Can Newborn Babies Swim?

You may have seen videos of very young babies moving under water or heard that newborns have an innate swimming ability due to floating in the womb. These stories and videos are deceptive because a newborn cannot float or hold his head above water. Newborns do possess two reflexes that simulate swimming, which could make it appear that the baby is swimming.

Small baby in pool Credit: Mikhail Kokhanchikov/Hemera/Getty Images

Diving In

The diving reflex -- also called the bradycardic response -- involves a natural reflex for the baby to hold her breath when her head goes under the water. A baby's heart rate will also slow down while under the water. This reflex disappears after about 6 months of age.

Swimming Reflex

A newborn placed stomach-side down in water will move his arms and legs in a repetitive swimming motion. This reflex is called the "swimming reflex." The swimming reflex begins to fade at about the 6-month mark.

Don't Neglect Water Safety

Never leave a newborn baby unattended in or near water. Newborns are unable to hold their heads up independently, making it necessary to provide head and neck support to keep them above water when bathing, for example. Because a newborn has a small body mass, she is more susceptible to the effects of water intoxication, also known as "hyponatremia." Infants submerged under the water might gulp too much water and suffer seizures and even death.

Bathing Baby Tips

Newborns do not need daily baths. Instead of an immersion bath, sponge-bathe your baby some days. Use an infant hammock device to safely cradle the baby while you gently wash her skin, always supporting the baby's head and neck. Your baby might enjoy floating in the bath while you hold her head above the water.

Swimming Lessons -- Yay or Nay

Opinions vary widely about the appropriate age for swimming lessons for babies. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting until children are 4 years old before beginning swimming lessons. Many experienced swim instructors offer classes for children as young as 6 months old, however.

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