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Baby swim photoshoots

Are you too young to remember the Nirvana Nevermind cover album (1991) and the British Gas adverts picturing babies underwater. They were truly magical and led the public to imagine that babies could move happily under water, just as they did inside the womb before birth. Actually, it was easy to imagine that babies could swim underwater right from birth!  The Victorian ‘water babes’ fantasy popularized by Charles Kingsley was made possible by technology. As underwater baby photoshoots became popular in baby swimming classes, babies could be seen underwater, eyes wide open and sometimes smiling on beautiful photographs that more and more parents could treasure. This was so amazing that it seemed worth repeating submersions to catch perfect images of babies ‘swimming to the camera’ (actually being propelled towards the camera). As more images and also video clips were produced, signs of young babies’ distress became more visible, even in artful photographs. Forward arm extension showed alarmed reflexes (Moro) rather than propelling stretches; frantic movements were definitely not ‘swimming’. Underwater photoshoots continued to support the fantasy of newborn swimming rather than reckoning with the reality that for the majority of babies under one year, being pushed under is not fun at all. It’s time to blow the myth of Nirvana babies under water. Hopefully parents will welcome art photography of ‘water parenting’ as better tokens of their babies’ love of being in water with them. How could we think lone images were great? As we turn the page of the unreal brave new world of late 20th century underwater baby photographs, we can now gain a genuine understanding about how babies can develop balance and movement in water from the safety of their parents’ arms.

Often underwater photoshoots are arranged in response to pressure from parents, but parents welcome new evidence that supports best practice.  Repeat submersions may soon be a thing of the past. Together with STA, Birthlight have aimed to protect babies. Our joint 2003 submersion policy has been revised  three times and the 2016 update has been inserted in the British Industry Standards publication PAS520 that safeguards the wellbeing of infants by limiting repeat submersions by parents or teachers within sessions. The loss of spectacular underwater baby photographs and the short-term profit loss from underwater shoots are more than compensated with the confidence that we are doing the right thing and setting secure foundations for babies’ long-term happy swimming.

It is wonderful news that Puddle Ducks, led by Technical Director and Head of Teaching Ali Beckman, have now stopped underwater baby photoshoots. Puddle Ducks have promoted gentle baby swim methods from the start. Their stance sends a strong message that underwater photoshoots, involving adult-led and at times forceful submersions of babies, often cause distress without furthering swimming skills. Warm cheers to the Puddle Ducks’ team as the first national franchise to make a stance!

Gentle and baby-led submersions are part of a growing worldwide trend that has been reflected in the evolution of the Birthlight’s code of practice over the last decade. 

To name but a few, 'Aquatic Harmony' rejected shoots in 2014; 'Nanuk Swim' and 'Joyful Dolphin Swim' stopped their underwater shoots in 2016. 'Infant Aquatic', 'Calmababy', 'Swim Splash' and 'Little Splashers' stopped their underwater photo shoots in 2017. Please email us at Birthlight ([email protected]) to let us know about your school so that we can join our voices to ensure the message reaches parents across the country! Together we can lead the baby swimming industry forward!

Françoise Freedman
Birthlight Founder & Director