Viral Video Shows Swim Instructor Tossing Baby Into the Pool, But Is It Safe?
Last summer, a mom from Colorado named Krysta Meyer caught flak for a TikTok video of her 8-month-old son Oliver learning how to swim. In the since deleted clip, a swim instructor tosses the baby boy into the pool. The caption, "Oliver amazes me every week! I can't believe he is barely 2 months in and is catching on so fast. He is a little fish. #baby #swim"
Fast forward to this summer, and the video has resurfaced as TikTok users have used it to stitch on their stunned reactions. One person wrote, "Is that a swimming or drowning lesson?"
Last year, the clip also went viral on Twitter where it stirred up a debate around the technique. While some self-described experts warned against the method, others asserted that it's safe because babies can "float on instinct."
What the Swim School Says About the Technique
In response to the uproar, the co-owner of Oliver's swim school, Little Fins, told BuzzFeed News, "The whole premise behind what we do is safety. We teach 8-month-olds to assess their situation and find an exit strategy [in water]. I know it seems crazy."
According to the outlet, Armstrong trains her instructors for months to teach this specialized class, referred to as infant survival class, designed for children as young as 6 months. The goal of the technique is to teach infants to swim and to be so comfortable in the water that they know how to safely react if they happen to fall in.
The program behind the more than 50-year-old method, Infant Swimming Resource (ISR), explains on their website, "Children are curious, capable, and have an uncanny ability to overcome obstacles like pool fences; at ISR we take that ability and teach them skills to potentially save themselves if they find themselves in the water alone." They also say they've taught more than 300,000 children and have documented some 800 cases where their taught skills have saved lives.
What Pediatricians Say
Gina Posner, MD, a board-certified pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California explains that instructors who are trained by the ISR program don't just throw the baby into the water. "That is the final test," says Dr. Posner. "They teach the baby how to flip onto their back and float if they are in water. This is actually a very important lesson for infants and children to learn—especially if they will be near water or have a pool in the backyard. This has saved many lives so far."
Not all doctors are on board with the method. Free N. Hess, DO, a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Council on Injury, Violence & Poison Prevention (COIVPP) says that she has heard from many concerned parents in the wake of Meyers' TikTok going viral. "We pediatricians are concerned, as well," she says.
Dr. Hess echoes the AAP's stance, recommending a multilayered approach to prevent drowning, which she notes is the leading cause of accidental death in children ages 1 through 4. This approach entails safety measures like ensuring pools are fenced, there are pool alarms, door and gate alarms, and pool covers in place, and children are always being watched by an adult "water watcher." Formal swim classes are another piece of the puzzle. "Water survival skills training and swimming lessons can begin as early as one year of age, and studies show that lessons may reduce drowning risk in young children," says Dr. Hess.
But Dr. Hess wouldn't recommend the type of swim lessons demonstrated in Meyers' video. "An infant or young child might be injured by the force and angle of the fall to the water's surface, that they can be forced too deep into the water and either not hold their breath at the right time or be unable to hold it for a long enough time period," she says, noting it could even increase the risk of decreased oxygenation of the brain, pneumonia, or even death. "Furthermore, this simply isn't one of the more realistic scenarios that a child will face when near water. Most infants and young children will fall into the water at the water's edge, not from several feet above."
She points out that children might roll into a pool when crawling nearby, slip off pool steps, fall from a standing height into a lake or other body of water, or even lean over into a tub full of water. "Only in very rare instances would a child be in a situation where they would fall from several feet into a body of water," explains Dr. Hess. That said, she says doesn't see the need for this type of training, especially given the possible risks.
The AAP's position: There is no evidence currently that infant swim programs for babies under 1 year of age lower their drowning risk.
How Parents Can Preempt Childhood Drowning
Ultimately, what everyone can agree on is that all children over the age of 1 should learn how to swim, according to the AAP. The organization also notes that participation in formal swim lessons can reduce the likelihood of childhood drowning death by 88 percent.
Parents who would like to equip children with swimming and survival skills before they turn 4 can absolutely sign them up for swim classes, says Amna Husain, MD, FAAP, a board-certified pediatrician and founder of Pure Direct Pediatrics.
"Enroll your infant in a parent-child water play class where you are with your child every moment while being in the pool," she advises. "I highly encourage classes that include 'touch supervision,' where an adult is always within arms reach to stay touching the infant."
Dr. Husain adds that once a child is closer to 4 years old, and they have learned to float or get out of the pool, they can build on those skills with more advanced moves. And then you have a summer full of family swimming adventures coming your way.