My toddler drowned. Here's my warning about puddle jumpers (2023)

For Christi Brown, it's the legacy of her son, Judah, who died at 3 years old in a drowning accident, that keeps her moving forward.

"He was a little firecracker," she said of her son. "So curious about everything. He loved 'Paw Patrol,' Matchbox cars and Legos and wrestle with his brothers. He was a joyous spirit."

On Sept. 24, 2016, the Brown family -- Christi, husband Mark, Judah, 3, and his six older siblings, went for a swim and a barbeque at a friend's apartment complex near their home in Houston, Texas. That day, Christi found Judah floating face down in the water. He died two days later. Though he was not wearing a flotation device at the time of the tragedy, Brown feels strongly that it was a floatation device known as a puddle jumper that contributed to his death.

On the Facebook page of a charity founded in Judah's honor, the Judah Brown Project, Brown wrote a post shared almost 1,800 times on why she believes a puddle jumper contributed to her son's drowning -- one reason being the position in which the device places a child.

"Puddle jumpers automatically put children in a vertical position in the water... and that is the drowning position," she wrote. "Puddle jumpers teach children muscle memory for that position so that when they get in water, they will automatically go vertical, whether they have the device on or not. This makes drowning faster," Brown believes.

My toddler drowned. Here's my warning about puddle jumpers (1)

Christi Brown

Puddle jumpers are life vests for children which also serve as swimming aids.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 10 people drown every day. According to the World Health Organization, the highest drowning rates are among children 1 to 4 years old.

September 24, 2016

On the day of the accident, Judah, his mom said, as with every other time he was in the water, wore a puddle jumper.

"I knew I wanted to keep him safe around the water," Brown told "Good Morning America," on how she came to decide on the device for Judah. "I knew that included swimming lessons (which she took with Judah, though she said they were focused on getting used to water as opposed to learning what to do in the water). "I talked to moms, everybody was recommending puddle jumpers. [They] seemed safe and I got one and started him in a puddle jumper from the time he was about a year old."

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"I knew I still needed to watch him around the water but I felt like the puddle jumper was that one extra layer of protection," Brown told "GMA."

That September day, while Christi and her friend sat next to the pool supervising all the children and their husbands barbequed nearby, Judah got out of the pool and said he was cold. Brown said he came to her for a towel which she originally tried to put over the puddle jumper but it made the child uncomfortable, she said. He sat next to her without the device, wrapped in a towel. Brown said she and her friend turned their attention back to supervising the children still in the pool.

"We were counting heads. When I looked down to check on Judah, he had already slipped off. I didn't hear him slip away, I didn't see him. It was quiet, the way toddlers do. I started panicking and my friend and I jumped up, we were looking around the pool. I thought he had gone to this water feature he was interested in, there was this little waterfall in the pool area. He wasn't there. I ran around the pool screaming his name, I found him lying face down at the shallow end of the pool, right next to the stairs."

My toddler drowned. Here's my warning about puddle jumpers (2)

Christi Brown

Brown estimates less than two minutes passed between the time she is sure Judah was still next to her until she found him in the pool. Her husband, and then the husband of the other couple, performed CPR waiting for an ambulance. Judah was brought to a local Pediatric Intensive Care Unit but died on Sept. 26, 2016.

A false sense of security

The issue with the puddle jumper, and all flotation devices, Brown said, is they give a false sense of security.

MORE: 1 simple thing parents can do at pool parties to help keep kids safe

"What happened with Judah is he would go into the water with the puddle jumper on every single time. He always had it on. Through the process of always having that on, he never learned what his body could and couldn't do in the water. He assumed, in his 3-year-old brain, that he could swim when he couldn't. He thought 'I can go to the water and I'll float,' because every other time he went to the water, he did. He didn't understand it was the device that was keeping him up."

In her Facebook post, Brown wrote, "Puddle Jumpers teach children to bicycle their arms and legs in order to propel through the water. This expends huge amounts of energy and contributes significantly to drowning incidents because it cannot be sustained for very long."

The organization Parents Preventing Childhood Drowning wrote on its website on the topic of puddle jumpers, "Toddlers do not have the cognitive capabilities to understand that they need the device to float in the pool. Thus, the problem occurs when the child is not wearing the puddle jumper. The child is now conditioned to believe that not only can they can swim alone in the pool, but they are supposed to do so in an upright position. Both of these are very dangerous. Most toddler drownings occur during a non-swim time when the child is in the care of one or both parents."

Michael Oostman, the President, Oostman Aquatic Safety Consulting, Inc. a company that is, according to its web site "dedicated to the prevention of drowning and catastrophic aquatic injuries through education, mentoring, and forensic investigation services," says personal flotation devices are crucial. He has investigated more than 900 drownings in his career.

My toddler drowned. Here's my warning about puddle jumpers (3)

Christi Brown

"Until a person is able to rescue themselves in the water there is a huge risk of major injury or fatality if they enter into a body of water without floatation device on," he told "GMA." For that reason, he is a proponent of PFDs, puddle jumpers included, as one of many safeguards parents need to take to ensure safety of their children in the water.

But, Oostman said, with the habitual use of PFDs can come potential unintended consequences - the inability to practice and develop swimming skills. Until the ability to self rescue is in place, an adult should be within one arm length of a child in the water at all times.

Oostman also stressed the importance of swim lessons from early in life. "And not just one session," he said, "The lessons should be ongoing and as skills develop some of the redundant protective measures [like PFDs] can begin to be removed."

A spokesperson for Puddle Jumper Life Jackets wrote in an email to "GMA," "Puddle Jumper Life Jackets serve as a U.S. Coast Guard life jacket. Our life jackets go through rigorous in-water testing requirements to earn the U.S. Coast Guard safety certification.

"Puddle Jumper®Life Jackets are designed to provide safety in any water situation (pools, lakes, beaches, and etc.), when properly used, helping to protect children learning to swim. We stand behind our products and promote teaching children proper swimming and floating techniques, even with the use of a Puddle Jumper Life Jacket. Children should always have active adult supervision when on, in or near the water, and the use of a Puddle Jumper® Life Jacket or any other flotation device should not replace swim survival lessons and water safety education."

The U.S. Coast Guard told "GMA" they while they do approve PFDs, including puddle jumpers, that "meet a set of minimum construction, performance, and manufacturing requirements" they do "not evaluate or approve 'learn to swim' devices, swim aids, or other pool toys. PFDs only provide protection against drowning when they are worn."

The Judah Brown Project

What started as a way to raise money for hospital and funeral expenses by Judah's preschool teacher has grown in the last few years.

"We wanted to do more," said Brown. "I didn't want another family to go through this."

The first thing they came up with was a brochure to educate parents and caregivers about drowning prevention. It is now in 350 pediatricians' offices around the country.

Next, they started getting into schools to educate kids from preschool to elementary age about water safety. The Judah Brown Project now travels to seven school districts in the Houston, Texas, area.

Most recently, the organization offers low- and no-cost CPR lessons for parents and caregivers. They also offer scholarships to children for survival swim lessons, a type of swim lesson, of which Brown said she is a big proponent. "It teaches you how to save yourself if you accidentally fall in the water," she said.

Her commitment to the Judah Brown project keeps her son's memory alive. "I always say I get to carry his legacy with me," she said. "I get to talk about him and say his name. It helps my heart and helps me continue to walk through each day."

And each time Brown sees a child learn to swim, she said knows his legacy lives on.

"Every time I see a child that has gotten one of our scholarships floating and swimming I am always thinking of Judah. I say to him, 'this is what you're doing, baby boy. You're saving these little lives.'"


Do puddle jumpers cause drowning? ›

According to swim experts, puddle jumpers teach unsafe swim habits and can contribute to drowning.

What is the drowning position of a puddle jumper? ›

Puddle Jumpers put children naturally in a vertical position in the water and teach muscle memory for that position, meaning the child's muscles learn to automatically and without thinking get into that vertical position every time they get in water. The vertical position is also the DROWNING position.

Can a 2 year old wear a puddle jumper? ›

For children 30-50 Lbs:

Puddle jumpers are best for 3 to 6-year-olds who can't swim very well, although some readers noted that their 2-year-olds fit in it as well (Alice was 2.5 and LOVED it). For those taking multiple children to the pool and such, this is a must-have.

What are the cons of puddle jumpers? ›

Unfortunately, the posture that your child is forced to be in while wearing puddle jumpers is the exact position of drowning victims. A vertical posture in the water is the worst position to be in when you need air. Swimming, and more importantly, floating posture, is horizontal.

Why you shouldn't use puddle jumpers? ›

Puddle Jumpers and floaties are notorious for helping children develop ineffective swimming posture. They are subconsciously training children to be in an upright and vertical position in the water- head up, feet down, arms out. This causes them to use more of a bicycling motion kick under the water.

What does delayed drowning look like? ›

Delayed symptoms of drowning include shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, coughing and/or chest discomfort. Extreme fatigue, irritability and behavior changes are also possible. Remain vigilant for about 24 hours, even if your child appears happy and playful with no apparent problem at all.

Do puddle jumpers help learn to swim? ›

While Puddle Jumpers may not be the best tool when teaching your child to swim on their own, Skilton says there's still an advantage to using them because "children can float unaided, [which] can be helpful for a parent with two young children to manage effectively." She wants to remind parents that all things have ...

Are arm floaties safer than puddle jumpers? ›

Puddle Jumpers are safer than traditional arm floaties.

These floaties, or swim wings, can be extremely dangerous and provide both parents and children with a false sense of security. One trip down the slide or a misplaced jump into the pool can cause both – or worse – just one float to come off.

What should my 2 year old wear for swimming? ›

Swim nappies are a must

No baby is going to enjoy the experience if they're waterlogged in their standard nappy. Most pools wouldn't allow them in wearing those anyway. Instead, buy specific swim nappies – available in most big supermarkets or chemists – and a suitable swimsuit, trunks or wetsuit.

What is the best age for puddle jumpers? ›

Stearns Puddle Jumpers clearly state that they are Coast Guard-approved when used on boats. It is ideal for children aged 2-4, or even 5-year-olds, depending on your child's weight and size. Puddle Jumpers, also known as type III personal floatation devices (PFDs), have been approved by the US Coast Guard.

What should my 2 year old wear for swimming lessons? ›

What Your Child Should Wear for Swim Lessons
  • Swimsuit.
  • Rash Guards and Swim Shirts.
  • Goggles.
  • Hair Tie and Clips.
  • Cap.
  • Earplugs.
  • Sunscreen.
  • Bonus Content:
Dec 29, 2020

Are puddle jumpers allowed in Disney pools? ›

In past visits to Disney's Water Parks and Resort Hotel pools we've had it with us and she's been able to wear it in the pool and on the slides she's able to ride. So, to answer your question, yes! You can definitely bring your own floatation devices with you when you visit.

Should toddlers wear puddle jumpers at the beach? ›

Puddle Jumpers are great for a parent's peace of mind around water. They help support the child's upper body reducing the risk of drowning. Parents can't be everywhere at once, so it is helpful to have your child wear a puddle jumper or lifejacket at the pool or beach.

Is a swim vest or puddle jumper better? ›

They are not designed to keep your child afloat. Your child will still be able to swim underwater while wearing a swim vest. Swim vests can be a step up from puddle jumpers, as they can give your child more freedom to move their arms, so that they can improve their swimming techniques in a more natural way.

Should toddlers wear life jackets at the pool? ›

Children and teens should wear a life jacket any time they are on a boat, raft, inner tube or swimming in open water like lakes, rivers or the ocean. Children birth to 5 years old should also wear a life jacket while in or near water. This includes while they are on a beach or dock.

Should toddlers use floaties? ›

Floaties and Water Wings are Dangerous

These types of devices are often mistakenly viewed as swim safety devices. They help the parent feel a little more comfortable with their child being in the water, and they give the child a false sense of security.

Are swim vests good for toddlers? ›

Float vests help position children in a natural swimming position in the water, whilst providing extra buoyancy as they learn to swim. You will need to hold onto your child's hands at first, to help your child find their water balance. The vest will then help to keep them afloat as they learn to kick in the water.

How do I know if my toddler has water in his lungs? ›

You may have heard of the terms “dry drowning” and “secondary drowning.” Those aren't actually medical terms. But they do point to rare complications that you should know about and that are more common in children.
  1. Coughing.
  2. Chest pain.
  3. Trouble breathing.
  4. Feeling extremely tired.
Feb 21, 2022

How do I know if my toddler inhaled water? ›

This inhalation of water, also called aspiration, might be demonstrated in the moment it happens by just a small bout of coughing or gasping. That first coughing fit may end after a few moments. However, over the next several hours, the small amount of water that got into the lungs begins to wreak havoc.

How do I know if my baby has water in his lungs? ›

If your child is having difficulty breathing, they may be unable to speak or express their symptoms.
Symptoms to watch for after a water incident include:
  1. difficulty breathing or speaking.
  2. irritability or unusual behavior.
  3. coughing.
  4. chest pain.
  5. low energy or sleepiness after a water incident.
Jun 1, 2018

What are the 4 stages of drowning? ›

The events that result in drowning can be divided into the following sequence: (i) struggle to keep the airway clear of the water, (ii) initial submersion and breath-holding, (iii) aspiration of water, (iv) unconsciousness, (v) cardio-respiratory arrest and (vi) death – inability to revive.

How common is drowning in toddlers? ›

In the United States: More children ages 1–4 die from drowning than any other cause of death. For children ages 5–14, drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death after motor vehicle crashes.

How do I teach my toddler to stop drowning? ›

10 Steps to Prevent Child Drowning
  1. Always stay within arm's reach. ...
  2. Ignore your phone. ...
  3. Don't rely on water wings. ...
  4. Install the proper water barriers. ...
  5. Sign up your child for swimming lessons. ...
  6. Make older kids buddy up. ...
  7. Have the appropriate safety gear in case of an emergency. ...
  8. Teach your child water rules.
Jun 24, 2012

Do floaties prevent learning to swim? ›

As you head for the pool this summer, think twice before you pack those “water wings” in your swim bag. Most people perceive floaties to be good tools for helping children learn to swim. The opposite is actually true. Floaties do not help children learn to swim.

How do I teach my child to hold his breath underwater? ›

Submerge intervals: In the pool or bathtub, count out loud to three, and submerge your child under the water just until their entire head gets wet. Do this on an interval of every 5-10 seconds. This helps them learn how to hold their breath, then breathe, then prepare to hold their breath again many times in a row.

Should I force my child to take swim lessons? ›

Should I force my child to take swim lessons? The answer to this question is a short and resounding “no”! Nothing good will come out of forcing your children to partake in an activity they are scared of. The thing about forcing your child to swim is it can only deepen their fears and resentment.

Are puddle jumpers safer than life jackets? ›

They're not as bulky as a lifejacket making them easy to put on and more comfortable for the kid. They're also usually brightly coloured or covered in beloved animated characters which makes kids want to wear them. But, despite their popularity, puddle jumpers are actually really unsafe, say swim safety experts.

What is the minimum weight for puddle jumper? ›

What is this? Stearns makes one of the most popular brands of US Coastguard-approved flotation devices – Puddle Jumpers. The Stearns Puddle Jumper Infant Hydroprene Life Jacket is designed for infants less than 30lb.

Is a vest better for toddler swimming or arm floats? ›

Inflatable arm floaties are popular, but there's a better option for your kids that allows them to splish and splash safely: a child life jacket.

Do floaties prevent drowning? ›

But they give us a false sense of security that our children will be safe swimming independently. The truth is that floaties, no matter how well made, won't prevent drowning. And they cannot be relied upon by parents as life-saving devices.

Can toddlers get water in lungs from swimming? ›

It happens if water gets into the lungs. There, it can irritate the lungs' lining and fluid can build up, causing a condition called pulmonary edema. You'd likely notice your child having trouble breathing right away, and it might get worse over the next 24 hours. Both events are very rare.

What is the difference between a puddle jumper and a swim vest? ›

Whereas a vest or front and back floaties adds buoyancy to your child's center, a puddle jumper holds them up by the arms and chest equally. This does not mimic the way the body naturally wants to float in the water, and it keeps kids from learning to use their arms to keep afloat and balance.

What should toddlers wear in a pool? ›

The AAP recommends that children wear hats, sunglasses, and cover-ups. Clothing that offers extra UV protection is helpful. Swim shirts, which are also called rash guards, provide more protection from the sun than traditional bathing suits because of the long sleeves and the special fabric used.

How many hours after drowning does a body float? ›

The bodies of the drowned sometimes surface on their own, but this depends on the qualities of the water. The putrefaction of flesh produces gases, primarily in the chest and gut, that inflate a corpse like a balloon. In warm, shallow water, decomposition works quickly, surfacing a corpse within two or three days.

Do bodies float or sink after drowning? ›

Dead bodies in the water usually tend to sink at first, but later they tend to float, as the post-mortem changes brought on by putrefaction produce enough gases to make them buoyant.

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