How to Teach an Infant to Swim

What to Know About Teaching Child to Swim

Verywell / Madelyn Goodnight

When summer days reach scorching temperatures, nothing feels better than getting in the water. Whether you and your family prefer creeks, lakes, oceans, or pools, there are a few things you need to consider before swimming with your infant. Their natural curiosity draws them straight to any nearby water, but it's important to take safety precautions. Drowning is still the number one cause of deaths ages 1 to 4. Getting your infant comfortable around water and teaching them some swimming basics can help.

Can You Teach an Infant to Swim?  

While you can't exactly teach your baby the breaststroke, there are water skills they can learn at a young age. At this stage, it’s less about teaching an infant to swim and more about teaching water survival, says Jessica Box, an instructor at SoCal Survival Swimming in Temecula, California. “Swimming and floating are motor skills, and they can be taught through repetitive exercises such as swim lessons, as well as gentle verbal encouragement," she explains.

However, Arunima Agarwal, MD, a pediatrician at Morris Heights Health Center in Bronx, NY, points out that the American Academy of Pediatrics actually does not recommend swim lessons prior to age 1. “It’s OK to expose your baby to water—always with an adult—at age 6 months, at the earliest,” she says. “Keep it to 30 minutes or less.”

She adds that between ages 6 months and 1 year, the goal is more for enjoyment rather than water safety education. “The AAP does recommend swim lessons, starting between ages 1 and 4 because studies have shown that this can help protect against drowning," Dr. Agarwal says.

If you have a baby who loves the water, it might be worth exploring infant swim lessons. But if you've got a pool-adverse little one, you likely can hold off. Talk to your child's healthcare provider if you're not sure which direction is right for you.

Water Skills Babies Can Potentially Learn

Infants may become curious and more comfortable with water between 6 months and 18 months. “They will start to do basic kicking and pulling movements,” says Dr. Agarwal. “They will start to learn to blow bubbles, float, glide, change direction, and get in and out of the water, all with assistance."

Box says that, at this stage, infants can learn simple skills that can help keep them safe in the water. That includes teaching infants to roll over onto their backs from a face-down position, and maintaining a stable back float position until they can be rescued.

Remember that all babies are unique, so a friend’s experience and timeline might be different than yours. “Some [babies] need more time, and some less, to reach each skill,” Dr. Agarwal says. 

Types of Swim Lessons for Infants

There are two main types of swim lessons that you can encounter in your research: survival swim lessons and traditional swim lessons. 

Survival Swim Lessons

Survival swim lessons are generally certified via two networks: Infant Aquatics and Infant Swim Rescue. (Box is certified in Infant Aquatics.) Both are a method of swim survival lessons that have been around since the 1960s. They teach infants how to independently roll onto their backs to prevent drowning. The lessons take place during a quick time frame and only last 10 minutes each session.

However, bear in mind this can be a time commitment—lessons can last 6 weeks in a row. Survival swim teachers are specifically certified and you can look up an instructor in your area on their websites. 

Box says she has babies as young as 6 months in her classes. "The most essential survival swimming skill we will teach your child in survival swim lessons is how to independently roll from a face-down position in the water to a face-up back float," she says, noting that infants and toddlers physically cannot raise their heads to take a breath.

By using this method, children develop muscle memory. "It ensures they get from point A to point B all by themselves if there is an aquatic emergency—the child is caught off-guard, they accidentally swam too far, or fell off a step, for example—or while they're in a controlled recreational environment, such as in a pool with their family," Box says.

Traditional Swim Lessons

Traditional swim lessons are more common and involve 30 to 45-minute sessions over several weeks of instruction. Your child will generally be taking one to two lessons per week. Traditional swim lessons can help teach basic swimming skills—not necessarily survival—such as kicking, floating, blowing bubbles, and holding their breath. You can find lessons on local Facebook pages, from friends and family, or by doing some research on pools in your area.

Using Kids Water Safety Equipment

You may think that giving your child a floatie or puddle jumper will give them extra protection, but that actually isn't the case. “These flotation devices are dangerous,” Box says, citing that misleading or inaccurate information is sometimes used to market and sell children's flotation devices.

"Some of these inaccuracies include phrases like 'learn to swim easily,' 'enjoy peace of mind,' and 'increase a child's confidence,'" she says. But these devices put children at more risk because they allow parents to drop their guards.

The vertical position is a drowning position, and over time, kids who use these devices could gain the wrong muscle memory. "Children who have a long history of being in floaties are recklessly confident in and around water," Box adds. Most infants wouldn't even meet the weight requirements for puddle jumpers and floaties anyway, as many start at 30 lbs.

When parents have a false sense of security, accidents happen. “When our babies are in these devices, we tend to let our guard down," Box explains. "A baby can easily slip out of one of those cruiser floaties, or a sibling could knock them over when we’re turned around." 

Dr. Agarwal recommends a properly fitted, age-appropriate life jacket instead. (Be sure to check the weight requirements—they do make life jackets for infants.) She also recommends keeping lifesaving equipment near the pool, just in case. “A life preserver and shepherd’s hook (a long pole with a hook at the end), and a phone to make an emergency call should always be kept nearby,” she says.

A Word from Verywell 

Swim lessons are an essential life skill, but only you will know when the time is right for your baby to start swim lessons, and which type of swim lessons are a good fit for your family. Proper adult supervision should always be part of your water plans, even if you think your kid is a good swimmer.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Denny SA, Quan L, Gilchrist J, et al. Prevention of drowningPediatrics. 2019;143(5):e20190850. doi:10.1542/peds.2019-0850

  2. Swimming lessons: When to start & what parents should know.

  3. National Drowning Prevention Alliance. Member/partner advocacy campaign: No floaties campaign – Judah Brown Project.

By Lauren Finney
Lauren is an experienced print and digital content creator with an extensive list of clients whom she has served through editorial consulting, content creation, branding, copywriting, native content, branded content, and more.