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How to Keep Your Swimmers Healthy, Despite All the Pee in the Pool

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One of the grossest parts about living in New York City can be summed up in two words: The subway. I cope with my icky commute, as well as the hours I spend with my kids at the germ-coated playground, with portable packs of hand wipes and endless amounts of hope. But, my wipes are defenseless against summer’s biggest nasty: The public pool where my 4-year-old takes swim lessons. I’ve sat on the sidelines, watching little kids spit and snot into the pool as they work up the courage to do the doggie paddle (or, at least, blow bubbles). Then, cringing, I’ve imagined all of the disgustingness going into the water that I couldn’t see (hello, pee!).

There was a time when I could convince myself that chlorine killed all of the nasties in the pool — and then the Centers for Disease Control revealed that pee (not chlorine) causes those pool-fueled red, itchy eyes…and crushed my soul. I considered banning swim lessons in our house, but even I know that’s ridiculous:  a. My son needs to learn to swim for his own safety. b. He freaking loves to swim, even if he can’t actually swim yet. c. The pool, as I’ve pointed out, is just one source of yuck in our yuck-filled lives.

So, to help ease my queasiness about the pool (and, hopefully, yours too), I reached out to Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, a Seattle-based pediatrician and author of Mama Doc Medicine, for her tips on making the pool a healthier place for our kids:

1. Have them shower before they swim.
Yes, if they’re anything like my son, they’ll be annoyed — “It’s not bedtime, why do I have to shower?! — but this one is important. “Bacteria on our skin, in our diaper and swim suit areas, and even urine on our skin goes into the pool,” explains Dr. Swanson. “Research shows that one minute under that shower head does wonders!” 

2. Make them pee (and yes, poop) before they dive in. Then, make them get out and go every hour or two — say, when you re-apply their sunscreen — to help them resist the urge to potty in the pool (yes, even if they’re wearing a swim diaper). “Swim diapers and regular diapers do nothing to keep poop or pee out of the pool,” she says.

3. Keep your sick kids out of the water. If your little has had diarrhea or vomiting in the last 48 hours, you have to say home, says Dr. Swanson. Infections are easily spread in the water, especially bugs that cause diarrhea. “Furthermore, some of the infections that cause diarrhea aren’t killed by chlorine,” she adds.

I’ll do my part to keep the pools we go to this summer healthier; help me out by doing yours, too, OK?

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Photo: Getty