There is no denying that people love to share adorable baby photos. Occasionally, you might find someone posting cute pictures of their babies at a swimming pool or hot tub with neck floats on. This practice is said to “have the ability to increase the baby’s athleticism and coordination.” While that sounds great, the reality of it is that these neck floats are not safe for babies to use.
So why are Neck Floats unsafe?
First of all, the way these neck floats are designed to function is extremely unnatural. Just imagine yourself, being strapped with a neck float in the water. Your head and neck are being restricted, and your body can only stay vertical in the water. I’m sure most people will agree that this wouldn’t feel very comfortable. If something seems uncomfortable for even the adults to use, then it shouldn’t even be mentioned as use for babies!
Asides from looking uncomfortable, these floats function by using water buoyancy to keep only the head afloat which can cause tremendous stress to the neck. For babies, whose bone and muscle aren’t fully developed yet; it becomes an even bigger issue! Their body weight ends up unnaturally supported by an upward pulling force around the head. Even with the natural buoyancy of water helping to lessen the body weight, there is still a very high chance of injury.
Knowing how dangerous it is, would you still use it?
The muscles that are most essential to a newborn’s development are usually the neck and the back. Most of the actions in the next development stage (such as sitting up and crawling) will rely majorily on those. There are certain swimming and parenting classes that might encourage the use of these neck floats, claiming that it will help develop coordination and muscle strength. However, with the neck floats in place, the head and neck are restrained. Floating vertically in the water like that does not efficiently develop the neck, shoulder and back muscles.
Pediatricians have strongly recommended against the use of neck floats. There are a lot of different exercises suitable for young babies. Rather than having young babies involved in unsafe exercises, let them have more “Tummy Times” instead. Not only is it a lot safer, it’s also the perfect way to develop the muscles needed!
In a safe and controlled environment, taking your baby to play with water or swim does benefit their sensory development. But before signing up your baby for a swimming class, you need to note the followings:
- The American Academy of Pediatrics does not suggest babies under 12 months old to learn to swim. What they mean by this is: Although many advertisements show that swimming offers babies a lot of benefits. There is no scientific study to show that these lessons are actually teaching them anything. Therefore, when signing up you baby to a “swimming” lesson, you should focus more on the entertainment and safety, and not the actual “swimming” as they are still too young to actually learn.
- Swimming classes should always be accompanied by parents as well.
- Parents can choose to instead enroll in programs run by reputable organizations like Red Cross. They will usually have strict pool and hygienic standards. They even regulate the water temperature to constantly be at around 32°C!
- The swimming instructors must have the proper qualification and experience! Ideally, there shouldn’t be too many people in a class as well. That way the instructor can pay more attention to make sure everyone is safe.
If you’re not interested in enrolling into a class, and instead want to just take your baby to the public pool by yourself. Here are some things you need to be aware of:
- When you’re inside the pool, please make sure that your child is always within an arm’s reach, and always within your line of sight. Never leave your baby alone in the pool, not even for one second!
- Babies under 12 months old should not stay in the water for more than 30 minutes. They lose heat a lot faster than an adult.
- Water temperatures at the pool should ideally be around 32°C, any hotter or colder is not recommended for babies. If your child is starting to shiver inside the water, quickly take them out of a pool and warm up with a dry towel.
- Do not submerge your child in water. Humans are not fish. Swimming is a skill that needs to be learned as we grow up, it is not inherently a trait.
- Do not use random safety gears. For babies, the best protection is still the parent’s watchful eyes. If you want to take extra precautions, use a baby-sized life jacket instead. Once again, make sure to always keep your baby within an arm’s reach at the pool!
So how old should a child be before actually learning how to swim?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests that:
For the most part, children should be at least 4 years old before learning how to swim. By this age, their body will have developed enough to swim.
As of now there is not enough research to show what kind of teaching method is best for children aged 1 to 4. Parents who wish to enroll their child to swimming classes need to be extra attentive. Remember that every child is different. Some will learn how to swim when they are extremely young, and some will end up never knowing how to swim but you should never compare your child to someone else’s!