Light in Water: first international conference on the primal continuum in water

We know that swimming and aquatic activities have physical, psychological and social benefits, but it is recent scientific research that helps us understand how and why being and moving in water enhance the body-mind connection central to our wellbeing. Birthlight’s mission is to support the foundations of new families in a holistic perspective, from conception to early years with body-based practices, on land and in water.

‘Water parenting’ is about nurturing a continuity of development in water from womb to world and into childhood, promoting interaction, closeness and mutual discovery between parents and their babies. This conference is a celebration of ‘nurture’ in water and its wondrous evolutionary potential at this point in time. ‘Water parenting’ invites a radical re-thinking of the methods for teaching early swimming and water safety skills, based on communication rather than on conditioning.

The conference will link extensive recent research on the consequential brain wiring of the primal period –from pregnancy to the second year-, to research on the properties of water. Aquanatal exercise is now medically advised: besides fitness and the pleasure of weightlessness, deep breathing and relaxation in water trigger cascades of benefits that extend from pregnant women to their babies in the womb. Babies whose mothers spent time in water before giving birth, even if they were not born in water, associate water with ‘bonding’ and relaxing. Water CAN create the flow and continuity, too often broken in our disjointed system of care, for welcoming babies into the world with close connections that give them the best start in life.



Water birth facilities, unknown only half a century ago, are now included in many maternity hospitals. Baby swimming is undergoing an unprecedented expansion worldwide. These practices were pioneered together in time. The conference addresses this dual historical process led by public demand at the grassroots, not by policies. It is new parents’ visions of symbiotic harmony and peace that draw them to water with their babies, and this happens to be supported by pre and postnatal developmental research.

As adults, we unconsciously, automatically re-create conditions imprinted at birth and through our early childhood. Gentle and playful interactions in water facilitate a positive ‘limbic imprinting’ that is now known to be the condition for learning, trust and creativity later in life. This is a continuous process during the primal period: in water, early anxiety or even traumatic experiences during pregnancy, birth and the postpartum may be resolved quietly as parents interact positively with their babies and toddlers. Parents’ fear of water can also be released.  Whereas forceful conditioning curtails the way in which babies are programmed to learn about the world, by making full use of the properties of water with loving support, each child’s potential for swimming and water safety skills can unfold at his or her own pace.

Myrtle McGraw’s early research on newborns’ reflexes and movements in water can now be placed in a much wider context of recent findings on the interconnections between vestibular system, memory, affect and motor development. The conference is set to mark a turning point in the way we think about ‘water babies’. Submersion and diving can indeed be magical if introduced within a sensitive communication that allows babies and toddlers’ agency. This communication to promote the joy of movement in water, which Birthlight advocates, is growing in our global culture. It needs to be imparted with techniques that have to be further developed, tried and tested.  The conference brings together experts who are willing to share their research, their experience and the practices they have developed in their life trajectories to enhance parent-infant communication in water. Our international set of speakers includes extraordinary pioneers who have transformed our practices and perceptions about water in relation to birth, early swimming and the understanding of how our bodies move, breathe and relax in water.

We are specially honored to welcome Michel Odent as our keynote speaker. When he first referred to ‘primal health’ in his 2002 book, the concept had little purchase in the medical world. It is now heralded and supported by an ever-growing ‘primal health databank’ concentrating relevant scientific research findings under one roof. Michel’s visionary understanding of the conditions that facilitate natural birth, based on his experience as a surgeon who became an obstetrician to avoid unnecessary cesarean sections, gives water and important role.  He is now calling for a ‘symbiotic revolution’, that he will explain in his talk.

The ‘Primal continuum’ provides the framework of science-informed best practice for early swimming.  For maternity professionals and therapists involved with parents and infants: a better understanding of what pregnant women and new parents and babies can gain from being in water. For baby swimming teachers: addressing parent-infant pairs with an understanding of how babies and toddlers develop long lasting body-based memories in water. We promise a memorable two days that will move all involved to think beyond the outdated box that constrains ‘baby swimming’ and promotes receptivity to fear-led coercive methods.  At the dawn of a new phase of worldwide expansion in aquatic activities linked with pregnancy and early parenting, it is imperative to align practice with research evidence.

Our two-day program is packed full of talks, workshops and keynotes that will illuminate ‘water parenting’ from many different angles and professional perspectives. The conference has been designed as an intimate exploratory live event, Cambridge-style, with plenty of opportunities for exchanges between participants and speakers and a special gala dinner for all to enjoy.  The setting in Girton College – reflecting Birthlight’s connection with Cambridge University- provides a special atmosphere with a modern pool and beautiful grounds.  For those able and inspired to stay longer, our program of post-conference aquatic workshops with some of the speakers in pools in or near Cambridge over the weekend offers further opportunities for sharing and learning. Please check the conference website for all schedules. Places are limited and we are already two-third full so don’t miss out!

We look forward to welcome you!

The Birthlight aquatic tutor team.

Early bird booking avaiable now, book your place on this unmissable conference

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