Can You Teach Your Baby To Swim?

Is it really possible to teach a baby to swim?

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baby swimming. Zena Holloway/Taxi/Getty Images

Have you watched that video of the baby who falls into the pool?

I clicked on it unsuspectingly one day while browsing my news feed and watched in horror as a small baby, clad in soft and fuzzy blue pajamas toddles out to the family pool—and slips in.

Every motherly instinct in my body was going haywire in protest as I watched those little blue legs kick and churn up the water. And then, remarkably, the baby surfaced, kicking to stay afloat as he alternated between swimming and flipping onto his back to breathe, until at long last, he safely reached the side of the pool.

Watching the video, I was both parts equally intrigued and horrified. I wondered if it could be real—is it really possible to teach a baby how to swim?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning is the leading cause of injury death for children aged 1- 4 with three children succumbing to death by drowning every day. Although the American Academy of Pediatrics formerly recommended that no children under the age of four take formal swimming lessons (the organization worried that it would give parents and children a false sense of security around water), it revised its previous guidelines in 2010.

Now, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that children as young as one years old can safely participate in swimming and water safety activities. Studies concluded that such swimming programs do not harm children and may actually help to reduce the risk of drowning.

 The official publication on swimming and children from the AAP states that although there are “anecdotal reports” of babies who have learned to swim, there hasn’t been enough scientific studies or research for them to back the safety and efficacy of the “teach your baby to swim” craze.

Ok, so bottom line is that the powers that be can’t say for sure that teaching your baby to swim works, but it can’t hurt, providing that you supervise your baby at all times, right?

What you can do:

The official “baby swim” program is called Infant Swimming Resources and is an organization dedicated to a “multi-layered approach to drowning prevention” that includes teaching infants as young as six months how to roll onto their backs to breathe should they happen to fall into water.

The organization offers lessons for infants and children up to age six, with the primary goal being to teach the skills necessary to survive until help arrives.

I have to admit, with two grandmothers who have pools and three young children myself, I find the idea that I could teach my kids some water safety skills that could save their lives very intriguing. And whether or not you buy into the “teach your baby to swim” program, it might be a good idea to brush up on some water safety tips, courtesy of the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • All parents should take a swim safety and course. 
  • Enroll your child in swimming class when you feel he or she is ready. A recent study provided some evidence that swimming lessons may reduce drowning rates in children aged 1-4.
  • The APP reminds parents that not all children develop at the same pace and some children may need more time to get used to the water. Don’t rush it or create fear for them.
  • Avoid inflatable pools. Even the larger, “backyard” variety feature soft sides that can make it very easy for a toddler or small child to fall into.
  • Make sure to use drain covers to avoid entanglement or hair entrapment—a danger that often goes overlooked with swimming pools.
  • Remember that drowning can occur with any amount of contained water, so always, always empty buckets and bathtubs and don’t leave small children unattended in the bathroom or near a toilet.
  • Keep babies and toddlers within an arm's reach of you always. 
  • All parents and caregivers should be trained in CPR. (Visit the Red Cross to find a class near you!)
  • The APP does not recommend “water wings” or other air-inflatable swimming aids. Instead, the APP recommends the use of life jackets or swimming vests to avoid the risk of deflation.
  • Keep in mind that even expert swimmers and children who have had swimming lessons can be at risk for drowning, so always practice safe swimming habits. 

Sources:

Protect the Ones You Love: Child Injuries are Preventable. Centers For Disease Control And Prevention. Accessed online: http://www.cdc.gov/safechild/drowning/

Policy Statement—Prevention of Drowning . American Academy of Pediatrics. Accessed online: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2010/05/24/peds.2010-1264.full.pdf+html

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