Safely in the Swim: How I had my Baby Drownproofed

by Penny Swift

Many mothers consider their babies and small children to be natural water babies. I know I did. After all my first-born adored his bath. He splashed and played, stuck his tiny nose in the water and blew bubbles; wallowed like a tiny white hippo, chattered and howled with glee. So I had no apprehensions when I enrolled him for a course of “swimming lessons” designed to teach him how to float if he accidentally fell into a swimming pool or pond. He was eight months old at the time (1981), and “drownproofing” was very popular.

“The concept was that even though you cannot teach a baby to swim, you could teach it to float”

Drownproof child and floating
Drownproofing babies. This particular method involves pushing the child under-water and teaching him to float.

The First Drownproofing Session

I was seriously taken aback when we got to the big pool and the instructor (an older woman) lowered him gently into the heated water. The giggles were gone; obviously the vast expanse of blue-green water was too deep and strange to wallow in or enjoy. Even though he wasn’t at all happy, we persisted, realising that if he fell into a pool accidentally he could drown. But it was traumatic.

She was gentle and loving, but the method used involved pushing my little “water baby” under the water. She would also take his tiny hands and put them behind his head and hold him  securely while he lay floating on the surface. Once drownproofed, a child that falls into water will bob back to the surface and automatically put his or her hands in this position.

What I didn’t like was that he vomited huge volumes of water after every session. But just a few months after completing the course, the inevitable happened: he fell into our swimming pool. I was there at the time, digging in the garden and ran towards the water as he bobbed up and put his little hands behind his head … and floated.

His dad taught him to swim properly when he was older and he did indeed turn out to be a little water baby.

Swimming Lessons Instead of Drownproofing

Even though the system worked, when our next child came along, we didn’t even consider the drownproofing method. Instead we waited until she was at pre-school and arranged for a qualified instructor (her pre-school teacher) to teach her to swim in our own pool. She loved the teacher but wouldn’t go near the water. Every week she would hide under her bed and refuse to come out. When we forced her to swim she would cry. This was also traumatic; and to make matters worse, she was almost impossible to teach. The verdict: “My worst pupil ever.”

Private swim training pool
A long, narrow pool that could be used for swimming training or just getting fit and keeping fit.

All we could do was to ensure constant supervision when she was anywhere near water.

No Drownproofing or Swimming Lessons

Needless to say, our third child had neither swimming lessons nor a drownproofing course. Instead dad got in the swim with him and taught him to tread water and then to swim., over a period of years, whenever the opportunity arose. Happily, he was a natural and is now the best swimmer in the family.

If there is a moral to the story, it must surely be to allow children to develop on their own.

Have you had any of your children “drownproofed”? If you have, we’d love to hear your story.  

2 COMMENTS

  1. My 3 children were down proofed in the 1970’s-mothers let go,children went down,came up ,turned on their backs [mum’s arms just out of reach ]. After a few lessons my boys were happily floating .They taught themselves to swim and have always been at home in the water. I wondered what happened to drown proofing
    and have read that it relies on the most primitive part of the brain ,is not consistent with good teaching practice and may cause long concealed trauma and fear of water. It is unnecessary because children from 0-4 years rarely fall into water.None of this has been my experience.

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