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Do Babies Instinctively Know How to Swim?

by Christy Ayala, studioD

Babies spend nine months floating in a warm, aquatic environment, so some people assume that infants instinctively know how to swim. Videos of babies floating on their backs or swimming underwater have drawn attention in recent years. Both the American Red Cross and the American Academy of Pediatrics warn, however, that, while some babies may learn to roll over and float or swim underwater, there is no evidence that shows these skills will prevent them from drowning.

Reintroduction to Water

The minimum age for most swim programs is 6 months, but parents can begin working with their little ones at an earlier age. Once the navel has healed, explains Jennifer C. White, director of operations and swim school specialist for the Starfish Aquatics Institute, parents can begin introducing their babies to water during bath time. Gently pour water over baby’s face and help her float on her back in a soothing, bath-time setting, White says, to begin promoting aquatic readiness and water acclimation.

Swimming Programs

Swimming programs for babies, or any child younger than 3 years, should be taught by qualified instructors who promote a fun, one-on-one parent & child teaching atmosphere, the World Aquatic Babies & Children Network suggests. Programs that follow WABC guidelines introduce swimming skills and water safety while fostering water acclimation and aquatic readiness through activities and songs. Most programs do not incorporate forced submersion, and child-initiated submersion while your baby is learning breath control should be brief and limited to less than six per sessions, WABC adds.

Promoting a Positive Experience

Some "drown-proofing" programs have been successful in conditioning babies to swim underwater and roll over on their backs so that if they fall into the water, they can come to the surface, turn over and float while waiting for help. While there has been anecdotal evidence to show success in some cases, other professionals in the field of swim instruction and water safety education argue that there is no published proof to show that these skills prevent drowning. They caution against programs that condition babies to "save themselves" through repeated exposure to potentially stressful situations that simulate falling into a swimming pool. The key to developing a positive, long-term attitude toward swimming, WABC says, is a learning atmosphere that is "safe, happy and fun with loving teachers."


To fight the spread of recreational water illnesses, RWIs, make sure your baby's swim suit has enough room for a swim diaper underneath and that both swim diapers and swimwear are snug around the leg to prevent waste from escaping into the pool water. Change your baby's diaper often, in the bathroom rather than the pool area to keep germs from spreading to the pool. Because your baby and other swimmers can become ill from contaminated water, even with appropriate levels of chlorine, it's important to wash your baby's bottom and your hands with soap and water after a diaper change.

About the Author

Christy Ayala writes about recreation, sports, aquatics, healthy living, family and parenting, language development, organizational change, pets and animals. Ayala holds a master's degree in recreation administration from Aurora University’s George Williams College, a graduate certificate in organizational change from Hawaii Pacific University and a bachelor's degree in Spanish from the University of Missouri, St. Louis.

Photo Credits

  • Ian Waldie/Getty Images News/Getty Images