In a safety communication issued on June 28, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned parents, caregivers, and healthcare providers not to put neck floats on babies for water therapy interventions, especially babies who have developmental delays or special needs, such as spina bifida, spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) type 1, Down syndrome, or cerebral palsy.
One baby died and another was hospitalized with injuries related to the use of baby neck floats; in both incidents the caregivers were not directly monitoring the infants, according to the statement. The agency left open the possibility there are other cases that have not been reported.
What Are Neck Floats?
Neck floats are inflatable plastic rings that can be placed around a baby’s neck to cradle the head while the baby floats freely in water. Some neck floats are marketed for babies as young as 2 weeks old, as well as babies with conditions such as spina bifida, spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) type 1, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, or traumatic brain injury (TBI). A number of manufacturers promote baby neck floats as a tool used by therapists in water therapy. Parents and caregivers also use these devices during a baby’s bath and while their baby is swimming.
No Data Indicates That Neck Floats Are Beneficial
“There is no data to support these neck floaties. So I think that is the most important piece for parents to know,” said Sarah Denny, MD, a pediatrician at Nationwide Childrens Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and a spokesperson for the AAP, in an interview with ABC News.
“The other thing is, when it comes to water safety, nothing inflatable is considered a water safety tool. We have personal flotation devices and U.S. Coast Guard–approved life jackets that we can recommend. But none of those would be something that a child would put around their neck.”
Neck Floats Can Cause Drowning or Neck Injuries
The risks of using baby neck floats include death due to drowning and suffocation, and strain and injury to a baby’s neck, according to the FDA. Babies with special needs such as spina bifida or SMA type 1 may be at increased risk for serious injury.
It’s believed that death or serious injury from neck floats is rare, though healthcare providers, parents, and caregivers should be aware that these events can and do occur, said the agency.
Experts Discourage the Use of Floats of Any Kind
The American Academy of Pediatrics advises against the use of swimming aids such as floaties. According to the organization, these inflatables aren’t a substitute for approved life jackets and can give children and parents a false sense of security.
The organization recommends that children never be left alone in or near a pool, even for a moment. Close adult supervision is the best way to prevent drowning. Additionally, whenever children under the age of 5 are in or around water, an adult (preferably one who can swim and perform CPR) should be within arm’s reach of the child.