In the aquatics industry, inflatables are generally frowned upon. The argument against their use, whether worn around the waist or arms, is that people learning to swim can develop a dependency on them.
That's why some experts are alarmed to see that a flotation device designed for babies to wear around their necks is becoming fashionable.
Neck floaties, which allow babies to hang vertically in the water, were originally designed as medical aids for children with disabilities, but now they’re marketed as a way to give able-bodied little ones independent mobility.
Social media is fueling their popularity with cute pictures of babies floating like buoys, prompting experts to denounce their use.
Kyran Quinlan, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Rush University Medical Center and former chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Council on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention, calls the inflatable neck donuts potential death traps.
“To have your precious baby one poorly sealed seam away from going under at the pool is frightening,” she told GoodHousekeeping.com.
— Otteroo Baby (@OtterooBaby) June 21, 2017
They've also been subject to recalls.
In Queensland, Australia, the Office of Fair Trading recently recalled two such products being sold on eBay, for failing to comply with safety standards. Officials there noted that if the neck holes are too loose, babies can slip through. If they’re too tight, they can restrict breathing.
In 2015, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled 3,000 units because floats made by San Francisco-based manufacturer Otteroo were leaking at the seams. In a statement to GoodHouskeeping.com, Otteroo said the products have since been updated to fully comply with safety regulations.
Others have raised concerns that the neck-cradling design could cause undue strain, which Otteroo dismisses.
"No one has yet published a study on potential strain related to an infant neck float, but basic understanding of the infant body and water’s buoyancy logically explain how there’s virtually no weight or strain placed on the baby when floating in the water with an Otteroo," the company said in a recent blog post.
Beyond the physical dangers, there is the baby’s psychological well-being to consider.
The Swimming Teachers Association in the United Kingdom, which published a report detailing the risks of neck rings, says the devices could cause parents to disengage with their floating tots.
“The pictures conjure up a dream of busy parents: calm babies floating safely under supervision, their faces securely maintained above water, while adults can relax and sip smoothies on the side, confident that babies are having a treat,” the report warns.
That defeats the purpose of baby-swim classes, which are designed to encourage interaction.
In the report, swim instructor Shawn Tomlinson further illustrates the potential isolation saying, “A neck ring creates a vacuum where the baby is incapacitated and cannot connect with anyone or anything. There are no safe boundaries to touch or feel. Self-expression through body language, which the water ideally facilitates, is lost because movements are restricted.”