Frolicking in the ocean, building castles in the sand, basking in the sunshine: Nothing screams Summer Holiday quite like a trip to the beach! But before you toss the water wings in the car and stuff your cool box full of snacks, learn how to best keep your whole family safe on the sand and in the ocean. Here is how:

Choose the right bathing suit.

While your toddler’s blue gingham swimsuit might be cute-as-can-be, it is not the safest colour combo for the beach, according to research from Alive Solutions, a company specializing in aquatic safety. They tested the visibility of 14 bathing suits in varying colours and patterns in both a pool and in a lake and found that only neon yellow, green, and orange swimsuits were still detectable under 457.2 millimeters of open water. While small patterns did not seem to impact visibility much, large dark patterns actually decreased visibility even further. While you are swimsuit shopping, keep a rash vest in mind, too. After all, it is way easier to protect a kiddo’s body from the sun with a UV-protective top than sunscreen.

Bring lots of water.

Thanks to having a higher surface area to volume area, babies and young children are at greater risk of getting dehydrated in the beach heat than you. Plus, children often cannot or do not tell you they are thirsty. That is why it is extra important to pack lots of water and fruit, like watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberries, peaches, or cucumber, all of which have a high water content that can help keep your bub properly hydrated. 

Offer a water or fruit break every 20 minutes or so. Children between the ages of 2 and 3 need about 1.3 litres of water a day, and those between 4 and 8 need about need about 1.6 litres a day, but you will want to increase these amounts during hot beach days. To keep your 6- to 12-month-old well hydrated, you can offer them about 110 to 220 milliliters of water a day. Babies under 6 months get all the hydration they need from either breastmilk or baby formula. So, on sweaty beach days, simply offer more of the same. 

Pick the safest spot.

When you are scanning the beach, do not just think about where you want to lay your towels, but where you will be playing in the water, too. That means, you should always…

  • Avoid swimming near piers, pilings, or jetties. Dangerous rip currents often form near piers and other permanent structures, which can push you under the water, further into the ocean, or directly into these obstacles! While in the water, always stay at least 31 meters away from them.

  • Find the lifeguarded area. Only swim where there are lifeguards on duty. Look for a red over yellow flag. This signifies that the area is protected by lifeguards. If you spy a red (high hazard), yellow (medium hazard) or a red and white prohibition sign (water closed) find a new place to settle.

  • Go by the bay. Waves are created when wind blows across a giant expanse of water. So, when something disrupts that air flow, like a splice of land around a cove or a bay, the waves are severely muted, making it a safer spot for kids to play.

Chat with the lifeguard.

If you are new to the beach or curious about ocean conditions, stroll right on over to the closest lifeguard tower and ask the following questions to glean some important ocean safety intel:

  • “What is the water temperature today?” In general, 27.8 to 30 degrees Celsius is the ideal water temperature for kiddos to swim in, with babies being most comfortable when the water is on the warmer side of the scale. (Cold water drains body heat up to four times faster than cold air, which can cause your body to go into “cold shock” that is dangerous to breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure.)

  • “What is the water condition?” Lifeguards are trained to detect dangerous currents and waves, so they can clue you into how safe the water is.

  • “Are there any underwater hazards to know about?” Reefs, rocks, shallow spots, suddenly deep drop-offs, tangly vegetation, sting-happy marine life: Any number of unknowns can be beneath the surface of the water.

Embrace the life jacket.

Those cute and cartoon-y inflatable water wings you may have already purchased for your water baby will not protect your bub from drowning. What can? Having a personal flotation device (PFD) within arm’s reach of your child at all times. For tots under 5 years old, choose a life vest that features a strap between the legs and a head support to keep your bub’s head up and their face out of the water. (Learn more about selecting a safe life jacket for kids.)

Be sand smart.

Hanging out on the sandy beach seems safer than swimming in the ocean. And, it often is! But it is important to keep these potential dangers in mind:

  • Sand-hole collapses: If your little one loves digging in the sand, make sure the hole is only knee-high. Digging deeper can put your child in danger of being in a sand-hole collapse. Research shows that once a child is caught in a sand collapse, they can easily become completely submerged, leaving virtually zero trace of the hole—or your kid! Seems like a one-in-a-million chance, right? But the truth is, there are more sand-hole collapse fatalities than shark attack fatalities in America!

  • Germy sand: If there is a swimming advisory at your beach because of potential pollutants, stay off the sand, too. Pathogens can persist in sand longer than in water, so you should assume the sand is also contaminated, especially at the water’s edge.

  • Hot sand: Do not let cooler weather fool you! Sand can be over 37 degrees Celcius even when the temperature is just 24 degrees. That means, when temps are closer to 32, the sand can be over 48 degrees, making getting your kiddo some beach/water shoes a must!

Learn water safety.

Everyone who goes to the ocean should know how to swim, but let us be honest, chances are your baby or toddler is not a sea-ready swimmer! Swimming in the ocean is a totally different experience than swimming in a pool. But there are things you can do to help prepare your little one for this type of water experience:

  • Do these types of swim lessons. Experts recommend swim lessons that focus on water survival as early as 12 months as a layer of protection against drowning. While there is no evidence that infant swim lessons reduce a baby’s risk of drowning, research has shown an 88% reduction in drowning risk in kids ages 1 to 4 who have taken swimming lessons. And by age 4, swim lessons are considered “a must” for most families.

  • Do not rely solely on swim lessons! Swim class is simply one of many important strategies to help prevent drowning. Other tiers of protection include constant supervision, keeping young children and inexperienced swimmers within arm’s reach, putting your child in a life jacket, and ensuring your child only goes into the water with a buddy and near a lifeguard. (Teach them the catchy phrase: “Swim as a pair near a lifeguard’s chair.”)

  • Wait before you get in. Watch the water for 5 to 10 minutes before getting in so you can spot rip currents before entering. According to the National Weather Service in America, you are looking for dark, narrow gaps of still water heading offshore between breaking waves. Rip currents sometimes look milky, turbulent, or sandy, but there is never any wave activity there. Another rip-current clue: The ocean leaves pronounced scalloping on the beach. (Rip currents account for 80% of beach rescues in the United States!)

  • Show kids how to enter and play in the water. Always carefully walk into the water from the sand. (No jumping in from an elevated position!) And, once in the ocean, continue to face the water, not the sand. If your child is standing with their back to the water, unseen waves can easily knock them over.

Prevent sunburns.

The sun is no joke at the beach! For one, beaches are usually shade-free. But also, ultra violet (UV) rays are stronger during the summer and they easily bounce off the water and sand, leading to an increase in dangerous UV exposure. It is no wonder that between 55 and 72% of children get sunburned each year. While sunburns cause some serious ouchies, getting just one blistering burn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles your child’s chances of developing melanoma later in life. To keep your child’s skin safe, commit these skin-smart beach tips to memory:

  • Choose this sunscreen. Children need a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 or higher. And avoid sprays, which are notorious for shoddy coverage. Pediatrician Dr. Harvey Karp recommends mineral sunscreen and avoiding the sunscreen ingredient “oxybenzone.”

  • Time your protection: Apply sunscreen to your child a half an hour before going out.

  • Use enough sunscreen. You will need about a 29 millimeters of sunscreen (roughly enough to fill a shot glass or a medicine cup) to cover your child’s body, with a about 2.5 millimeters worth for their face. Do not forget their ears and feet, two of the most neglected spots!

  • Reapply! No sunscreen is waterproof and no sunscreen lasts all day. In most cases, sunscreen needs to be reapplied every two hours. And water resistant sunscreen remains effective for 40 minutes or 80 minutes when swimming, and then needs to be reapplied.

  • Think beyond SPF. The best way to avoid sunburn is to stay off the beach between 10am and 4pm, which is when the sun is at a peak intensity—even if it is cloudy! If that is not possible, seek shade, dress your tot in sun-protective clothing, a 8-centimeter brimmed hat, and sunglasses. That is especially true for babies under 6 months old, who should not wear sunscreen.

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    Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider. Breastmilk is the best source of nutrition for babies. It is important that, in preparation for and during breastfeeding, mothers eat a healthy, balanced diet. Combined breast- and bottle-feeding in the first weeks of life may reduce the supply of a mother's breastmilk and reversing the decision not to breastfeed is difficult. If you do decide to use infant formula, you should follow instructions carefully.