(NEW YORK) -- For nearly 50 years, behavioral 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 founded Infant Swimming Resource 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.
To be eligible for the class, infants must be able to sit up and roll over, since those are two techniques used, said Kim Moore, a certified Infant Swim Self Rescue instructor for nearly a decade. 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 Rvelyn O'Neil, a pediatrician at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina.
O'Neil said she warns parents against intense survival-like swimming lessons before age one.
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