The science of baby swimming

Portugal is ideal for water-based activities, including swimming, boating, diving, snorkelling, water-skiing, and much more, and increasing numbers of people are taking up water sports. But, according to Yvonne Fisher, a swimming instructor in Lagos, the downside to this growth in popularity of water activities is the rise in children dying as a result of drowning. “These deaths could have been prevented,” explained Yvonne, “if children were encouraged to learn how to swim at a younger age.”

As a survivor of a near-drowning incident herself, Yvonne knows the risks of not being a strong swimmer only too well. She strongly advocates encouraging babies into the water as soon as possible. “Understandably, mothers worry about plunging their new-born babies into water,” she commented, “because it contradicts their maternal instincts.”

However, Yvonne claims that because of babies’ utter lack of fear, they will not mind this and it will help them in the long run. “Babies accept every new experience they are introduced to,” she explained, “and they respond by smiling or crying, relying almost entirely on the empathy and guidance of their parents.”

Training babies underwater depends on this empathy and the awareness in the parent. The science of baby swimming is very simple, but it is very important that it is done properly. “I like to describe it as re-introducing the baby to the warmth and comfort of the womb,” Yvonne revealed as she explained the science behind the water training. “As a baby is born, the airway opens and the lungs inflate with air. Baby cries and goes on to develop and grow into a healthy human being. But what if we were to place them back into the fluid of the womb – or in this case, warm water? How will they respond? Amazingly well.”

A baby’s airway automatically closes as he or she enters water. It is a completely instinctive reflex. This reflex stays with them until they reach six months, by which time it becomes less active unless the baby swims regularly. Put simply, the earlier a baby starts going under water, the easier the process for baby and parent. Babies can hold their breath for quite a considerable amount of time, as any breast-feeding mother will know. So, from that first dip, babies go on longer and deeper as their inner ear development and cardiovascular systems increase in strength.”

Yvonne qualified as a swimming instructor in 1997 and now offers lessons at the NECI School in Montinhos da Luz on Saturdays. She was shocked when she discovered that, in Portugal, many children are not encouraged into the water until they are four years old. This is something that Yvonne strongly wishes to address.

• If you would like to find out more about Yvonne’s lessons you can contact her on 282 799 356 or 917 953 914. Alternatively, you can e-mail her on [email protected]