Much attention has been given online lately in social media to the concept of “secondary drowning.” As often happens online, the topic has ballooned without much research and parents, especially parents of newborns and the very young, are wondering if secondary drowning requires their children to never enter water.

Secondary drowning is really nothing more than actual drowning with a delayed effect. If a person, child or adult, takes enough water into their lungs and it is not expelled after the incident, they can drown. It is an exceptionally rare occurrence, which is why it is newsworthy at all. Dry drowning is a wholly different phenomenon and should not be confused with secondary drowning. Some news stories (particularly the 2008 Today Show report that spawned the recent online confusion) lumped together dry drowning and secondary drowning statistics. Even the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have distanced themselves from the report, citing the confusion.

If you are concerned about the issue of secondary drowning with your infant or very young child, you can relieve a lot of anxiety by following the indicated routine for bathing your baby. An infant should never be bathed in more than a few inches of warm water in a basin or a baby bath. A sponge bath is what professionals advise for the first few weeks. After that, you can use the basin with about 2 inches of warm (not hot) water. Do not ever bathe an infant in a full bathtub or take them into a pool or open water. If you need to use a bathtub, use a bath chair designed to hold your infant in, much like a carrier, and again, only a few inches of water.

It is imperative that even in the shallow water of a basin that you never leave an infant or very young child alone. Constant supervision around water, at bath-time, beach-time, or pool-time is crucial.