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Can Babies Swim at Birth?

Katlyn Joy |19, July 2013


Newborns come equipped with some built in skills, reflexes, which help them survive. One of these is a reflex that when in water, baby will turn his head and kick and paddle. However, that doesn't exactly constitute swimming. Baby may be able to buy herself a moment at most until an adult can rescue her.

Babies are typically water-friendly in those early days of life, probably because it's so familiar. After all, the nine months in utero were in a watery environment.

The debate is whether a baby's natural comfort with water means it's a good time in the early months to teach swimming skills to such young infants. Until 2010, the American Academy of Pediatrics said no. In fact they had recommended waiting until a child's fourth birthday to introduce swimming since that is when the Academy believed a child had adequate skills and development to actually learn.

However, in 2010, the Academy reversed its decision and changed the recommended age as over one year of age. The AAP states there is no scientific evidence that teaching children younger than this is effective.

Proponents say that babies have a natural affinity for water and can be taught a number of things in these earliest months such as holding their breath and learning to swim to the side of the pool.

These skills can be live savers but it is imperative that children be supervised properly at all times and that parents who have taken their children to swim classes not have a false sense of security. Most importantly, all parents should understand that there is no such thing as being "drown-proof."

Skills Commonly Taught by Baby Swim Instructors

Getting comfortable with water.
Before babies are submerged, they will have water gently poured on them, eventually down their faces to prepare for submersion.

How to hold their breath.
Babies are submerged in water and learn to hold their breath on cue. This is often taught by 6 months of age.

Parents provide a supportive, never pressured approach.
Lessons are copied at home in the tub with games and props like puppets and cups.

Kicking in the water.
This skill is definitely an easy one to introduce in the tub as well, children love raising a splash especially if it gets Mom or Dad wet.

How to jump in the pool and turn and kick back to the side of the pool.
This skill is especially important as most accidental falls into pools occur right along the side.

Safety Rules

1. Never leave a young child or infant near water, not even for a moment. It can happen so quickly that a child slips under water and is unable to get out.

2. Always keep safety measures in place around pools. Gates, alarms, locks and removing items that a child could use to climb into the pool are all good ideas. Better yet, use a combination of safety measures to ensure children cannot gain access.

3. Never force a child into a water experience. This can traumatize a child with lasting detrimental effect.

4. Never allow an aggressive teaching manner in swimming programs with your child. Children can swallow a great deal of water in their panic. Programs should be gentle, gradual and supportive. A child shouldn't be in tears and still forced to proceed with a lesson, for instance.

5. Adults should know CPR and especially child CPR techniques.

Possible Benefits to Swimming Lessons in the Very Young?

A 2010 study from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology compared 19 baby swimmers to a control group of infant non-swimmers. The participants were alike in all other ways, economic status, parental education and housing. However, at age 5 the swimmers showed more balance and ability to grasp objects.

The swimmers in the study received 2 hours of swim instruction weekly between the ages of two and seven months of age. Swim lessons included such activities as helping baby dive underwater, jumping from the pool edge, and balancing on the hand of a parent while reaching into the pool for an object.

At age 5 the study participants were tested in balancing on one foot, tiptoeing, rolling a ball into a goal, jumping rope and catching a bean bag. The swimmers had a clear advantage in skills involving balance and grasp.

Sources: Medical News Today, ABC News

Katlyn Joy is a mother to 7 children, and a freelance writer. She earned her Master of Arts in Creative Writing and Poetry, and a Bachelor of Arts in English and was previously an adviser to new mothers on breastfeeding through a maternity home program. She currently resides in Colorado with her family.

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