Date: Nov 30–2001
by Nikki Miller
Can infants really swim? You bet they can! Most infants, from birth to between four and six months, have what is called a Swim Reflex. When submerged and released underwater, they actually show rhythmic and synchronized movement of the arms, legs and torso. They can hold their breath for about 10 seconds, (if you doubt this, time the seconds between breaths when they are voraciously drinking,) and swim three to four feet. Polynesian cultures have known this for centuries, as they take their newborns down to the water each day and place them face down in the water, to swim about like tadpoles. Now don’t just go and submerge your child without learning what to do and how to do it, because there are dangers and needless risks associated with submersion, if you don’t know what you are doing.
If babies are too young to climb out of the water, what is the point? Infant swimming in the United States is relatively new, but studies conducted in Russia, Germany, Sweden and Australia have taught us many things. Russian studies claim that infant swimming improves the immune system and escalates development. They believe this so strongly that swimming lessons are offered to all newborns by doctors, as part of socialized medicine and at no charge! German studies resulted in substantial health and developmental advantages of swimming babies. In effect, the theory is this: Babies do not move about or actively participate in their environment until they can crawl, at about 6-8 months. When infants are allowed to swim before they crawl, they exercise their physical development and muscle tone, moving toxins out of the body, making them healthier. They also are able to explore, stimulating curiosity and independence, leading to higher confidence and self-esteem. Exploration in the water teaches them their own capabilities and limitations, and they become more alert and aware of their environment. These qualities lead to greater social adjustment as well. Although these studies have not been clinically proven in the United States, there has been definite evidence of them in healthy swim programs across the country.
Who should teach my infant? The best teacher for your infant or toddler is yourself, unless your own fear of water interferes with their learning process. You know your child’s personality and fears, and can best judge your child’s special needs or appropriate pacing during the swim sessions. And who can love your child and give him/her confidence better than you?
Are there any other benefits? Besides the joy of watching your infant learn and progress, it can be a wonderful bonding experience for parents, especially with older infants who are locomotive on land and want nothing to do with being held. The safety benefits are that the sooner you start, the more likely your baby will be holding his/her breath and surfacing to a float by the time she is old enough to accidentally crawl into the pool.
Will my baby or child be water safe? Never! And don’t think so for one minute. With circumstance and judgement involved, a child is never water safe. You can only hope to increase the chance of survival in an emergency, by decreasing panic and fear through practice and increasing their skill. Most of all, early swimming helps to increase the child’s love, appreciation, and respect for water.
For more information, call the Academy Swim Club at (661)702-8585 or Santa Clarita Swim Club at 255-1438.