2nd Austrian Baby Swimming conference

It was with great delight that birthlight accepted the invitation from the Chairwoman of Austrian Babyswim Association (ABA) Marion Falzeder to present at the 2nd Austrian baby swimming conference.

The topics included:

  • Purpose, methods and results in baby swimming between the ages 0-2 in other countries: What are the aims of the lessons, how will they reach these aims and most important, what are the results over an observation period of two years concerning the toddlers progress in swimming?
  • Problems and difficulties in the baby swim classes:
Most of the photos relating to baby swimming show laughing babies, happy children and parents... but often enough there are problems - what are they in your classes and how do you deal with these problems? We hope that talking and exchanging about our experiences and problems can support each other with strategies and tips.

The presentations were as varied as the countries represented, with lectures from Mexico, Norway, Sweden, France, Austria, Australia, Greece, Germany, UK   and  around 140 participants from many European countries.

The conference was held at the beautiful Pilgrimage town  of Maria Taferl, on the hills above the Danube, with breath taking views and an overwhelming atmosphere of peace.

The overriding theme of all lectures was mindful interaction between adult and child, with an openness to use buoyancy equipment or not. The need to be respectful of the child wishes and not forcing submersions.

The conference was attended by two birthlight participants, Kiriakos, from Aquababies in Athens and Jo from Swim Works UK, it was great to meet up with both of them and to continue to share the good news of swimming with babies and toddlers in the birthlight holistic way.

Jo was inspired to write down a few thoughts for us on the conference, and says

"It was a very special time for me, as I met so many wonderful passionate people who are expert in their field. Some methods or techniques they talked about might have been a little different to mine, but the thread of the whole conference was one of empathy and creating joy for the child. As Ulrika Faerch, the lecturer from Sweden said 'babies want to know that you are interested, look at them, look at their faces, see their eyebrows raise, truly engage with them''
What a great message.

Birthlight's presentation on 'Breath, balance and sensory integration in the aquatic environment. Why swimming can magnify trauma and presenting tools for integration'  is now available as a CPD, so please contact the office if you wish to host a CPD in your area. It is important to keep up to date in training and a birthlight requirement to attend a CPD every two years.

Other Birthlight CPD topics include:

  • Understanding the role of reflexes in the aquatic environment.
  • Relevancy to baby swimming teachers and application of therapeutic holds and practices
  • Gentle Submersions the birthlight way, is it time to review and update our practices, in the light of new findings
  • How to integrate children with special needs into your classes

These are exciting times for Birthlight as we spread our love for baby and toddler swimming across the globe, as always extremely thankful to tribal peoples everywhere and especially in the Amazon, who naturally are and love their babies, in and around water.  You are our inspiration and we are so very grateful.
We so are looking forward to our very own birthlight 'Light in Water' conference next year in 2016.


Shawn Tomlinson, Birthlight Baby Swimming Tutor


I have just been on a little journey of enrichment after returning from the beautiful mountain tie of Maria Taferi in Austria for the 2nd International ABA Conference. The conference was over three days and was designed to bring together the baby swim schools of Austria (which interestingly were small and all independents), but also open to the wider International baby swim community. The majority of the 120 attendees were from Austria of course, but also from Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Greece, Italy to name a few... There were just four conference attendees from the UK, which surprised me... I thought there would be more, considering how wide spread baby swimming is in the UK and how colourful it is with a mix of national franchises, 100s of independent swim schools and governed by two national organisations the STA and ASA. 

It was a very special time for me as I met so many wonderful passionate people who were experts in their field... Founders of baby swimming in their country. 

Some methods or techniques they talked about might have been a little different to mine, but the thread of the whole conference was empathy and creating joy for the child. 

The first day, Friday was a day for registration, visiting the beautiful Basilica and a wine tasting dinner in the evening, where you can meet and great all your fellow attendees. It was a fun time and lucky for me. Everyone spoke English. I sat on a table with the lovely Terje Stakset from Norway and Shawn Tomlinson from Birthlight and my fellow friend and conference companion, Samantha Dalton from Flutterbabies.

Saturday was so jam packed with ten talks and a pool session... my head was in a spin and my heart was in a flutter by the evening. In Shawn's talk, which I will overview a in a moment, she talked about the chemistry of baby swimming, the love cocktail of oxytocin and endorphins... 'Well boy' I was definitely on a natural 'high' and feeling the love. 

The pool session was particularly enlightening as the toddlers in the pool were about two years of age.  They happily floated and paddled around the pool, whilst their mummies sang to them. The format in this particular class flowed from one activity to another, not with the dominance of the instructor saying 'come on now we going to be doing this’, but one, which just simply flowed through the change of activity with a song. Quiet interestingly they used a little arm disk at the back of their swim pants or swim costume to give them buoyancy and allow them to swim independently from their mummies. All toddlers were very happy in the pool; it might be a cultural difference... But I noticed the mummies allowed their toddlers to swim without holds at this point... They truly stood back; I didn't think there was much engagement with the toddlers.   In our lessons it would be a mix of is saying... Come on 'Millie, that's great... Kick kick (for example),... But there was none of this 'talk or engagement' .. As they simply paddled across the pool collecting puzzles. The mummies... Just let them be. I'm not sure in my opinion they had the best body position and alignment for swimming, but ‘oh boy’ could they swim and they all have great balance and swam around on their own. This was demonstrated well towards the end of the class when they did their version of 'horsey horsey' - all of the toddlers, bar one could swim on their own using this 'straddle balance' position. In my classes I do have some toddlers at two who can do this... But the 'whole' class of 8? How was this achieved I question myself... Was it from one of the previous activities of standing and balancing on the mat or being completely free in the water during the first puzzle game activity when the mummies let them be and just swim? The class might have had a different format from ours.. But the basis of having fun was the same.

Shawn's talk was the last one of the day... But it was a great, thought provoking and passionate talk titled 'Breath, balance and sensory integration in the aquatic environment. Why swimming can magnify trauma and presenting tools for integration'.  Phew a mouthful in itself to say and what a dizzy cocktail of theories to think about. In a nutshell the essence of the talk was 'what could cause stress to the infant in the swim environment and what we can do as teachers to reduced this stress'... But it wasn't all directed to stress... The talk also clarified how we could embrace the happy love hormones and produce positive emotions.   What ‘scaffold’ could we give to our babies?  Fun, love, gentleness and kindness were the key words of the talk. Shawn delivered a passionate explanation of the link between the moro reflex and traumatic submersions… for example; a child who has an active moro will sniff or breathe in sharply when afraid.  Some babies are very sensitive to the environment, it could be noises or perhaps they find the activities too fast.  Shawn described how we could overcome these in the aquatic environment and give ‘therapeutic’ lessons … lessons where the group sizes are smaller, sounds are calming, with mindful songs and use of toys.  Shawn emphasized that swim teachers should ‘observe’ their classes … ‘build on what you see, be present in the moment’ were a few key messages.  

On the plane journey home, I was so tired, but full of excitement and energy, uplifted by all the people I had met.  We discussed what we thought were the things we had learnt throughout the conference … two messages stood out for us; The first from Daniel Zylberberg (a clinical psychologist in France) ‘in order to grow you need to face your fears’ and the second from Ulrika Faerch ‘babies want to know your interested ..’look at them, look at their faces, see their eyebrows raise, truly engage with them’.  Oh boy did Ulrika’s presentation stand out, I can’t wait for her book, which is written for swimming parents.  These conferences are organised every two years … I am already planning to be there!

Jo Wilson
Swim Works


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