Is Your Baby Ready For Swim Lessons?
One of our pediatricians gives her opinion
“I would love to know the opinions of some of the [Cook Children’s] physicians on the new trend of starting babies in swimming lessons as early as 6 months. It seems to be gaining popularity, but I have not heard any doctors weigh in on whether they think that it is too young or not.”
When a reader wrote in with this question, we asked Nicole Wineriter, M.D., in Keller (Heritage Trace) for her thoughts on this topic. Dr. Wineriter’s children started swim lessons when they were older infants, around 1 year old, and now her 5 year old can swim laps the length of the pool in three different stokes.
“I can’t say enough great praises about swim lessons,” Dr. Wineriter said. “My 2 year old can swim 10 seconds under water for about 10 feet, grab the side of the pool and climb out. I’m a huge fan of swim lessons, if started at the appropriate time for each child.”
Private companies and public organizations, such as the YMCA, begin swim lessons as early as 6 months of age. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated its policy statement and recommendations in 2010 regarding swim lessons for children under the age of 4 years old.
“The evidence no longer supports an advisory against early aquatic experience and swimming lessons for children of any specific age,” the AAP wrote. “However, the current evidence is insufficient to support a recommendation that all 1- to 4-year-old children receive swimming lessons. It must be stressed that even advanced swimming skills will not always prevent drowning and that swimming lessons must be considered only within the context of multilayered protection with effective pool barriers and constant, capable supervision.”
A study by the USA Swimming Foundation and conducted by the University of Memphis found that 70 percent of African American children and nearly 60 percent of Hispanic children have low or no swim ability, putting them at a risk for drowning. African- American children drown at a rate nearly three times higher than Caucasian children.
Participation in formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning by 88 percent among children aged 1 to 4 years old, according to Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.
“Parents should check with their pediatrician to find out if their child might be developmentally ready for swim lessons,” Dr. Wineriter suggests. “It is important that parents not feel secure that their child is safe in water or safe from drowning after children have participated in swim lessons. Adequate ‘touch supervision’ is still recommended, meaning an adult should be within an arm’s length at all times.”
Swimming skills should be just one aspect of an overall drowning prevention strategy, in addition to effective barriers (for example pool fences), appropriate adult supervision and CPR training.
Parents are cautioned not to use air-filled swimming aids (such as inflatable arm bands/”floaties”) in place of Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs- life jackets). These aids can deflate and are not designed to keep swimmers safe.
The AAP also comments regarding the baby survival swim lessons that are often seen: “In recent years, water-survival skills programs designed for infants younger than 12 months have become popular both in the United States and internationally. Many movies of tiny infants who have been taught to swim underwater, float fully clothed on their backs, and even cry out for help have emerged on the Internet. Although there are anecdotal reports of infants who have “saved themselves,” no scientific study has clearly demonstrated the safety and efficacy of training programs for such young infants."
Of note, these types of lessons are less commonly found and generally aren't taught when babies start swim lessons at 6-12 months old.
Get to know Nicole Wineriter, M.D.
Nicole Wineriter, M.D., is a Cook Children's pediatrician located at 4300 Heritage Trace Pkwy. in Keller, Texas. Dr. Wineriter earned her medical degree and completed her residency in pediatrics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, Texas. She is board certified, a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a member of the Texas Medical Association and Safe Kids.