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Gag Reflex Action in Babies & Breath Control

Gag Reflex Action in Babies & Breath Control

Don't believe the publicity about babies and the "Gag" reflex action that stops them from swallowing water.

Picture of a baby being hald in the air above the pool. Babies, Breath Control & Reflex Action

It is true that babies are born with an airway protective reflex called the 'gag' reflex where the larynx closes to block the entrance to the airway. But after teaching literally hundreds of babies I can categorically state it doesn't always work!

Some people believe that because of this reflex, a baby can be submerged without warning. I believe this practice to be dangerous and irresponsible. You must always, in my opinion, prepare your child thoroughly even before you contemplate putting them under the water.

Prepare Baby For Submersion

There are a variety of methods that can be used to prepare baby for submersion. All the responsible ones involve a verbal cue before submersion. "Ready Go" is my preferred cue because it is something we would normally say only before we want to prepare someone to do something; like beginning a race or trying to do something in unison. I've tried "1,2,3 Go" and a few others but we often use 1,2,3 in normal conversation and I've watched the confusion on too many babies' faces as they prepare to go under and nothing happens. All the other cues I have tried, have the same flaw.

Wait... Get Your Lesson Plans Here

So once you have your verbal cue you can prepare your baby with a gentle blow on the face or washing their face with your hand, just to get them to "shut down" (close their eyes and their mouth). I prefer washing the face because it is an action that is regularly performed on babies and they are rarely surprised by it. In contrast, the blowing on the face is not normal and sometimes carers get a little overzealous with it.

Don't Forget To Say "Ready Go"

Please Don't Forget To Say "Ready Go" before you wash their face! It is not uncommon to watch parents in their enthusiasm to do (wash) "Ready Go" or "Ready (Wash) Go". All of which results in the baby getting a big shock and even getting upset which is something I really do try to avoid. Remember the sequence should be, "Ready Go" (wash).

Only when a child automatically "shuts down" on the verbal command alone, are they ready to go underwater. Not Before!

As I said there are a variety of methods that can be used to teach babies to "shut down". I have outlined my two preferred above but one other is:
poring water over the child's head when they are in the bath (after you say "ready go").

There are very successful, some famous swim teachers that swear by this method. I don't like it because I am always concerned about the look of shock on the babies; especially the first time the water goes over their heads. I have never seen any reason to shock a child. But as I said, there are some very famous swim instructors that swear by it.

Other Cues

There are other cues, some of which involve disregarding the child even if they are crying and screaming. Personally, these methods are just plain irresponsible in my view. There are those that will stand amazed as they see the result of the child's learning to swim with these methods and some would say that their results are very impressive. However, this is very short-sighted: there is no tell the long term effect of these methods on the child's emotional development and all for the short term goal of having a baby float independently.

Despite the way, it looks there is no evidence that a child is any safer even when they can turn themselves into a float. You still cannot leave a child unattended and without vigilant observation, near the water. Children have drowned in inches of water. Don't do it!

I don't see the point in these methods and it is not unusual for teachers like me, to end up with "failures" from these classes, having to deal with a very traumatized child whenever they come near water.
Prepare your child and watch them carefully and enjoy the water with them.


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