Infants Learn to Avoid Drowning

PHOTO: Children learning to swim
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When Kim Moore's daughter was two years old, she fell into a sinkhole while walking around a lake in Colorado. Moore's husband was able to pull her out safely, but Moore knew the situation would not have ended well if someone else wasn't around her daughter to help.

"My daughter didn't know how to swim and was not comfortable in the water after that experience," said Moore.

The trauma of the experience prompted Moore, 43, of Lake Orion, Mich., to sign her daughter up for Infant Swim Self Rescue classes.

"In less than four weeks, she was able to save herself fully clothed," said Moore.

For nearly 50 years, behaviorial scientist Harvey Barnett has pushed infants into swimming pools with the hopes that they'd rescue themselves. The program, never fully embraced by pediatricians, aggressively teaches infants as young as six months survival swimming techniques.

Barnett created his program in 1966 after his neighbor's 9-month-old son drowned. To date, the program has nearly 1,000 documented cases of children using survival swimming techniques to save themselves from drowning.

YouTube has shown numerous cases of babies intentionally falling into pools, only to tactically kick their head above water, roll on their backs, and float up to safety. In some videos, parents purposely push their child in the water and watch them rescue themselves.

Drownings are the leading cause of injury death for young children ages 1 to 4, and three children die every day as a result of drowning, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An estimated 19 percent of drowning deaths involving children occur in public pools where lifeguards are present.

When Moore was unable to find a nearby class for her second child, she decided to become an instructor herself.

"The most fulfilling thing I can do is to watch these children potentially save themselves," said Moore, who has been a certified Infant Swim Self Rescue instructor for nearly a decade.

To be eligible for the class, infants must be able to sit up and roll over, since those are two techniques used, said Moore. The children are taught to kick their head above water and roll on their backs to stay afloat, she said.

But the program, which has grown in popularity nationwide, has been slow to be accepted by major pediatrician organizations.

Before 2010, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended against swimming lessons for children under age 4.

While the Academy has found some benefit to swimming lessons between ages 1 to 4 to prevent drowning, it has loosened but not eliminated its recommendation against infant and toddler swimming lessons.

"It must be stressed that even advanced swimming skills will not always prevent drowning and that swimming lessons must be considered only within the context of multilayered protection with effective pool barriers and constant, capable supervision," according to the 2010 AAP policy statement.

Evidence suggests that children ages 1 to 4 are less likely to drown if they have had formal swimming lessons, but the evidence has come from small studies and it's not clear exactly what type of techniques have been beneficial, said Dr. Mary Evelyn O'Neil, a pediatrician at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina.

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