This 1980 New Scientist column article says that

Human babies can swim instinctively at a few weeks old, and although they lose this ability at a few months they learn quickly if introduced to the water and taught how to swim when a couple or three years old.

However, BabyCenter in the US claims that they not natural swimmers.

No. It's not true that babies are born with the ability to swim, though they have reflexes that make it look like they are.

A reflex called the bradycardic response makes babies hold their breath and open their eyes when submerged in water, says Jeffrey Wagener, a pediatric pulmonologist in Colorado. (Parents can cause this same reaction by blowing in their baby's face, a response that disappears after about 6 months.

Meanwhile, the description on this YouTube video warns they only look like they can swim:

Until around 6 months, babies placed in water tummy-side down will move their arms and legs in a swimming motion. When the swimming reflex and the dive reflex are both engaged, a baby can look like a natural swimmer.

Cautions about babies in water
"These reflexes don't mean the baby can swim, though," says Wagener. What's more, they don't protect a baby from drowning. (In addition to the risk of drowning, it's dangerous for an infant to swallow large amounts of pool water.)

BabyCentre in the UK claims somewhere in between:

Your baby does have a natural ability to swim, but she needs your help, of course! Her natural ability comes from a pair of reflexes she has when she's in the water.

This Wikipedia page says:

Human babies demonstrate an innate swimming or diving reflex from birth until the age of approximately six months.

Can babies naturally swim without training?

  • 3
    The wiki you linked to talks mostly about "diving reflex", not about swimming.
    – Suma
    Commented May 25, 2015 at 13:03
  • What does "natural" mean? That they have the technique? Or that they have natural buyouncy (sp?)
    – user5341
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 3:06
  • 2
    The FIRST source says they have a dive reflex and a reflex that makes it look like they can swim, but they can't, and quotes Wagener. The SECOND source says they have a dive reflex and a reflex that makes it look like they can swim, but they can't, and quotes Wagener. The THIRD source say they have a "swimming or diving reflex" and cites this paper which talks about a "dive response". As none of the sources claim that babies can actually swim, there is no notable claim here.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 9:57
  • Why it is that a question becomes a 'not clear question'. What is the point of asking a question if I have to define every word of the question, turning question into a dictionary? Why there are upvotes if this is not a question. Commented May 26, 2015 at 10:45
  • 1
    It was an unclear question because all of the references you gave denied that babies can really swim. None of them made the claim that you were skeptical about, so it wasn't clear where you were getting that idea. You've found a not-particularly-strong claim in the old New Scientist column, so I've given that prominence. (I think the final answer is pretty predictable based on your references alone.) The popsci link in your comment appears broken to me.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 16:21

1 Answer 1


I think you should take a look at this study:

Goksor, E.; Rosengren, L.; Wennergren, G. (2002). "Bradycardic response during submersion in infant swimming". Acta Paediatr 91 (3): 307–312. doi:10.1111/j.1651-2227.2002.tb01720.x. PMID 12022304. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12022304

It is extremely important since it shows evidence of:

existence of a diving response in infants, which includes: an immediate bradycardic response, suggesting vagal mediation.

Quoting the abstract:

The diving response involves:
- reflex bradycardia
- apnoea
- peripheral vasoconstriction

States the purpuse of the study:

This study was performed to analyse the physiological events during natural diving of full-term healthy infants and describe how these events alter with maturation.

This shows the method used:

Thirty-six infants were studied during diving exercises in infant swimming. All of the infants who participated showed an immediate decrease in heart rate when submerged.


On average, the heart rate decreased by 25% (range -5.0% to -50.7%, p <0.0001).

The bradycardia was sustained during the dive and for some seconds afterwards. The response was often followed by a tachycardia as the bradycardia ceased. A decline of reflex bradycardia was observed with increasing age (p = 0.03), but the response was still clearly evident in infants over the age of 6 mo.

Of course this doesn't mean that you can throw the infant in a swimming pool and go watch a movie.

  • 2
    So... what does it mean? Does a decreased heart rate make someone a natural swimmer? Commented May 29, 2015 at 19:09
  • 2
    This doesn't really answer the question.
    – Jose Luis
    Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 13:39

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