I've heard this time and time again, but is it a wives tale?

asked 30 Jan '10, 04:29

YMCbuzz's gravatar image

accept rate: 12%

+1 This was something I had also wondered!

(30 Jan '10, 08:27) Emi

It is partly true.

All babies have a reflex that makes them stop breathing for a short while. This reflex is triggered when the face is put underwater, as well as when you blow a gust of air in his or her face. You yourself can feel the remainders of this reflex if you try to breathe with a strong wind in your face.

This does not mean that babies can swim.

Triggering this reflex is not very comfortable for the babies, because they can't breathe for one or two seconds even when they are out of the water again.

Source: We just finished a baby swimming course, where the toddlers are accustomed to the water and to being underwater without triggering this reflex and without drowning. I can highly recommend such a course.


answered 30 Jan '10, 07:21

brandstaetter's gravatar image

accept rate: 24%

+1 Great explanation.

(30 Jan '10, 08:28) Emi

Wow, thanks, I had no idea that was a reflex -- thanks for the interesting point about how we can still feel it when a wind blows in our face!

(31 Jan '10, 13:29) Anne

Good question, I was wondering that, too.

When I looked this up I found an interesting piece of advice / warning from babycenter.com: "Don't put a baby less than 6 months old under the water. Although infants naturally hold their breath under water, they continue to swallow."


answered 01 Feb '10, 21:14

DazedandConfused's gravatar image

accept rate: 13%

+1 important warning; I had missed that.

(05 Feb '10, 13:32) brandstaetter

We wanted to get our daughter into the water early to preserve her water instinct.

We started her on swimming lessons at 3 months old. Whenever we put her under the water it was only a brief dunking (about as long as her reflex lasts - say around half a second). She got used to it fairly quickly and only complained when she got tired of it (after 6 or 7 dunks over a half hour).

We won't think of putting her underwater for longer than that until she can hold her breath on command.

I've never heard about the supposed ability to swim, though.


answered 08 Feb '10, 05:22

MikeyB's gravatar image

accept rate: 0%

edited 20 Apr '10, 19:41

Tammy's gravatar image

Tammy ♦♦

I can give some personal experience about this.

My wife and I are Russian Orthodox, and in the Orthodox Church we baptize babies, at the age of around 40 days, by triple immersion. No sprinkling here: They go all the way under the water, three times in quick succession.

Both of our children were baptized this way. They both came up after that third immersion sputtering a bit, and definitely crying, but with no ill effects whatsoever.

However, the immersions are very quick, just enough to get the baby all the way under and then out again. Also, they were in an upright position (held by the armpits).


answered 20 Apr '10, 05:13

Kyralessa's gravatar image

accept rate: 5%

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Asked: 30 Jan '10, 04:29

Seen: 13,564 times

Last updated: 20 Apr '10, 19:41