One-fifth of all deaths from drowning between 2005-2009 in the U.S. involved children younger than the age of 14, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An infant life jacket helps keep young kids safe in a boat, when swimming at the beach or playing at home in a wading pool. Life jackets also protect infants from water not typically associated with swimming such as yard ponds. Infants don't have the knowledge or experience to understand water risks, and sometimes a fall into a pond or a yard water feature goes unnoticed. Life jackets are critical to help keep your baby floating until help arrives.
The CDC warns parents that foam pool floats and air-filled balloons can't keep infants and children afloat in an emergency situation. It encourages parents to use a life jacket instead of colorful toys for safety protection. Manufacturers make life jackets for various purposes. Select a jacket with inherent buoyancy -- one that doesn't need inflation -- for infants and small children. The Personal Floatation Device Manufacturers Association recommends a Type II PFD vest for infants. This vest type design incorporates head support and floatation to flip the infant onto the back to avoid floating face down in the water. Select a vest with the type listed on the manufacturer's label or on the paper advertising materials attached to a new vest.
Not all life jackets offer the same protection against drowning, even when the jacket type matches the use. Jackets certified by the U.S. Coast Guard feature labels with the endorsement clearly featured on packaging tags. Not all jackets, however, show the certification on the inside label so ask to confirm certifications when borrowing or buying used jackets.
Life jackets can't do the job without proper use. The Minnesota Safety Council warns parents that life jackets are ineffective for infants younger than 6 months old or weighing less than 16 pounds. Babies may not like the restrictive strap or head support, but frequent use helps children become comfortable with the safety device's featured. Have your baby wear the life jacket around the yard, aboard boats or at neighbors' houses where he might crawl into pools, ponds or yard water features.
Life jackets must fit properly to keep your infant floating in an emergency. Select the appropriate size for your infant based on the weight of your baby and chest size, and buy a new jacket as your baby grows. Life jackets should also incorporate support for your baby's head in the design and have a crotch strap that wraps between the child's legs. These features help a baby's head stay above the water and prevent the wriggling child from shifting the jacket off the shoulders. Discard jackets with sun-faded, torn or worn straps as they will be more prone to break in an emergency.
Jackets can be a source of mildew and mold that aggravates your baby's allergies and this can create breathing problems. Selecting infant jackets made from fast-drying materials helps avoid mildew and molds. Check the jacket label for terms such as "quick dry" or "mildew resistant" to pick a jacket that has less risk from mold. The University of Minnesota Extension recommends cleaning the jacket with a mild detergent and hanging clothing such as life jackets in a well-ventilated area immediately after your baby's use to avoid mildew growth.
- Minnesota Department of Natural Resources: Selecting a Life Jacket for Your Child
- Personal Flotation Device Manufacturers Association: Facts About Life Jackets
- Maryland Department of Natural Resources: Boating Services -- Life Jackets for Kids
- Minnesota Safety Council: Life Jackets
- Oregon.gov: Life Jackets
- Texas Parks and Wildlife: Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Unintentional Drowning -- Get the Facts
- University of Missouri Extension: How to Prevent and Remove Mildew -- Home Methods