Shocking new data shows the number of children sadly drowning in the bath increased from 4 in 2019-20 to 12 in 2021-22. Seven of these tragic deaths were of babies under one and, in five cases, bath seats were being used.

In the majority of cases (82%) the child had been left alone in the bath. The most common reasons for leaving the child alone were taking a phone call, leaving the room to get something e.g. a towel, confusion about who was supervising the child or attending to a sibling or other young children.

The findings have prompted a reminder from the Child Accident Prevention Trust (CAPT) to parents that drowning happens quickly and silently, and that babies should be kept in arms’ reach whenever they are in water. The charity also warns that bath seats are not designed as safety devices and babies should not be left alone in them.

The charity’s plea comes just weeks after a coroner issued a warning to parents after a nine-month-old baby was found drowned in a few centimetres of bath water.

The little boy was left in his bath seat for just a few minutes while his mum fitted a plug-in diffuser in his bedroom to help his cold. She discovered him face down in the bath, with the seat unfixed. It had been firmly attached to the bath when she left.

It only takes a moment

Katrina Phillips OBE, Chief Executive of the Child Accident Prevention Trust, said:

“It’s heartbreaking to hear of these tragic bath drownings. And really worrying to see a year-on-year increase.

“When we’re under pressure to get our baby bathed and down to sleep, it can be tempting to nip out to grab a towel. But it only takes a moment for them to slip quietly under the water. They won’t cry out in distress and they’re too little to get themselves out of trouble.

“It’s simply not safe to leave your baby or toddler alone in the bath. Stay within arm’s reach all the time while they’re in water. Baby bath seats are designed to make bathing easier but they won’t keep your child safe. Your baby needs your arms close by for that.”

Constant supervision keeps babies safe

Giles Haythornthwaite, Paediatric Emergency Medicine Consultant, Bristol Royal Infirmary said:

“It might shock some people that there are so many drownings every year, in what should be a safe place. For babies to drown in their home is clearly disturbing.

“It is important that parents receive good bathing safety advice from midwives and health visitors. In particular reminding parents that what will keep children and babies safe is constant supervision.

“It is unclear what is the cause of the recent rise in bath drownings. It’s possible that it is due to an increase in the use of bath seats and that there is an unforeseen knock-on effect in causing reduced parent supervision.

“While a baby bath seat might help make bath time easier it is not a replacement for the constant supervision of small children and babies while they are bathing.”

Top tips from CAPT for safe bath time:

  • Get everything you need ready before bath time.
  • Stay with your baby or young child all the time they’re in the bath. Keep them in arm’s reach.
  • Bath seats can topple or your baby can slip out. Don’t leave your baby alone in one even for a moment.
  • Don’t rely on your toddler to keep an eye on the baby while you pop out for a towel. They’re too young to understand the danger.

Visit our drowning hub for more tips

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