Diapers are designed to absorb urine and store feces, with one simple objective in mind: to keep both away from clothes and furniture, while the baby is kept as dry and comfortable as it is technically possible. Well, at least until the diaper is changed. Swim diapers, on the other hand, have an additional function, which is to make sure they do not have any leaks in the swimming pool, especially while the diaper is immersed under water. This is the new challenge and this is also their biggest problem.
When a person is using a diaper, there is the implicit assumption that the user has some kind of incontinence—this could be urinary or fecal. There is no other explanation to justify the need to use a diaper. This is precisely where swim pants have created an important perceptual problem and, perhaps without intention. They have created a dilemma to public swimming pool administrators. Between those who define the pool rules and those parents who want to take their babies into the public swimming pools, with the “technical” argument that the baby is using a specially made “swim pant.”
If we read the claims on most swim pant bags, you would get the false impression that swim pants are perfectly safe for the swimming pool. Reading some of the claims, it is easy to reach the wrong conclusion. “For worry-free water play” one brand claims; for “a safe and carefree experience in the water” another brand says. Basically, all swim pant products mention these kinds of benefits, but none mention any health risks, particularly while using them in public swimming pools—and those risks are not minor.
Keeping urine and feces inside a diaper is not an impossible task—in fact many modern premium pants can achieve this goal by keeping the baby without any leakages nearly 98.5% of the time. A disposable diaper or pant that could claim 100% leak-free performance would be just too expensive to sell, as it would need to be grossly overdesigned in order to avoid any potential leaks. If swim pants worked as well as disposable pants, maybe people would not need to raise the alarm, but, unfortunately, baby pants are not as effective when they are under water.
Not long ago, it was common to see babies who were fully potty-trained before the age of two. Today most babies do not even start potty training until they are 30 months or older, thanks in part to the increased performance of disposables. When diapers are dry and comfortable, it will take the baby to potty train. This is not always the case, but it is happening to most babies everywhere. This lengthened training time in potty train age has increased the number of babies who have not been potty-trained ending up in a public swimming pool.
Leaking urine into a public swimming pool is undesirable, but it is not really the biggest health concern. Urine is normally sterile of bacteria—unless there is a virus illness present. Feces on the other hand, have a very high bacterial content, sometimes as much as 50% by weight. I have read that the transmission of Shigella, STEC, Hepatitis A and E are all well known to appear in feces. Even when water is treated with chemicals, which may reduce the risk of contamination, unless the chemicals are at a high enough concentration to kill bacteria at contact, or the pump had a chance to move the whole volume of water through the UV lamps, the risk is very real.
What is Code Brown? In swimming pool lingo, this refers to an emergency that occurs whenever there is a presence of feces in the water. A person needs to defecate in the pool to produce said Code Brown. For instance, people with diarrhea are a common case and for this reason should always avoid swimming. A baby that has not been potty trained, wearing a swim pant, is the obvious alternative. Based on what I have seen, swim pants are unable to protect from the potential leakage of feces into the pool. You would need to be wearing a scuba diving swimsuit to achieve such a level of seal to avoid any water coming in or out of the suit while under water. Feces and water in the presence of friction do not mix well, a small friction is all is needed to dissolve feces under water; a baby playing in the pool with a swim pant increases the risk for harmful bacteria in the water.
In my opinion, unless there is scientific evidence to provide support to all those claims, those that make you think that babies using a swim pant will not contaminate the water; a warning label should be added to the bag. This warning will help public swimming pool administrators avoid any issues with those parents with babies who want to get their infants into the pool, even if the baby is using a swim pant. It will also reduce the liability of swim pant manufacturers. Most pools have specific warnings and guidelines to follow. People jumping into the pool without taking a shower first are increasing the danger for contaminating the water with fecal matter. In this case, they are willingly but wrongly bypassing a rule, which should be not allowed or encouraged by family or friends.
Few things are more enjoyable than playing with a baby in a pool, however, in consideration and out of respect to others; this should not be done in a hotel pool or any public swimming pool, unless it has been designated for that very specific purpose. This is why many hotels have small splash pools for infants. If it was a public requirement to have every pool show the amount of fecal bacteria on their waters, maybe nobody would like to swim in it.
Let's have fun, but let's do our best to keep public pools healthy for all too. Please keep swim pants out of public pools, at least until they are improved to a point where they are no longer a risk.