After I had Gavin, I heard about babies having a natural ability to swim from a group of mothers at Fitfor2. The information I had was rather vague but essentially it was something along the lines of:
Babies have a natural instinct for swimming because they have been floating around in amniotic fluid in the womb for nine months. If you put them in water, they will instinctively swim. As they get older, however, they lose this reflex.
That was about all I knew. As to when they lost the instinct for swimming, nobody knew. By the time I discovered the book “How to Teach Your Baby to Swim“, it seemed a bit too late to start the program on Gavin who had developed an aversion for deep water.
Recently, I found that elusive information about babies’ instincts for swimming on Baby Center:
Babies have a pair of reflexes that can make them appear to be good swimmers: the dive reflex and the swimming reflex.
The dive reflex
This reflex, also called the bradycardic response, causes babies to hold their breath and open their eyes when submerged, says Jeffrey Wagener, a pediatric pulmonologist in Denver. Parents can get this same reaction by blowing in their baby’s face. The response weakens as a baby gets older, but even adults have it to some degree.
Swedish researchers studying the dive reflex in 21 infants between 4 to 12 months old found that none of them inhaled water or choked during “diving” (being pulled underwater). They also noted that the babies didn’t seem apprehensive about the next dive. In fact, some seemed eager to dive again!
Many infant swim programs rely on the dive reflex to allow babies to “swim” before they’re old enough to hold their breath intentionally.
The swimming reflex
Until around 6 months, babies placed in water tummy-side down will move their arms and legs in a swimming motion. When the swimming reflex and the dive reflex are both engaged, a baby can look like a natural swimmer.
However, having both these reflexes doesn’t mean a baby won’t drown in water so if you’re intending to take your baby swimming, keep your hands on your baby.
Recently, while browsing through Safe ‘N Sound in 1Utama, I discovered some home equipment for helping your baby develop his swimming reflexes. It is a product by Mambo Baby:
It is a float that fits around the neck of a child and can be used from birth up to age 2. As far as I understand, it it commonly used in swimming programs for babies and toddlers because it offer them more freedom of movement compared to other float designs.
If you can’t get access to a pool, Mambo Baby also offer a special pool design of their own. Unlike the normal wading pools for children, this pool is smaller in diameter and much deeper. It allows your child to float in the water vertically without being able to touch the floor with his feet (80 cm in diameter and 80 cm high):
See the products in use on Youtube.
Although you can use these products to help your child get used to the feeling of being in the water, I don’t believe you need them in order to teach your baby to swim. In fact, many parents with infant swimmers do not use these products at all.
My desire for my children to learn how to swim from a young age stems more from a safety aspect than anything else. Personally, I feel that the earlier they know how to swim the better. There are programs that are focus on giving children aquatic survival skills such as the Infant Swimming Resource. It teaches them to float on their back so they don’t drown. Watch the video.
Wondering how to get started teaching a baby how to swim? There is a good video from a baby swimming program in Australia that you can watch (just click the link).
I don’t know if we have such programs here so perhaps it’s time to get myself a copy of “How to Teach Your Baby to Swim“.