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I made it through infancy with my kids.

I’ve navigated those Big Parenting Issues: breast or bottle; cloth or disposable; baby-wearing or strollers; swaddle or no swaddle; co-sleeping or bassinette; sleep training or not; what solids when and in what order and whether I should make them myself; etc….

We tummy-timed; we taggied; we baby-sensoried; we signed; we infant massaged; and we otherwise generally did what we thought we were suppose to based on all the advice we were bombarded with.

And we all – mom, dad and two kids – came out in one piece.

But no one told me that was just the pre-show.

Apparently, the debate just raves on.

I give you my most recent ongoing “hot” issue:

Kids in Hot Tubs

Short background: I swim with my two kids regularly at public pools (so I’m talking here about experiences in public pools, not with home spas).  My mother comes with me to help so both girls have someone fully focussed on them.  I have been taking both swimming since they were three months old.  I grew up around water: I was a competitive swimmer; a lifeguard; a swim instructor and a swim coach.  So I want my kids to: a) know how to swim because it’s a basic safety issue and b) enjoy the water so I can share my love of swimming with them.

My three-year-old by this stage is a little fish who spends most of her time in a pool underwater with her goggles on floating and gliding about.

And she loves hot tubs.  Most – but not all of the pools we’ve gone to (and we’ve been to a lot of different ones) – allow kids in with parental supervision.  Given this, we’ve been going in them since she was about two and a half.

So here we enter the wicked gray zone of whether kids under a certain age should be in them or not.

Because – wow.  Do people ever have opinions on this one.  They range from: “Sure she can come in, it’s just like a bath!”; to: “You are cooking your child from the inside and I’m calling Child Services.”

Opinions aside, many of you might be thinking: What’s the issue?  The pool you are at must have their rules posted.  Follow them.  Discussion over.



The publicly posted rules are wonderfully inconsistent.  While my gym, which has a pool and then an unguarded hot tub in the change room, prohibits kids under 12 in the hot tub (but as far as I can figure – based on the number of kids I’ve seen in there – pretty much allows it unless someone complains), City of Ottawa pools let kids in as long as they are supervised by an adult.  And all the resorts/hotels we’ve been to also allowed kids in the hot tubs, as long as they were accompanied by an adult.

So this basically results in us avoiding pools with hot tubs – like the one at the gym – that don’t allow kids, so I don’t have to have an involved conversation with my 3-year-old about how, while we can go in other hot tubs we aren’t allowed in this one because the rules here are different (and honey, please ignore the other kids in there.  Just because they are breaking the rules, doesn’t mean it’s okay for you to).

Once kids are allowed in, there are also sometimes additional rules.  With the shift to summer staff, our local City of Ottawa pool has suddenly started enforcing a rule about kids not being allowed to go underwater “when the bubbles are on”.  This rule was enforced even outside of the bubbling area, thus ruling out it being in place from a “we can’t properly see your child underwater with the bubbles on and it freaks us out” water safety perspective.

That said, this was the rule that finally led me to Google.  Because it was so absolutely randomly half pregnant that I figured there had to be some basis in fact for its existence.  And, as a good parent, I’d like to know: Am I suppose to keep my pre-schooler out of the hot tub?  Are there seriously health concerns with her being in there?

So, I gift to you here the clarity I have gained on this issue after my thorough research:

Health Link BC helpfully notes that babies and toddlers should not be in hot tubs and that children should only be in them for 5 minutes maximum.  I’d note here that age ranges applied to “toddler” tend to vary a bit, but most seem to agree it’s over by age 4. (Or 3.  Or 2).   About.com Grandparents backs the “no baby/toddler piece” up due to risk of overheating or dehydration.  But then they additionally note that “neither the American Association of Pediatrics nor the Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued specific guidelines for hot tub or spa use by children.”

Gerber says that according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission the main concern is drowning, so supervision in hot tubs is key.  Many others echo that drowning, due to lack of supervision, is the main issue.  Gerber further noted that parents should consult a doctor before putting “young children” (age undefined) in a hot tub.

BabyCenter.com write-in advice from a mom who identified herself as a water safety instructor says the Red Cross says that children under-five shouldn’t be in a hot tub (I couldn’t find the anything original from the Red Cross on this with a quick search, but I’ll keep looking).  She additionally said if it’s lower than 102-104 degrees, probably all good, but that children should not spend more than about 10 minutes at a time in the hot water and should NEVER submerge their head.

Meanwhile, HottubcoversCanada says that, “as long as you keep your hot tub maintained and clean, disinfected and relatively free from bacteria, it should be safe for most people of most ages to use.”  However, they then go on to clarify that babies and toddlers should not be allowed in your hot tub at all and that older children are still at a much higher risk of overheating than adults (they then link to HealthLinkBC advising re: no more than five minutes).

WikiAnswers says “hot tubs themselves are perfectly safe for children over the age of 3 as long as there is an adult with them in the tub.” But that the temperature of the water should be kept lower than for an adult.  They also stress making sure hair doesn’t get caught in pumps and such.

Meanwhile YahooAnswers says children under 5 are a no-no.  The Ontario Ministry of Health says the same stating they are simply too hot, may have high bacteria, and the drain in the tub can trap children.

And in other news, here’s a discussion which includes a post where it was noted someone’s doctor said a two-year-old’s access should be limited to 20 minutes.

Then there’s this article from Modernmom.com which recommends that you not allow your child to use a hot tub until he is tall enough to stand in the middle of the tub with his head above water. I found this guideline in a few other places as well (As a point of reference, my three-year-old can do this now.)  MayoClinic.com also says that children in diapers shouldn’t go in hot tubs (the inference, though not expressly stated, is that this in consideration of the health of others).

As far as what the health risks are (aside from drowning due to lack of supervision), overheating and the possibility of ear infections (from going underwater – thus explaining the origins of the new rule at our local pool!) are most often cited by those who wish to err on the side of caution and so think kids shouldn’t be there at all.  However, just when you think you are fully onside with that, then there are those who extol the virtues of hot tub therapy for children.

I could keep going, but you get the idea.  I was more confused than when I started.

But, upon reflection, here’s where I landed: While I started out as “respectful of others” but didn’t actually think there was a health risk; I ended up a little bit further along the caution spectrum from where I started.

Let me briefly explain.

I think there are three main points to keep in mind on the subject:

1.  Water Safety: Supervise young children around water.  Always.  So if your kid is in the hot tub, so are you (this one was never in question for me).

2.  Be Respectful of Others: Just because kids are technically allowed in the hot tub, doesn’t mean it’s the best place for them.  It isn’t a place for splashing and playing around.  And if others are in there relaxing, they may find your kids  disruptive, even if they are too polite to tell you.  Also, if you still have a kid in diapers, keep them out (the web won me over on this last piece).

3.  Use Common Sense: The temperatures of public hot tubs vary widely so use judgement.  If it’s steaming hot, stay out.  Or just dip your feet in if the attraction is too strong.  The web has also won me over re: the not going underwater piece – both from a possibility of ear infection perspective and a “your kid swimming about can be annoying to others” perspective.  Also, limit the length of time in there.  And really, if all you can do is “relax” in there, my child is soon going to want to go swimming in the “real” pool, so that too should work out fine.

What do you think?