Using the natural reflexes

Working with your baby's normal response mechanisms

After spending so many months suspended in fluid in the womb, it's not surprising that babies have a natural affinity for water; in fact, floating in a warm pool will feel more familiar to them than being on dry land.

However, this confidence in water can diminish as babies get older, possibly leading to fear. This is one of the main reasons we believe it’s best to start swimming as early as possible — even from birth. And starting early, especially when including underwater swimming, means it’s especially important to understand and work with the natural reflexes. Underwater work is an important and exciting part of our courses. However, it only constitutes a tiny proportion of the work we do: about 95% of the lesson takes place on the surface, and underwater swims only ever last a few seconds.

Katja and Aaron enjoy a lesson swimming backwards on the woggle Katja and Aaron woggling along

The reflexes we work with
Babies have a complex set of reflexes which develop in the womb. Historically, the media have made much of something called the mammalian dive reflex — but this is a survival reflex when the face is submerged into ice-cold water, so you'll be pleased to hear it's not one we actually use! Instead, we take advantage of one main involuntary response: the laryngeal reflex (more commonly known as the gag reflex). When this reflex kicks in, a baby will instinctively hold its breath and avoid inhaling water in response to the sensation of feeling water on its face, nose, throat and voice box. But at Water Babies, we take it one step further...

Learning to control their breathing
Although we capitalise on babies’ ability to use their natural reflexes, through gradual progression and repetition we actually train our Water Babies to control their breathing before they go underwater. As you progress through the course you'll be amazed at how good your little one is at responding to both verbal and non-verbal cues. Ultimately they'll learn to hold breathe out whilst they're underwater, which we believe gives them real empowerment and a sense of being fully in control. It's also a great foundation in 'aquatic breathing', which is essential as they progress to be independent little swimmers.