Viral Video of Infant Being Thrown In the Water Only Proves a Baby Reflex

The science of the bradycardic reflex is real. It's not the same as learning to swim

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This weekend, a TikTok video which featured a swim instructor dropping an 8-month-old baby named Oliver into a pool and instructing him to float on his back, went viral. It was viewed 51 million times on the platform and 20 million more times on Twitter. Since the video went viral, tons of people have been freaking out about it — suggesting that it’s abuse, that the mom who enrolled her kid in the swim classes is traumatizing her kids, or that the baby would have life-long anxiety.

But, according to the mom, Krysta Meyer, the video was of her baby attending Little Fins Swim School — and it’s not a swimming class, but an “infant survival class.” The co-owner of the school said that the whole idea of the class is to teach kids as young as 6-months old “to assess their situation and find an exit strategy” when they’re unexpectedly dropped or fall into a pool. 8-month-olds obviously can’t swim — but she believes that they can get comfortable in water, learn how to flip over if they fall into a pool, and float on their backs, giving them precious time to breathe air and survive if they accidentally fall into water. The video really only proves that infants can bounce back from being thrown in a pool because of a built-in reflext. This isn’t the same as teaching them how to swim.

Related: Are “Self-Rescue” Swim Classes For Kids Safe?

The viral video confirms something that’s known in babies as a bradycardic reflex — part of the mammalian diving reflex. The bradycardic reflex is triggered when an infant’s face is exposed to cold water — their heart slows down, blood shifts away from peripheral muscles and conserves oxygen for the brain, and babies, on instinct, hold their breath. But, according to experts, that instinct begins to fade away after six months — right at the time that little babies are allowed to enroll in the Little Fins infant survival class.

The bradycardic reflex doesn’t instantly disappear at six months, but it does slowly begin to dissipate as infants age, per studies. Still, experts disagree on whether or not these types of infant survival classes are actually helpful, and think that they can give parents a false sense of security around water, while others suggest that the more skills you equip an infant with when it comes to water, the better.

Bottom line: Throwing your infant in the pool probably isn’t teaching them anything. The argument that there are professionals doing it is fine, but it’s very likely what you’re really testing is to see if they still have their bradycardic reflex. Which, is not something they ever learned in the first place.

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