I’ve had a few questions recently from intrepid mums about how their baby might fare with swimming at just a few weeks old and also asking about what comes naturally to babies. So I thought I’d write a quick post about the baby swimming natural reflexes!
After babies spends so many months wobbling around in fluid in the womb, it’s not surprising that they have a natural closeness with water. You can see this with the way really young babies (I am talking a few weeks) behave in the water. At this point babies are more used to floating in warm water than they are being on a solid surface.
This initial water confidence can reduce (it depends on the baby) as they get older, and sometimes all the way to the “fear” end of the spectrum. This is why we think it’s best to begin regular swimming as soon as possible. We in fact, advocate swimming from birth where the water temperature was suitable and no complications. Starting early is where the natural reflexes come in! Particularly when including underwater swimming, means it is key to understand and work with the natural reflexes. Underwater work is an important and fun part of our courses for building water confidence. But is by far the in the minority of what we do – the majority of our swimming lessons happen”up top”, and we always work at the child’s pace.
So what are the natural reflexes? And how do we work with them? Babies have a number of reflexes which develop in the womb. The key one we work with is the gag reflex (AKA laryngeal reflex!). The gag reflex is activated when water enters the mouth. The glottis and epiglottis close preventing water from entering the throat and providing a watertight seal to the lungs while your baby is submerged. This automatic response is eventually replaced by conscious breath control.
So the way we work with this is through repetitive practice, voice and visual cues and simply gradual progression babies are able to control their breathing before they go underwater. This coupled with the response to both visual and voice cues really sets them up for independent swimming as their bodies grow the strength to enable them to do this.
When do babies lose their swimming instinct?
After about 6 months old, your babies gag reflex does start to reduce, so we focus on teaching your baby how to control their breathing. As our lessons progress, your child will develop quickly and will surprise you how they respond to both verbal and non-verbal instructions. Ultimately, they’ll learn to breathe the air out whilst underwater. It’s an early milestone in breathing whilst swimming, which is key as they develop to become independent swimmers.
Hope this helps explain what we are talking about when referring to the natural reflexes in the context of baby swimming! Let me know what you think 🙂