Holding Your Breath Underwater: What Parents Should Know…

Remember contests to see who could stare the longest without blinking or who could hold their breath the longest? Such contests are the stuff of most of our childhoods. Seemingly harmless displays of prowess. Life is never as simple as those carefree childhood contests.

kids-holding-breath-contestWhen a child is learning to swim, they need to be able to hold their breath for a reasonable amount of time. The ability to put one’s face in the water is an important part of being comfortable in the water. Unfortunately, some children (and adults), find this apparently simple act extremely difficult. The fear of water, of having your face in the water, can paralyze someone and keep them from learning to swim or ever be comfortable in the water, which then places them at a higher risk for drowning. Fortunately there are a number of people who are dedicated to helping people overcome these fears. Check out Project Face In The Water and Water Phobias if you or your children have this reasonable but paralyzing fear. Know there is almost certainly someone in your area who focuses on teaching people who are afraid of the water.

The other extreme is holding your breath under water for too long. Competitive swimmers are regularly encouraged to swim under water for as long as possible to increase lung capacity and speed. Even casual swimmers will challenge themselves to see if they can swim the length of the pool, have breath holding contests, or just swim underwater a bit further. The more hard-core breath-holding experts go into free diving, challenging themselves to swim deeper, stay down longer, or simply to push themselves to do that extra 20 feet without a breath.

The problem is, if the body decides you have gone too long without oxygen, it will force you to breathe in. The easiest way for the body to accomplish this is to make you faint, which will then allow the involuntary motion of breathing to continue. (As opposed to the voluntary motion of holding your breath) Fainting on dry land isn’t pleasant, but it’s rarely fatal. Fainting in water can quickly lead to death by drowning. Drowning isn’t breathing in water, it’s not being able to breathe in oxygen. Trying to breathe when you are in the water is like trying to breathe in outer space, there simply is no oxygen and you suffocate to death.

When you pass out in the water, it is called Shallow Water Blackout (SWB). Unfortunately it is a leading cause of death among competitive swimmers. If you have a competitive swimmer, a risk-taker, a snorkeling enthusiast, or just a regular swimmer, learn more about Shallow Water Blackout. Understand how it happens, and how you can keep it from happening to you or someone you love.

There are a range of resources to help you. Life Like Benjo and Shallow Water Blackout Prevention is raising awareness about SWB. If you are a swim coach or dive instructor, I strongly recommend you contact Aquatic Safety Research Group for information on how to coach more safely.

Breathing correctly while in and around water is one of the most calming and joyful experiences you can have. Know how and when to breathe properly. Breathe.

(And the stare down contest did come in handy, totally unexpectedly, in a showdown with a CEO when I was in my 20’s. I won.)

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About the Author

Global water safety for children is my passion and I can't wait to get up every day to work at it! I blog about water safety regularly at http://www.RebeccaWearRobinson.com, or you can follow me on Twitter at RebeccaSaveKids. Rebecca is a former member of the PedSafe Expert team


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