiest places on the entire plane, and that wiping down those surfaces before you use them with your child always is a good idea. Another option that receives Connolly’s endorsement: PottyCover. Check ’em out.

What are your tips for keeping the kids healthy during travel for Spring Break?

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