In my county, infant drownings have taken a huge leap in numbers this year. That’s a devastating fact for any parent to hear. It’s especially scary when you have your own pool and keeping baby at just arm’s length is easier said than done once their mobile. Some friends of ours were constantly posting on social media about their little one and his love swim lessons. He is now 2 years old and can go down a slide, into a pool, and swim to the steps all on his own. They provided picture and video evidence of the benefits of infant swim lessons. But what does science have to say about it?
Formal Swim Instruction Decreases the Risk of Drowning
Let’s start with one of the most impressive numbers I found. In a study published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine in 2009, children from Maryland, North Carolina, part of Florida, California and Texas were included. Children were ages 1-19, and 88 families of children who drowned were interviewed. They found that participation in formal swimming lessons was associated with an 88% reduction in the risk of drowning among children 1 to 4 years old! But mind you, informal instruction had no reduction in drowning risk.
Swimming Improves Cognitive Functioning
Other studies show that getting babies in the water (even before they can walk) helps increase self-confidence and even intelligence. This is mainly due to some of the following features related to swimming. Cross-pattern movements help with development of the crops callosum which is where the two sides of the brain really communicate. This can eventually help with reading skills, language, academic learning, and spatial awareness. A study in Australia showed that children 3 to 5 years old who swam were a full 11 months ahead of their peers in verbal skills, 6 months ahead in math skills, and 2 months ahead in literacy skills. Even more impressive, they were 20 months ahead in understanding directions. Almost 2 whole years!
Swimming Gives Babies a Confidence Boost
In a study out of Germany, children who had taken swim lessons from the age of 2 months to 4 years had more self-confidence, were more independent, and adapted better o new situations. Swimming babies had greater self-control, stronger desire to succeed, better self-esteem, and more comfortable in all social situations.
Infant Swim Lessons Don’t Make Baby “Drown Proof”
While there is more and more anecdotal evidence about swim survival for children younger than the age of 4, there is nothing that can make a child “drown proof” There is no substitute for supervision, floatation devices (especially on boats, rivers, lakes, large bodies of water), and barriers (including fences, alarms, life jackets, etc).
The American Academy of Pediatrics No Longer Recommends AGAINST Swim Survival
Prior to 2010, the AAP recommended against any swim instructions for children less than 4 years old. This was based on poor evidence. Unfortunately, there are still not enough high quality, scientific studies about infant swim survival. But there are studies that show that children that can float on their back for 10 seconds are less likely to die from drowning, Multiple studies have sown that drowning deaths in children to 1 to 4 years old occur more often among children have have NOT participated in formal swimming lessons.
We started Ava in swim classes at 5 months at FlipKick Swim Academy in North Richland Hills. I’ll be perfectly honest with you, it’s not that much fun to take her to swim class. She often cries and appears upset, but it only lasts ten minutes at a time. We also had to go for 10 minutes a day, 4 times a week, for 5 weeks to get started. Now we go twice a week. I can also tell you that she has progressed significantly in the last 6 months, she is more confident in the water, her stranger anxiety lasted about 6 weeks, and I can’t wait to see her really swim. It’s expensive, and time intensive, but I will, personally, take anything that makes my LO more comfortable in the water and may contribute to her being more safe and less likely to drown. But I will reiterate, there is absolutely no substitute for adequate barriers and supervision. Keep your little ones safe!
Brenner, Ruth A. et al. “Association Between Swimming Lessons and Drowning in Childhood: A Case-Control Study.” Archives of pediatrics & adolescent medicine 163.3 (2009): 203–210. PMC. Web. 7 July 2018.
Boyle, Caitlin. “The Benefits of Infant Swim Time.” Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/parenting/infant-swimming#1 Web. 7 July 2018.
Diem U. et al. “Early motor stimulation and personal development: A study of four to six year old German children.” ERIC 53.9(1982), 23-25. Web 7 July 2018.
Sigmundsson H, et. al. “Baby Swimming Exploring the Effects of Early Intervention on Subsequent Motor Abilities. Child: Care Health and Development. 36.3 (2010): 428-430. Web 7 July 2018.
Sigmundsson H, et. a. “Swim Study Reveals a Smart Pool of Talent”. Child: Care, Health, and Development. 36.3 (2010): 428-30. Web 7 July 2018.
Weiss J, et al. “Prevention of Drowning.” Pediatrics. 126.1 (2010): e253-62. PMC. Web. 7 July 2018.