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What to do if Your Baby Swallowed Water in the Bath

Any parent knows that, while bath-time can be fun, it can also be fraught with anxiety. If you have a particularly wriggling baby, or a little one that is very enthusiastic in the bath, one of your worries may well be that they are swallowing too much water at bath-time.

Dry-drowning and secondary drowning are terms that strike fear into the heart of every parent and in VERY rare cases can occur if a baby has swallowed too much water at bath-time. A child who has had a near-drowning episode is more likely to exhibit signs of these conditions than a baby who swallowed too much water in the bath.

We will look at what these terms mean, symptoms to watch for and the steps you can take to stop your baby from swallowing too much water in the bath.

Table of Contents

Baby swallowed water in the bath – is that ok?

It is not at all uncommon for babies to swallow a little bit of water in the bath. If your little one is especially keen on their bath and likes to splash, chances are they will swallow a little water now and then. This is generally not something to worry about.

If they have a little slip and are submerged for a split second they may swallow some water, but again this is not usually something to worry about. Some babies and toddlers even like to actively drink water in the bath, which although is a bit gross is not going to cause them any major issues.

When baby swallowing bath water is cause for concern

However, there are some instances where your baby swallowing bath water may be a cause for concern.

1. Baby has drunk too much water

Until your baby is 1, they should not need any other fluids apart from breastmilk or formula. You may give your baby a small amount of water to drink when they start eating solid food but this should be cooled, boiled water if they are under 6 months.

If the weather is especially hot a formula fed baby may be given small amounts of water but it is recommended that it should be no more than 4-8 ounces per day.

If you suspect that your baby has swallowed more than that amount in the bath either accidentally or intentionally and they are exhibiting symptoms such as vomiting, fatigue and poor co-ordination they could be suffering from dry drowning, secondary drowning or water intoxication so it is best to get them checked out to put your mind at rest. 

2. The water is soapy

Most kids would spit out water that is soapy as it won’t taste very nice but if your little one can tolerate the taste, they may swallow soapy water. Water that contains bubble bath or shampoo (or a mixture of the two) is likely to give your little one an upset tummy if they drink too much. This will likely lead to them vomiting but will not cause any more serious symptoms.

3. Water has been inhaled and has got into the lungs

If you suspect that your baby has inhaled water then they are at risk of Secondary Drowning (see below for more information). This means water has reached the lungs. 

Symptoms sometimes do not start to present for up to 24 hours afterwards so you need to be watchful of your little one and ensure they get medical treatment if they start to show worrying symptoms such as vomiting, fatigue, shortness of breath of excessive coughing.

4. Baby is showing unusual symptoms

It may be the case that you didn’t notice your little one swallowing an excessive amount of water. However, if they have had a bath or have been swimming and are starting to show unusual symptoms that are out of character then you should seek medical attention.

Dry Drowning vs Secondary Drowning

Dry drowning and secondary drowning are terms that are often used synonymously and some people think they mean the same thing. The symptoms are similar in both cases although the cause is different.

It is important for parents to remember that drowning can occur in a relatively small amount of water such as a shallow pond or bath, so it is important to be vigilant whenever your little one is around water.

Dry drowning is when water is breathed in and causes the upper airways and vocal cords to spasm. The spasm makes the airways close so no air can enter the lungs. No water is inhaled into the lungs (as it can’t get through the closed airways). Symptoms usually develop straight away.

Secondary drowning involves breathing in water that then reaches the lungs, leading to a build-up of fluid. Symptoms don’t become apparent straight away and sometimes don’t appear until up to 24 hours after the incident.

The symptoms of dry drowning and secondary drowning are similar and include:

  • Persistent coughing – if you notice your baby coughing more than normal and they are finding it hard to stop then that may be a symptom of dry or secondary drowning.
  • Shortness of breath – it is obvious when your baby is struggling for breath and this should always be checked by a doctor no matter what the cause may be.
  • Chest pain or tightness – this is a tricky one as a baby will not be able to verbalise whether they have a tight chest or not. If you notice their chest working harder than normal to take a breath then this should be checked out.
  • Blue lips – if your baby develops blue lips along with other symptoms that may be a sign on secondary or dry drowning.
  • Vomiting – some babies vomit quite a lot anyway but vomiting is also a sign that your body is stressed from a lack of oxygen.
  • Extreme Fatigue and irritability – if your baby seems more tired and irritable than normal then this could indicate that something is wrong.

If you suspect dry or secondary drowning do not let your baby go to sleep until they have been checked over by a doctor.

How to prevent baby from swallowing water in the bath

Most babies will spit out water that gets in their mouths but occasionally they may accidentally swallow water without meaning too (and there are those that actively drink the water!).

There are steps you can take to stop your baby swallowing water in the bath. Making sure that the bath is not too full and ensuring that you are always vigilant are two of the best ways to prevent your baby from swallowing bath water.

You may also consider using a bath seat to keep them stable and avoid slipping. There’s a huge range of bath seats to choose from. This sleek looking seat from Angelcare isn’t too bulky and has nice, strong suction cups to keep it stable.

If your baby is particularly averse to shampoo or likes to swallow the water running off their head when they are being washed you may consider using a bath visor. These are super cheap and are usually adjustable. These cute visors come in a pack of three in nice, fun designs.

Check out our bath safety guide for more hints and tips to keep your baby safe in the bath.

Frequently Asked Questions

baby swallowing water

Can a baby drown from drinking bath water?

A baby is highly unlikely to drown from drinking bath water. The worst that will usually happen if they drink too much is that they have a sore tummy and will vomit.

How much water will cause water intoxication in baby?

If a baby drinks more than 8 ounces of water in one go, they are at risk of water intoxication. However, for younger babies this may be less. Water intoxication happens when someone consumes too much water and loses too much sodium. If sodium levels in the blood decrease too much this can cause brain swelling and seizures.

How do I know if my baby aspirated water?

If your baby has aspirated water (breathed in water that has reached the lungs) they will start to show some or all of the symptoms listed above from between 1 and 24 hours after it has been swallowed.

How long before dry drowning symptoms occur?

Dry drowning symptoms appear immediately. The airways close up and spasm preventing any air from entering the lungs. If this happens you should seek medical attention immediately.

Wrapping Up

There are so many things to worry about when you have a little one, and dry drowning and secondary drowning are most parents worst nightmare. It is extremely rare for babies or toddlers to suffer from these conditions as a result of baby swallowing water in the bath and they normally occur after a near-drowning incident.

If you are worried that your baby has aspirated water and they are showing worrying symptoms you should always get them checked over as they may have swallowed more water than you realised.

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