The American Academy of Pediatrics, which previously recommended against swimming lessons for children under the age of four, has reversed its position based upon new research.

The research that prompted the AAP's position reversal was based upon:

  • The fact that there is no evidence that shows training can do harm
  • New data shows early swim lessons may lower risk of drowning in children under four years of age

The Academy once stated that children were not "developmentally ready" for such lessons, and that aquatic programs involving those ages shouldn't be considered as a safe method of preventing drowning deaths. Drowning is still the second leading cause of death in children from 1 to 19 years of age, although death rates from drowning fell between 1985 and 2006, according the the AAP's News Room Highlights.

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development's article about the research gives detailed information on the research methods and results:

"Providing very young children with swimming lessons appears to have a protective effect against drowning and does not increase children's risk of drowning, reported researchers at the National Institutes of Health.

The researchers state that the findings should ease concerns among health professionals that giving swimming lessons to children from ages 1 to 4 years might indirectly increase drowning risk by making parents and caregivers less vigilant when children are near bodies of water."

Although the researchers felt strongly about their conclusions that swim training provided no harm — and may offer protection against drowning — the results were not statistically significant. The recommendation is that swim training be used in conjunction with other safety rules and regulations regarding pools and swimming:

The authors concluded that swimming lessons could appropriately be considered for inclusion as part of a complete prevention program, along with fencing for pools, appropriate adult supervision, and training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation for parents and caregivers."

The AAP does not recommend that every child be given swimming lessons at a young age, but the organization is encouraging parents and other caregivers to take into consideration certain factors:

  • how often the child is exposed to water
  • emotional development
  • physical abilities
  • overall health

The American Red Cross has long provided water safety instructor training as well as information about swimming lessons and aquatic programs, including those for infants and toddlers. Check out their website for water safety programs in your area.

As a mom, and former swim instructor, lifeguard, and competitive swimmer, I never understood the AAP's position that toddlers shouldn't have swimming lessons, especially since lessons at this age generally include a parent or other caregiver working with the child one-on-one. I'm thrilled that the organization has taken this new position. How about you?

Additional resources for parents and families: