Are Babies Born With the Ability to Swim?

by Alison Lake

While infants have some natural instincts in water, they cannot be expected to be safe on their own, according to experts and pediatricians. However, many examples demonstrate that babies enjoy water and that with appropriate supervision by parents, infants can feel comfortable in water and display some innate ability. A delicate balance exists for parents regarding water exposure and full immersion. Despite babies' instincts and abilities, they require constant supervision.

Innate Reflexes

Babies are born with some protective reflexes that help them survive in dangerous settings. For instance, infants are known to have an instinct to dive in water and hold their breath as a protective mechanism, which usually disappears by the age of 6 months, according to a 2002 report in the journal "Acta Paediatrica." Al Yonas, with the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development, said that babies possess innate reflexes and instincts that serve as involuntary protections, according to an article at These reflexes are most prominent in the first months of age.

Comfort in Water

''Swimming prevents drowning at all ages,'' according to Dr. Jonathan D. Reich in a 2007 letter to the journal "Pediatrics." He said he believes that the earlier parents start swimming lessons, the better chance children have of avoiding drowning. Putting babies into water and leaving them to swim on their own, however, is strongly discouraged. Children can easily inhale and choke on water. Once infants develop into the baby and toddler stages, they have increased opportunities to grow into swimmers.

Early Lessons

Babies have the capacity to learn quickly to become comfortable in water when regularly exposed to it with their parents. With hundreds of practice hours, they can even learn to hold their breath for 20 seconds, according to Nine-month old children have been reported to swim the length of a 25-meter pool on their own, according to a 2012 article at Pools and community centers offer programs that teach swimming to very young children and their parents.


According to a 2010 study published in the journal "Pediatrics," because babies' immune systems are not fully developed, they are susceptible to germs in chlorine pools and even at risk of bronchiolitis. Chlorine can affect infant airways. Swim instructors should be highly trained to work with parents of young infants, but if parents are comfortable swimmers, they can consider introducing infants slowly to water.

About the Author

Alison Lake has been a journalist and editor since 2001, working with numerous newspapers and magazines. She has served on the world news desk of the "Washington Post" and contributed to The Atlantic, Foreign Policy Online, Al Jazeera English and GlobalPost.

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