“Take control, not chances.” Infant Aquatics’ tagline has personal meaning for owner Dena Blum-Rothmans, a certified Infant Aquatics Survival swimming instructor. “Although my mother’s brother drowned long before I was born, the impact of his death and the need for safety around the water was felt throughout my childhood … I fully understand water’s potential deadly consequences, and the possibility of a terrible drowning accident is very real in my own life,” she explains.
More than 50 percent of the 1.2 million people around the world who drown each year are children, according to the International Life Saving Federation. And about one third of children who drown do so in and around the home. Children who possess basic survival swimming skills have a significantly higher chance of surviving an aquatic accident. The ability to swim and survive can be learned by infants as young as 6 months. But drowning isn’t exclusive to summer and to outdoor pools and lakes.
“[Ava] went swimming yesterday without me in a four-foot pool. I was told that she fell in the water and before anyone could move to jump in for her, she turned onto her back, caught her breath and floated. No tears, no panic—at least not on her part. She instinctively seemed to know what to do to everyone’s amazement,” a mother recently told Blum-Rothman about her two-year old daughter. Parents report similar incidents to Infant Aquatic instructors several times a month, especially during the summer months.
What is different about survival swimming? In traditional lessons at pools, there is usually one instructor with eight kids. That can translate into downtime in the water during a 30-minute lesson. “A child under the age of four starts to get cold after about 10 minutes,” Blum-Rothman explains. “Once the muscles tighten up from the cold, they will not retain memory or take in more information. In our lessons, the children are also exhausted after 10 minutes of one-on-one swimming or floating instruction.”
Traditional group lessons are not customized. The issue is that each one of us learns differently, says Blum-Rothman. The best fit for one child could be by practicing, whereas another learns better by being shown through hands-on touch or verbal instructions. Infant Aquatics’ method focuses on stimulating long-term muscle memory through daily individual lessons; if a child falls in a pool, their brain may panic, but their body knows how to react.
Infants learn to roll over from a face down position in the water onto their backs to float, rest and breathe—called the survival back float. Toddlers and older children learn the same technique in addition to returning to swim face down again in the swim-float swim sequence.
After learning floating skills in a bathing suit wetsuit, children practice their skills in summer and then winter clothing; these are critical lessons as most children who fall into the water by accident and alone are fully clothed. “We want to make sure their body knows what to do and they don’t panic with the extra weight,” Blum-Rothmans explains.
For children up to one year old, the 10-minute lessons are one-on-one, four days per week for four consecutive weeks. For those over one year and under four years, the lessons take place over six consecutive weeks. Those over four have more body fat and strength and can withstand the cold water effects longer so the individual lessons are 20 minutes long for three consecutive weeks. Children are floating, swimming or both in weeks, not years.
Year-round lessons are available at Connecticut facilities in Milford, North Haven and Cromwell in addition to Port
Chester in New York. In mid-May, seasonal outdoor lessons are held in heated pools in Westport and Greenwich. Based on demand, lessons can be arranged in Bristol and Newington.
The lesson price varies depending on the location and the charge for pool rental time. Pricing ranges from $150 to $250 a week for the 10-minute, six-week lesson series, an adjustable Neoprene wetsuit and a swim diaper. In-home heated pool options are also available seasonally in lower Fairfield County, including New Canaan, Norwalk and Westport.
The recommended group maintenance classes after finishing the individual lesson series enable students to retain the basic survival skills, learn new ways to continue to enjoy the water and practice swimming with similarly aged and skilled children.
“Being a survival swimming instructor is the most fulfilling job I have ever had. There is no greater gift than being able to assist in saving a life. Teaching babies and young children how to survive in a water-related accident is an honor and a blessing all at the same time,” says Blum-Rothman.