Why is it important for babies to swim?
According to the World Health Organisation, drowning is sadly the third leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide, this means around 372,000 people die from drowning around the world every hour. But studies have shown that formal swimming lessons reduce the risk of drowning in children aged one to four years by 88%.
The Griffith University, who are based in Southeast Queensland in Australia, did a 3-year study where they looked at a group of children who took part in swimming against those who didn’t. They found that by the time a child, who had been through early years swimming went to school, they would be on average:
· 2 months ahead of their peers in reading
· 11 months ahead in oral expression
· 6 months ahead in mathematics reasoning
· 17 months ahead for story recall
· 20 months ahead for understanding directions
As 90% of the neurons in the brain are formed and connected by the time a child reaches 5, the evidence reveals the importance and value of being physically active from as young an age as possible, helping to reach their physical, emotional, cognitive, and physiological developmental milestones as they grow.
Water provides a weightless environment as well, so babies can use more muscles and move freely, which helps to develop more muscle tone and strength. This means baby swimming can support little ones who have disabilities, or who aren’t able to, or struggle to, be active and move in traditional dry-side activities. At Water Babies, our classes are completely inclusive, and our teachers support families whose children need extra special care within classes.
Studies have also shown that swimming results in increased lung volume, better breathing techniques, strong heart and lung functions, and improved general fitness in little ones who swim in the early years. Doing regular exercise as a child can lead to a lifetime of activity, which will only improve their health throughout their life. Babies who swim regularly also have improved appetites and sleeping patterns after swimming – which is a win-win for everyone!
When can babies go swimming for the first time?
The NHS guidelines state that ‘You can take your baby swimming at any age, both before and after they have been vaccinated. It does not matter if they have not yet completed their course of vaccinations.’
We encourage parents to bring their little one swimming as soon as they feel comfortable to do so. It’s never too early or too late to start swimming – when they’re ready, we’re ready!
Can babies go underwater?
Babies are born with a reflex called the laryngeal reflex, or gag reflex. This reflex kicks into action when a baby feels water on their face, nose, or throat, and it causes the larynx to close and block the entrance to the airway. This means that no water can enter the lungs if a baby is submerged.
The gag reflex should not be confused with the mammalian dive reflex. This is an extreme emergency reflex which works if the gag reflex has not kicked in and the person was still being ‘forced’ and held under in a submersion for a long period, such as drowning.
It’s essential that submersions are done ‘with’ a baby, rather than ‘to’ a baby, so teachers must be trained to read baby’s cues to ensure if they don’t want to go underwater, they don’t! A baby who is crying, sleeping, or hiccupping should never be submerged.
Water Babies teachers are the best-trained baby swimming teachers in the world, and they work with the gag reflex to teach babies how to control their breath by using the question ‘Name, Are you Ready? Go’ before every submersion.
· The ‘Name’ gets the baby’s attention
· ‘Are you ready?’ Allows them to respond should they not want to go under
· ‘Go’ tells them to take their breath ready for submersion
After only a few weeks, you’ll see babies taking a breath and closing their eyes before they go underwater, which is incredible. If a baby reacts negatively to the ‘Name, Are you Ready? Go’, they are not submerged. This is essential to build trust between the baby and carer, or teacher, and by using this technique, we have little ones who are comfortable and confident in and around the water.
It’s important that submersions are part of baby swimming lessons as it’s a key water safety skill to learn. If a little one was ever to fall into water, they’re going to go underwater. If they’ve been taught how to control their breath, get themselves back up to the surface, turn around, and hold on, they have a much greater chance of not panicking because they’re not used to being underwater.
Babies can swim independently underwater for a short time (a few seconds) from a very young age, whereas they don’t have the strength to swim independently on the surface until they’re around 2 years old. So submersions are also an important part of building babies’ water confidence.
Three of the four swimming strokes also involve having the face in the water, so by introducing this as early as possible, we allow little ones to learn these strokes gently and progressively from a young age.
How do you take a baby swimming for the first time?
Our Water Babies Learn series is a selection of free, handy, and practical videos showing you key water confidence skills which you can do with your baby, regardless of where you are. It could be in the bath, shower, kitchen sink, or swimming pool. Whichever is easiest for you! The videos include
our teachers who pass on their expertise to show you key skills you can do together, wherever you are. Click here to watch.
You can also submit an enquiry below to find out more about Water Babies class availability, structure, and information from your local office. Click the link below and start your baby swimming journey today.