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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. It’s not always easy to know whether your child should attend swimming lessons when sick or stay home. That’s because ‘sickness’ in children can mean anything from a dry, week-old cough, to a fever, or even full-blown vomiting and diarrhoea.

Queensland Health have provided their recommendations on exclusion periods for several conditions, which can be found in detail on the QLD Health website. 

We’ve also outlined below our advice on when to keep your child at home, and when they are likely OK to come to swimming lessons.

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.

When your child has a lingering cough

Obviously, there are different stages of sickness: a beginning, middle, and an end. Sometimes your child will continue to have some signs of sickness for days or even weeks after first falling ill.

If your child was sick a week or so ago, and still has a lingering cough, they may be well enough to swim. However, before recommencing swimming lessons, you may want to get the cough checked out by a doctor. It could simply be a post-viral cough that will pass with time, but it’s good to rule out anything more serious.

A lot of General Practitioners (GPs) offer bulk billing for children under 16. So having them checked out shouldn’t cost you a thing.


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 practice 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!

If you’re still not sure whether your child should attend swimming lessons, contact us, or your local GP.