There’s something fun and extraordinary about babies and that is the fact that they supposedly can swim. There are a lot of videos and pictures online that show newborns swimming like fish, as it was an ordinary practice for them. Babies that are less than 6 months old can float when they are put in water and make it look so easy. So, why can babies swim and then when we grow up have to learn how to swim all over again?
Well, actually, they can’t swim, it is a common mistake to think they do and wonder if it’s an ability everybody is born with. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) explained what really happens when babies are in water and is a bradycardia reflex that triggers when their heads are submerged underwater. The reflex makes them hold their breath, which they do by keeping their mouths open and low their heart rate until it is very slow and they are fully relaxed, that is when they begin to float.
When the water covers their belly, they immediately start to move their arms and legs and that looks like they are swimming but they can’t coordinate the movements they do, so they don’t know how to avoid drowning and still need help when they are in the water because they are not strong enough to hold their heads.
These reflexes come from the uterus where babies float in the amniotic fluid and don’t have to breathe. At shortage, their bodies still remember how it was like to be in their mommy’s belly so they find being underwater enjoyable and familiar. This capacity disappears while they grow up but if they keep contact with water when they still are a few months old it will be easier for them to learn how to swim and float.
The fact that recently born babies have these reflexes doesn’t mean they should be left alone in the water, it is dangerous for them because they can drown, start to breathe underwater, and swallow it which is prejudicial for their little bodies.
Swimming is a great exercise babies can start to practice when they are older than five months when their immunologic systems develop and is less probable for them to get sick. If you have a baby in your family take it to the pool with you but always keep an eye on them so they can have a fun experience and enjoy a cute memory with their family.