Brave little water babies

Brave little water babies
Baby Mika Shariff, who is five months old, with his father Mr Firdaus Md Muhyiddin, a civil servant, underwater during an infant swimming class.

A cacophony of screaming and crying, and lots of splashing water.

It sounded like what you would hear in a hospital nursery, but it was just a regular morning at Bedok Swimming Complex, where Mr Muhammad Khidir Mohamed Yunus, 28, conducts infant swimming classes every Saturday.

The kids can be as young as three months and each child is accompanied by one parent.

The unusual swimming lessons come with nursery rhymes, high fives from Mr Khidir and lots of colourful toys.

For instance, Humpty Dumpty was sung as the babies were perched at the edge of the pool and, when it came to the line, "Humpty Dumpty had a great fall", the babies were gently dunked into the water. "So poor thing," cooed Ms Loh Yhenh Shanh, 38, who was looking on as some of the dunked babies spluttered and burst into tears.

Ms Loh, who has two children, aged seven and 11, said her children started swimming when they were in primary school, but she might have signed them up for infant classes if she had known about them.

LIFE SKILL

None of the parents in the swimming class is pushing their child to become the next Michael Phelps - they just want their children to learn a useful life skill.

Mr Billy Cheng and Madam Melissa Lee, both in their 30s, enrolled their seven-month-old son Caleb because they believe it will be good for him, especially since he will serve national service one day.

Said Madam Lee, who works in a bank: "Our four-year-old daughter did not attend classes and now fears the water, so we thought, why not start him early?"

She is not worried about potential danger, saying: "I'm always in the water to guide him."

Mr Cheng, who works in IT, also treasures the outdoor bonding time as a family.

Madam Halimah Md Harris, 28, a civil servant, did some research before signing up.

She enrolled her five-month-old son Mika Shariff about a month ago when she noticed he really enjoyed his bath time.

"As a baby's reflexes are natural, we should nurture them as natural swimmers," she said.

Mr Khidir teaches more than 30 classes each week at public and private pools, with about 10 students per class. His company, Smile Swimmers, is four years old.

He has 10 years of experience and charges around $20 per lesson. He estimates there are a few other companies which offer such classes.

He also has classes for older children, but his infant classes form half of his schedule.

He said: "Swimming at a young age helps develop motor skills and survival life skills. In the future, if they accidentally encounter water, they will have the water confidence to hold their breath and stay afloat."

Mr Khidir cited a Norwegian University of Science and Technology study where a group of 19 babies had two hours of swimming classes a week from about two months to seven months old. At five years old, they had better balance and were better at grasping things, compared with their non-swimming peers.

Dr Chan Poh Chong, head and senior consultant of General Ambulatory Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at the National University Hospital, however, said there are no recommendations for infants to start swimming.

"The dangers are hypothermia if the temperature in the pool is too cold, infections from interaction with other babies or parents who may not be well, and chemical irritation from chlorine in the pool water," said Dr Chan.

Although he thinks it may a good parent-child bonding activity, he recommends that children start swimming later, at two to three years old, when more meaningful lessons can be conducted.

Dr Chan added that parents should check the water temperature, supervise their child constantly and prevent aspiration of pool water, which may damage the lungs.

Mr Khidir said dangers can be countered by wearing a thermo swimsuit - a suit made of neoprene material, which keeps them warm - and parental supervision.


This article was first published on May 11, 2015.
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