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When Not to Swim

Many parents struggle with the decision regarding whether or not they should allow their sick child to participate in their regular swim lesson.

While the busy schedules of many families often make lesson rescheduling difficult, parents should consider the following advice in respect of the appropriateness of allowing an ill child to swim.

Diarrhoea or vomiting

Swimmers who are sick with diarrhoea or a vomiting bug should not enter a pool. Such infections are passed via even the smallest amount of swallowed water. While swim nappies/pants are able to retain some faeces; they are not leak-proof so are unlikely to prevent the diarrhoeal germ from entering the pool. For gastrointestinal infections like diarrhoea the child should abstain from swim lessons for at least a week. Outbreaks of diarrhoea may result in pool closure to allow the chlorine the required time to kill the diarrhoeal germ.

Good hygiene practises are essential to prevent the spread of water illnesses and help stop germs from being introduced into the pool in the first instance. Young children should be toileted frequently ahead of their lesson, and parents and children should be vigilant about washing their hands after toileting or changing nappies to prevent invisible amounts of faecal matter from finding their way into the pool. Infections such as colds and middle-ear infections are very common ailments among children.

There are several guidelines to be considered in respect of whether a child with these or similar infections should swim, and parents are encouraged to use their own discretion in consideration of their child’s condition and what they believe is appropriate.

Cold or Flu

Many parents are of the view that a child sick with a cold may participate in a swim lesson as long as they feel well enough to do so and don’t have a temperature or cough (typical of a contagious viral infection). Some believe that physical activity might even make the child feel better – that it will help clear a congested head/nose. However, swimmers with contagious illnesses including flu, cough or a fever are much better served staying at home and resting. Rest assists recovery and, naturally enough, helps avoid the likelihood of the infection being spread to others.

Attending a swim lesson can potentially aggravate an ailment further, and may increase the severity and duration of an infection. The chlorine in swimming pools is often slightly irritating to the nasal passages of a child whose nose is already irritated by an illness. Swimmers sick with a cold or similar are very likely to drip mucus from the chest and nose into the water – a probable source of infection to others in the pool.


The overall decision to attend swimming lessons or not should largely be based on common sense, with parents taking into consideration how their child’s participation in the swim lesson may or may not affect their own child’s heath and the health of others. A sick child’s capacity to learn should also be considered, as sick children often don’t feel well enough to enjoy and fully benefit from their swimming lesson.

Every parent is aware of how susceptible children are to illness, so be sure to practise good hygiene and take precautions to minimise the risk of infection and its spread to others – in and out of the pool. After all, no-one likes being sick!