Baby swimming's myriad of benefits

Article written by Françoise Freedman for People's Life Magazine in China.

Water enhances infants’ neurological development for life

Baby swimming is one of the most fun activities parents can do with their babies, not just because it boosts water confidence in a playful interactive way but because of the myriad of benefits of moving in water for babies’ neurological development. Early swim classes stimulate babies and toddlers physically, emotionally and socially at a time when their brains have the greatest plasticity, in the first two years of life.  Buoyancy and water resistance offer babies new sensations and challenges that they respond to with their parents’ support. As babies’ alertness, coordination and balance abilities develop, they also grow in confidence, self-esteem, and learn to assess and cope with risk each in their own way.

Baby swimming develops coordination and balance


Being in the water facilitates the movements that babies do spontaneously from birth. We now understand that babies grow through movement. In water, without the constraints set by gravity, or by being held in arms, babies can experience their primitive and postural reflexes more freely, particularly in the first year. The Birthlight approach is based on facilitating the expression of reflex movements so that they can be integrated and phased out harmoniously when babies develop their intentional movements. With changes of plane as babies are floated on their backs, held upright, surfed on their fronts and swung from side to side and back to front, babies must adjust with all their senses at once. With appropriate rhythms depending on age and temperament, slow for young or timid babies and faster as they get older and more confident, free movements in water have positive effects on the development of balance and orientation in space. In turn, this facilitates motor-skills and coordination. The integration of all senses is sharpest in infancy: water is probably the medium where babies can best experience it without the need for other external stimuli than parental support and attention. In water, tactile stimulation is felt over babies’ entire bodies. Close contact with parents or caring adults adds to the “water massage” to act directly on babies’ central nervous systems and promote neural development. As babies gain balance and orientation, the resistance of the water that is 600 times greater than air resistance, links their movements with muscle building. Spinal and leg muscles particularly get stronger early, which in turn helps babies gain a more confident body balance both in the water and on land and results in a greater enjoyment of the pleasures that water offers.

Baby swimming stimulates integrated brain development

In the last few decades scientific research has raised our awareness of the importance of pleasurable experiences for the optimal development of interconnections and neural pathways in the first two years after birth. Early sensory-motor stimulation in the water is special in that the movements that babies make – reinforced by sequences specially developed by Birthlight-, promote bi-lateral cross patterning that is known to enhance brain development and function in infancy. This helps to create more nerve fibres in the corpus callosum that connects the right and left brain hemispheres. As both cerebral hemispheres are activated, the functions of the other lobes of the brain are simultaneously involved in cognitive activities. Several studies have linked early swimming with benefits in learning, including language development. These benefits have been shown to endure in childhood. The creation of memories has been pushed back earlier and earlier in infancy. Early happy memories have a positive role in shaping our children’s perception of the world as secure and resilient persons. Each swimming class in which genuine communication is established goes a very long way in setting future abilities to constructively assess risks and face challenges while feeling supported.

The reinforcement of loving bonds between parents of their babies in early swimming classes is often emphasised. What is perhaps less understood is that these happy bonds are not separate from the interactive processes through which babies develop their brains. While playing in water with our babies is pleasant, we need technique. Parents who learn to watch their babies in water and then to respond with movements that match their babies’ developmental aims at any time during the early years support integrated brain growth in a way that surpasses any stimulation offered on land. Water uniquely mediates our human early learning that needs loving interaction and tactile stimulation.  Most importantly but perhaps overlooked in the industrialised world, our babies need shared movement for a life-long stimulation of foundational neural circuits in the brain. Joyful movements designed with an understanding of recent research findings on neurological development are central to Birthlight. In the sedentary lives that characterise the modern world, baby swimming classes give parents and babies together not only practices that integrate brain functions but also the joy of connection, the cornerstone of happy families.

 

Article written by Françoise Freedman for People's Life Magazine in China.

Chinese translation

The ‘Light in Parenting’ conference will take place in Beijing in December, organised with the support of birthlight course organisers based in China. 

‘Light in Parenting’ Conference
Dates: 8-10 December 2017
Location: West International Trade Hotel
Speakers and full programme to follow

To register your interest, please contact: sylvie@birthlight.com

This conference will explore birthlight unique continuity of care and importance of t parents & babies,  from conception to 3 year old  through simple yoga practices on dry land and in water  and with the backup of  scientific research on baby development.  Come and join us to discover birthlight spiral of joy!

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