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Aqua Nurture for Newborns: a new Birthlight aquatic short course

Aqua Nurture provides the missing bridge between Aquanatal Yoga and Baby Swimming classes. As befits the ‘Fourth Trimester’, the first twelve weeks after birth, the focus is on Nurture, welcoming and cherishing the newborn in the world as a smooth transition from the womb’s fluid environment to gentle immersion in warm water. Birthlight practices are parent-baby interactive: trained instructors empower parents to transform the routine activity of “baby bath”, often associated with crying, into a pleasurable and enriching experience. Parents often benefit as much as their babies, relaxing together with them and seeing them without distraction as the exquisite little communicators they truly are.

Like all our Birthlight courses, the Birthlight Aqua Nurture for Newborns course is founded in research from various disciplines. In the three decades since I have supported parents to enjoy ‘relaxed baby baths’ as a postnatal follow up (postnatal doulas were a novelty then), human fetuses and newborns are much better understood as extraordinary complex beings. Their experiences are now known to matter for childhood and even for life. I have always been fascinated by newborns’ movements in water and I have used all available research to refine Aqua Nurture practices in baby baths, in tubs and in small warm pools. Therapeutic baby baths developed by two pioneering French nursery nurses in maternity hospitals reveal the power of water associated with a specialist technique.  Our remit, however, is to empower parents with their babies as much as possible. Techniques are transmitted for easy use in daily life, research is translated into simple practices.

From personal practice and a spread in my Water Babies book (Anness, 1999) to a training course, several collaborations have supported the process: joined practice with Amanda Walker, demos in birthing pools during residential courses with Shawn Tomlinson and Sally Lomas and filming in the small pool at the Birthlight-Bright Family Centre in Moscow with Anna Shkulanova. Exchanges with Perrine Alliod, who coordinated the Paris photoshoot underpinning the illustration of our training manual, have been a sharing of knowledge and a delight. Thank you, Perrine! Finally, the manual formatted beautifully, with QR codes in place for clips, was ready for piloting in China.

It was exciting to be in Sunny’s Birthlight aquatic training centre Qing Dao, with tutor Judy Kou and ten new graduates willing to push the boundaries of baby swimming and explore alternatives to popular Baby Spas in shopping malls. Mothers can leave their babies floating in tanks with neck rings under the supervision of trained instructors who also offer baby massage (shiatsu style) after the bath. We all went to visit to one of those Baby Spas nearby and we were invited to demonstrate ‘the Birthlight way’ with three young babies. Two of the babies loved the holds and moves and the cameras were clicking all around capturing their relaxed supported floating. Involving the parents was the next step. The third baby, a two-month old little girl, arrived screaming and nothing could stop her. This is where the healing power of the water never fails when one really works with water and baby together. I asked her (in English) to tell me why she was crying so much as I gently lowered her in the tub. It was a trust exchange. Then she alternately pushed with her head and with her feet against the sides of the plexiglass tub with a strange energy. I got an insight that perhaps she had got stuck at birth and this was still bothering her. The two parents who were close to me, tense and exhausted looking, confirmed that she was born with an emergency C section after a long second stage of labour during which she got stuck. Since then, she cried and screamed. When she started smiling in the water, both parents melted. The mother lifted her and as soon as she was wrapped up in warm towels she fell into a deep angelic sleep. Both parents watched her for a long time with very tender faces. We had to go back to continue with the course but the memory of this instant birth healing in the water is still with me.

There is a lot of excellent research on the healing of birth trauma showing how babies and children ‘replay’ their birth scenarios with positive outcomes, undoing the obstacles they met during their births. The skills for this therapeutic service require special training in osteopathy, infant psychology and somatic disciplines. To my knowledge, there is no birth healing for babies in water. I do not mean to say that instructors certified in the Aqua Nurture course are trained in this capacity, far from it. But the wonder is that a healing release may happen spontaneously in a baby bath and this is a release for both babies and their parents. It can heal a new family. Premature babies can also heal their time at NICU in the home bath.

Ritual baby baths are practiced after birth in all cultures in many different ways, some are gentle, others are quite rough. I was lucky to witness the gentle parenting of Amazonian indigenous people, even if their care in keeping babies happy has more to do with preventing their souls to be captured by predator nature spirits attracted by baby crying… than with attachment parenting. With all our current neuroscience arguments, we can help parents to have the most wonderful and intimate experiences with their newborns, either in the privacy of their home or in small groups around a tub or a small warm pool.

Baby Swimming instructors are encouraged to do this course to support parents of new babies under four months booked on classes in their swim schools. Birthlight vouchers sold to parents-to-be as baby shower presents for postnatal visits are applicable to ‘developmental baths’ taught by instructors in home visits.


"Being immersed in another birthlight course reminded me the purity of baby swimming.  Water can give a baby great power, water can give a baby unlimited possibility.  I hope I can bring more babies to experience the wonderful birthlight water nurturing classes."   James

"I learned to respect baby, respect the track and progression of life.  The joint water enjoyment enhanced parent-child relationship.  Water gives baby an experience similar to that of an womb.  Appropriate water temperature enables baby to enjoy and play with water current.  Thousands of nerve receptors are stimulated and build better nerve connection network.  In aqua nurture classes, teachers are just assistants in baby’s journey to be at ease in the water environment, learning to trust buoyancy."  Lizzie

"I had a new understanding on the significance of water to newborn.  The water amplifies the sense of touching and hearing, and can lay the early foundation for happy, safe, and comfortable baby swimming activities with the parents later.  Every baby founds his or her own way to explore and understand this world.  We should teach parents to establish a water relationship with their babies as early as possible, so that water can be another parent for the baby."   Kevin Chang

"Birthlight Aqua Nurture course gave me an in-depth understand of what an infant needs emotionally and physically.  Taking the course opened another door for me in the market.  Even though the road ahead is still long and challenging, I have taken the first step.  My skills in baby swimming and massage have advanced.  I was particularly touched to see the happiness and contentment in the face of the parents of the demonstration families when they learned that they can establish a connection with their babies through water."    Wendy Wang

"The Aqua Nurture course helped us understand how to better utilize bathing time for newborns to enrich stimulation.  We learned how to use different bathing equipment and setups to stimulate skin sensitivity before a child is old enough to join baby swimming classes.  We also see how infant massage strokes differ between the West and the Chinese style."  Sunny Shan


Birthlight Aqua Nurture for Newborns Teacher Training >

Course developed by Françoise Freedman (Birthlight Founder and Director)