Drown-proofing

At Aquatots we recognise and nurture babies’ natural ability to swim by using specialised techniques that our Managing Director Fiona has adapted and fine-tuned during the past 19 years of running Aquatots.  We have a solid core belief backed up by scientific evidence that proves the attributes of starting your baby swimming at a young age[i]. This is why we feel it is so important, in the light of a new method of baby swimming technique ‘drown-proofing’, that we add our experienced voice to the UK’s leading swimming authorities and “debunk” the so called “benefits” of these water survival programmes!

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Aquatots playing on a float

You may have seen videos or images of toddlers, fully dressed, alone in a swimming pool using a combination of propelling themselves through the water towards the side whilst rotating onto their backs to breathe – this is the ‘drown-proofing’ method! The general first impression is awe and amazement of seeing a child so young using life-saving skills but at what cost!  In June 2017 the STA, Royal Lifesaving Society UK and Swim England endorsed a report written by Dr Francoise Freedman, a medical anthropologist and founder of Birthlight, which although was sympathetic to the reasoning behind the launch of this method, was able to give a strong case against the use of it by using scientific research to provide reasoning that the use of such an extreme measure and the negative effect on neuro-developmental pathways in infants is disproportionate to the risk of drowning. You can read the full report HERE.

 

Whilst it can certainly be endorsed that the ‘swim and roll’ method is to be encouraged as a valuable life-saving exercise – that is what it is – an ‘exercise’ to be included with a wide variety of other exercises to build up an enjoyable session in the water which the baby/toddler is going to want to repeat and to definitely go back too.  The overwhelming message from watching the videos of ‘drown-proofing’ is that NONE of the babies/toddlers are happy, they don’t like their teachers or what they are being asked to do.  There is no parental involvement and the parent is featured watching from poolside whilst their infant cries and reaches out for comfort.  The lessons are extremely intense (10 minutes each day) and forced movements of ‘flip and roll’ are continuously repeated.

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Predominantly the differences between these ‘drown-proofing’ methods and our methods of baby swimming are foundered in the ‘gentleness’ of our programme. At Aquatots, parental involvement in our baby swimming programme is paramount.  Bonding with baby is achieved by skin on skin contact and is a great source of comfort, the ‘survival’ babies are very much being taught not to enjoy their experience whilst alone in the water.

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At Aquatots, we do want to prepare our infants for the unexpected, there is always a possibility that they may fall into water once they have started to crawl/walk and so at various developmental stages that the babies go through (approximately the crawling/walking stage) we initiate a ‘little drop’ followed by a ‘turn to the side’ so that babies are shown what to do.  Whilst some babies take to this exercise quite happily, others do not and although we give another two opportunities to try within a term and encourage participation – we do not force a child to undertake any exercise as from experience we know that a term or two later, when developmentally the child has changed, they are usually more prepared to comfortably participate.

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At Aquatots, we encourage children to jump in and turn back to the side within higher levels, to swim and roll until they are old enough to lift their heads up on their own is also encouraged, but again these are just part of our varied swim programme, along with many other different exercises, all aimed at giving our infants/toddlers and parents a wider experience, not just one at getting them to ‘roll on to their backs’ and swim for their lives!

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During the past 19 years we have grown as a business and have now taught over 12,000 children.  We have an extremely high level of retention of Parents and babies (80%) with approximately 140 new babies joining us every term.   We feel this is because our structured, progressive yet adaptable programme works!  The majority of our swimmers move on after our last level to continue swimming towards STA/ASA awards with other local swim schools – more often they are placed in higher level groups way ahead of their peers – this again proves that not only do we teach water safety, swimming and life-saving skills but also a love for the water and a confidence that cannot be matched by “Sink or Swim” programmes.

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[i] https://aquatots.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/swimming-really-does-enhance-the-learning-of-young-children/

Photos by MLS Photography 

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Neck Floats for Babies – Sink or Swim?

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You may have seen images of babies suspended by their necks in water by semi-solid or inflatable rings, the photographs generally display babies looking serene and relaxed, enjoying a so-called ‘Pampering Experience’.  For as little as £2.49 you can purchase your baby an inflatable neck ring online and recreate a baby spa in your own bathroom! These products are sold as “Safety Aids” and “Unique Swim Gifts”, it is claimed that they “Exercise your baby’s strength and ability to grasp” and that they “Encourage early mobility, exploration & a love for water play” but in our opinion (and many other professionals) we believe this device is completely overlooking the real benefits of introducing young babies to water.

At Aquatots Swimming Ltd we strongly believe in and actively promote the bonding opportunity that our courses offer.  The closeness between parent and child is necessary to encourage the confidence the child needs to learn water skills such as kicking and reaching.  Being in the water together gives the opportunity for a child to explore in a safe and fun environment. Using a neck float is effectively isolating the baby and restricting free movement, how much can they really explore whilst hanging vertically beneath the float!

Now for some medical evidence! Did you know that infant development is cephalo-caudal, which means it starts from the head and works down?  Take a minute to think about suspending a young baby in water with only its neck supported, even with the natural buoyancy of water imagine of the strain the ligaments and muscles have to endure, even for a short period of time.  Fortunately one of the world’s leading experts on baby swimming, Françoise Freedman, has worked with the STA and Shawn Tomlinson to produce a “message of caution” which provides in-depth information about the damaging effect this newest ‘Pamper Experience’ could have. Whilst it may not be a short read it does explain about how babies ‘work’ and provides links to all the relevant and current data to substantiate it. Read the full report ‘The Hidden Risks of Floating Neck Rings for Babies’ HERE 

The original idea behind this ‘fad’ came after it was recognised that water floatation tanks can be used to help adults disengage from the stresses and strains of everyday life and somebody, somewhere felt that babies were missing out on this experience! Despite us meeting thousands of children we are yet to meet a baby that was worried about paying the mortgage!

FACTS:

  • In 2015 a leading supplier of their own branded neck floatation device recalled THREE THOUSAND units due to them posing a risk of drowning!
  • Babies already spend a lot of time in contraptions that isolate them from human contact.
  • It will set you back more than £60 an hour to take your newborn to a baby spa!.

Reactions:

“I think it looks horrific; it doesn’t give any consideration to the body posture underwater, and I’m sure could, therefore, do lasting damage. Teaching any age of a child that it’s ok to put things around their neck (which could become instilled behaviour through repeated use) can never be a good thing, and as you say that whole bonding experience of swimming with your baby is lost through the use of these devices.

I would imagine it could also breed complacency in some parents; putting 100% confidence in anything around water will, unfortunately, lead to a terrible accident, and heaven forbid it would take that to end the use of something which looks entirely unbeneficial in the first place.” – Pippa (Aquatot Parent)

We do hope we have provided you with enough information for you to make an informed decision.

Thanks for reading

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Choosing The Right Swim School

 

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Swim School lesson with Aquatots Swimming Ltd

All Aquatots teachers come to us with an existing ASA (Amateur Swimming Association) or STA (Swimming Teacher Association) level 2 qualification. This means they have all undergone the relevant training in a nationally recognised framework to ensure that before they even begin their hundred hours of Aquatots training they are able to deliver lessons to a high and consistent level. (This qualification has been designed by both the ASA and the STA to train would be swimming Teachers to teach children from the ages of 3 upwards.)  This is true of all professional swimming teachers so what happens when your Swim School or teacher are not able to meet your expectations?

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Summer Water Safety

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At Aquatots we pride ourselves in not only teaching babies and children how to swim but also giving them the skills to save their own lives (and during our higher levels the skills to save others!).  Having these skills does reduce the risk of serious water related incidents BUT accidents happen especially to young children and we ask that you NEVER become complacent about the dangers, teach your children to respect water and always supervise them when they are around water.

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Why Aquatots gives ‘Something for Nothing!’

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‘Freebies’….a word that can make people very suspicious – can you really get Something for Nothing?  At Aquatots we have a core belief – ‘If YOU are happy then we are happy’!  This is why FOUR times a year we offer completely FREE, no strings attached Baby Swimming Taster Sessions.  They are not a gimmick or a stunt to trap you, there is not a sales person hiding in the changing rooms to encourage you to sign up to a full course or a hidden cost of the Taster Session if you decide not to start your baby swimming with Aquatots.  They are simply our way of giving you and your baby the opportunity to experience what we can do and more importantly allowing you to decide if you like it.

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Aquatots Swimmers reaching their full swimming potential

Your baby starts their journey with Aquatots somewhere between 8 weeks and 18 months old and they begin at our Duckling level.  We want you and your child to really enjoy your weekly lesson.  We strive to make each session varied, interesting yet informative and most importantly productive!  During the first term with us we are going to be teaching you and your baby 28 exercises – this is why our courses are not a “drop in”.  We need the structure of the course especially in this important Duckling level, to teach your child the abilities they will need to continue on to learn the skills to save their own life and then later in swimming widths and then lengths of the pool.  By the end of the  Duckling course your baby will have done at least 5 submersions in one lesson. They will be using their instincts and Mammalian Dive Reflex under the water to build confidence levels and learning new skills above water that will help them with exercises in later levels as well as out of the water i.e ‘holding on’.  The Duckling level is such an important starter point and we do encourage the same person to take baby swimming throughout this course as it is as much about the parent/guardian learning as the child!

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Swimming with Special Needs

Lynn is an Aquatots Mum, she has been bringing her 10 month old daughter Libby to lessons for five months and is progressing up the levels as expected but Lynn is no ordinary Mum, she is registered disabled.  Lynn has a mixture of orthopaedic conditions, the main conditions are bilateral acetabular and femoral dysplasia which means her hip sockets and femurs didn’t develop properly as she was growing. She also have scoliosis which is a curvature of the spine and some disk degeneration.

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Dispelling the Myths of dry and secondary drowning.

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We have recently seen some stories regarding dry or secondary drowning on social media sites that understandably may make you hesitant about taking your baby swimming if you do not know all the facts so here we are setting the record straight.

There are three types of drowning. Dry, Wet and Secondary.

Many people if not all have experienced “something going down the wrong way”, during drinking. When this happens the person coughs and splutter then still feeling a tickle in their throat they have a drink of water or two until the discomfort has gone. In the throat we have the food pipe (oesophagus) and the wind pipe (trachea) in between is a flap (epiglottis). This flap closes when we swallow to protect water entering the lungs.

Dry drowning.

If a person gets into difficulty in the water, they may have some water go down the throat. The flap or epiglottis as described above will snap shut in a conscious person, protecting the lungs from large amounts of water, however as it shuts it may catch a small amount of water. This normally doesn’t have much effect as our lungs need to be moist to work, this is why in cold weather we can see our breath (water vapour). Breathing in water can cause vocal chords to spasm and close up, this shuts off his airways, making it hard to breathe – symptoms of dry drowning generally happen immediately after the incident.

Secondary drowning.

If the small amount of water is dirty e.g. From a lake or river rather than a swimming pool where the water is treated and filtered continuously. This can cause a chest infection (pneumonia) up to 72 hours after the incident, if in doubt always seek medical attention at an A & E department.

Wet drowning

This occurs when the casualty becomes unconscious and the flap (epiglottis) relaxes and the lungs fill with water. Only resuscitation can assist in this case.

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To summarise:-

The body has protective measures in place to prevent water entering the lungs, if a small amount of clean water does enter the lungs this will have little effect as the lungs need to be moist to work. If the water is dirty this may cause an infection however this is rare. If any signs of breathing difficulties are displayed up to 72 hours (3 days) after an incident in water then urgent medical attention must be sought.

Symptoms to look for:

Dry drowning and secondary drowning have the same symptoms. They include:

  • Coughing
  • Chest pain
  • Trouble breathing
  • Feeling extremely tired
  • Sudden changes in behaviour

In most cases symptoms will improve by themselves but it is worth getting checked out if you are concerned as the symptoms can be treated easily with oxygen or ventilation in a hospital.

We hope this helps to reassure you that although dry and secondary drowning DOES exist (although these are not official terms) it is a very rare phenomenon and only accounts for around 1% of all drowning cases.

Our pools are regularly filtered and checked which removes the risk of secondary drowning and all our teachers are first aid trained (lifeguards) but have never (and never expect to) treat a case of dry drowning.

Thank you to George Tarte of Aquatic Rescue Training for the in-depth and reassuring information and thanks to you for reading, please feel free to comment if you have found this post useful.

Fiona Munt-Whittle

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