Drowning: Birth to 11 months

How big a problem is it?

Water safety is important at any age, but especially for babies and small toddlers. Drowning is the third-leading cause of death from unintentional injury in children. Because they’re a little top heavy, they can slip and drown in a few centimetres of water in a matter of minutes. Before very long, your child will be crawling and become a curious toddler. New risks will appear.

Who does it affect?

Each year in New Zealand, 8 children die after a drowning incident and around 30 are hospitalised. Fatalities and hospitalisations are highest in the age group 0-4 years. These children are particularly at risk because they can drown quickly and silently in less than 5 centimetres of water. It happens where you’d least expect it: in buckets, in the sink, in puddles and in ‘standing water’ such as in ditches. Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to keep your child safe around water.

Top Tips

At home 

  • Always keep hand and eye contact with your child in the bath and around water such as home pools. If you need to answer the door or phone, wrap your child up in a towel and take them with you. If you are in a group, set up a roster for adult supervision.
  • Identify hazards. To restrict access to water use four-sided pool fencing (1.2 metres high) with a self-closing, self-latching gate, and make sure all play areas near pools are properly fenced
  • Always empty baths, buckets and paddling pools after use, and close the toilet lid. When emptying the bath make sure the plug or toys do not accidentally block the drain.

Outside the home 

  • Teach children from a young age how to be safe around water. 

  • When on holiday check for water hazards and that pool gates are secure and locked at all times.

  • To restrict access to water use four-sided pool fencing (1.2 metres high) with a self-closing, self-latching gate.


First Aid

  • Your first priority is to get a drowning child out of the water as quickly as possible. If they aren’t breathing, place them on their back on a firm surface and start CPR.

  • See the chart below at C for CPR for children under one year and CPR for children over one year

  • Call 111 or ask someone to call for you if you have help there.

  • Do not stop performing CPR until medical help arrives and takes over.

Follow Drs ABCD to start CPR 

D Dangers? Check for any dangers to yourself such as electricity or traffic. 

R Responsive? Check responsiveness by calling loudly and shaking the child's arm. 

S Send for help. Dial 111 and confirm an ambulance is on its way. Use the appropriate emergency number in other countries. 

A Airway. Open the airway by moving the head into a neutral position and lifting the chin. Do not tilt the head back too far. 

B Breathing. Look and feel for movement of the lower chest and stomach area. Listen and feel for air coming from the nose or mouth. 

C CPR. If the child is not breathing, start CPR - 30 compressions to 2 breaths. Put the child on a firm surface. Place 2 fingers of one hand (for a baby) or the heel of one hand (for a child) in the centre of the chest just below the nipples. Push down hard and fast 30 times in about 15 seconds (push down one-third of chest depth). Once you have completed 30 compressions (pushes) on the chest, breathe into the baby's mouth 2 times. Seal your lips around the baby's mouth and nose. For a child over 1, you may need to breathe into their mouth and pinch their nose closed. Gently puff into the child until you see their chest rise. Continue with the cycle of 30 chest compressions and 2 breaths until the ambulance arrives. 

D Defibrillator. Attach defibrillator as soon as available and follow prompts. 

This page includes a link to the KidsHealth website CPR advice and a page containing the Basic Life Support Flow Chart. The Basic Life Support Flow Chart is developed by the New Zealand Resuscitation Council and Australian Resuscitation Council. For more information see www.nrc.org.nz

Links to Safekids' resources

Download Driveway Runover reference card

Reference Card Sources

Links to other organisations’ resources 

Water Safety NZ Toddler and Babies Water Safety Advice Safety guidance for pool owners | Building Performance 

Safety Guidance for Pool Owners | Building Performance

Surf Life Saving NZ

Swimming NZ

Drowning Prevention - WaterSafe

Coastguard NZ

Maritime NZ