Extreme infant survival swim lessons popular with drowning risks climbing

BEACHWOOD, OH (WOIO) - Children between 1- and 4-years-old are the most at risk for drowning and parents of young children are doing extreme infant survival swim exercises to help make them "drown-proof."

There are an average of 10 accidental drownings a day, according to the Centers for Disease Control. That's why parents are throwing children who can't even walk yet into a pool.

"It's kind of tough to watch your child in a pool and hope that they're not going to drown," said Courtney Smalley, mother of 13-month-old Andrew.

The idea is to throw the child into water and let instincts take over to flip over and float. It takes multiple lessons for kids to catch on, but advocates of the exercise say it could save lives.

"The first few weeks was really hard to sit in the background and watch her. My initial reaction was to just to run in and get her," said Aliki Marchaza, who has been bringing her 20-month-old Kamila to the class since she was 6 months old.

Parents have been putting their trust and their faith in survival swim instructor Jodi Jones for 35 years now. She has children as young as 6 months in a pool at the Mandel Jewish Community Center in Beachwood with one goal: Float to stay alive.

"If your child is to fall into water, fall into a swimming pool or pond ... they are able to quickly get on to their back and float," she said.

Typical lessons teach your child to be comfortable in the water. Jones said that isn't enough, and can actually be dangerous in the event that they fall in.

"I teach them a sequence to go from tummy to back in the event that they need air and rest," said Jones.

She conducts a 10 minute lesson, five days a week. She said to expect a period of weeks or months before your child is fully trained depending on how quickly they pick it up.

Lessons are scaled back frequency as the kids get better at it. Consistency and repetition is important to prevent backsliding, according to Jones.
And the commitment from parents is vital.

"It's the best insurance policy you can give your child," Jones said.

Parents, like Marchaza, are often motivated to enroll their kids because of the family's access to water.

"My in laws do have a pond in their back yard so I knew that it was important that she was going to be around water a lot, that she should know how to at least flip on her back if she were to ever get into that kind of situation," she said.

Meg DeRoss's backyard is Lake Erie, which means her 14-month-old is very close to a large and dangerous body of water.

"The goal is for us to keep a close eye on her, but we are smarter than that. We know that babies are slippery," said her mom, Meg.

Others, like physician Courtney Smalley, have witnessed drowning first hand.

"Working in an emergency department seeing drowning is really devastating, so it was very important to my husband and I that we made sure that Andrew could swim," she said.

Parents say the results are worth the shock of that initial plunge.

"Hopefully it will make things a lot easier too when we go places and when we go to pools where we don't have to worry as much," she said. 

"It's amazing. We went on a family vacation last week and she wanted to be in the pool the entire time. My husband and I just let her swim and we felt very confident that she could flip on her back and get out if she needed to," said Marchaza.

Jones said if parents can stomach the sessions, the life skill is with your children for life.

"It's like riding a bike. You never forget it. Once you're trained through this program, it's there," she said.

Instruction with Jodi Jones at the Mandel Jewish Community Center in Beachwood runs $80 dollars per week. Click here for more information.

The American Academy of Pediatrics does not support such a program. Here is an excerpt from their policy on the subject.

"In recent years, water-survival skills programs designed for infants younger than 12 months have become popular both in the United States and internationally. Many movies of tiny infants who have been taught to swim underwater, float fully clothed on their backs, and even cry out for help have emerged on the Internet. Although there are anecdotal reports of infants who have "saved themselves," no scientific study has clearly demonstrated the safety and efficacy of training programs for such young infants."

The American Red Cross doesn't offer an Infant Survival Aquatics Program, or an opinion on the concept but a representative provided this statement.

"The youngest age that is encouraged to enter our learn to swim class is 6 months with our "Parent and Child Aquatics." They have to attend the class with a parent or guardian for the introduction of the water and to educate parents."

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