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.

We look forward to welcome you!

The Birthlight aquatic tutor team.


Two days dedicated to the science, art and joy of moving in water from pregnancy to childhood
Book Post Conference Workshop!

22-23 Sep 2016
Cambridge, UK

Conference Speakers

Water Parenting

We are not advocating this in any way but feel it important to share videos that shock us and bother us and talk about them. Please see comments.

Channel 4 News
This swimming instructor can make babies younger than four months old stand on their own.

Snorri Magnusson can make babies balance on his hand for up to 20 seconds.
... See MoreSee Less

Comment on Facebook

Please go to the original and look through the trail of comments, starting with Terje Stakset's reminder that babies stand up when they are ready.

But there is a real debate here! of course we take our babies swimming because they enjoy the stimulation. At Birthlight we start with "seat hold" around 3- 4 months and then if babies enjoy this we place their feet in one hand and let them respond with a spinal extension so that they look as if they are standing up. It 's only a central nervous system response, the same as babies use when they kick to stimulate the muscles in their lower back that will help them to sit up and later to stand up. We have seen this standard practice in Russia for the last decade and it goes back much earlier, possibly as a traditional practice to make babies strong in some parts of Russia. Integrating this in small doses in gentle baby swimming does not seem harmful, but making it a central practice, with young babies trained to stand on rafts, tips the balance to harmful because then the babies do not have their say about when they want to stretch out and when not. Some babies love this extension of pushing with their feet and giving them the opportunity to do this in the water is fine if it's part of a balanced

respectful diversified practice that responds to the needs of each baby without any goal of speeding up their development ahead of current readiness and enjoyment.

This video really bothers me. It's neither child led nor respectful of allowing the child their natural learning process about how to move their body.

hate this!

Tina Parkinson Emily Anderson

Ha ha I challenge him to do this with Mabel Paul Boanas!!!

I was about to say how surprised I was you were sharing and advocating this but then saw your following comments - it may be handy to write a comment in the sharing of this post too. I personally see no benefit and question the use and purpose of this - more to praise the coach than the babies or teach a real skill needed at this time. Also a bit of trickery in terms of support/balancing them, like the old making paper stand on your hand

+ View previous comments

It's been a great joy taking my baby grand-daughter Rosie to many different pools. Being a water grandma is special, just free fun with no agenda. Elective submersions, as guided by Shawn, have worked superbly. Last Friday, Rosie now 18 months, showed a two year old little girl how to go under, mimicking her parents and her Birthlight teacher showing her how they submerged. Shame I did not have a camera. We were in the same pool where Rosie's uncles David and Luke swam as toddlers, with a net on a long pole held by the lifeguard over them just in case. It's been many layers of watching, experiencing and researching since I first presented a video entitled "Water Parenting" at the Wembley 1995 Waterbirth Conference. The idea was to broaden the horizon about the role that water can play during pregnancy and after birth (in water or not) to facilitate bonding between parents and babies. Thanks to all the parents who inspired this concept all these many years ago, they were IT! From Francoise Freedman #birthlight #waterparenting ... See MoreSee Less

My youngest Fyn and I on our first trip to the pool together 🙂 He is 16 today! treasured memories of those early days in the water, how old are your little swimmers now? Do share some photos.... ... See MoreSee Less

My youngest Fyn and I on our first trip to the pool together :)  He is 16 today!    treasured memories of those early days in the water, how old are your little swimmers now? Do share some photos....
The world of aquatics is changing and Birthlight is at the forefront of new research and developments. Enrich your knowledge, enlighten your practice, network with like minded professionals. We promise for an eventful and memorable two days.
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Keynote Speaker

Michel Odent

One of the most influential visionaries on the impact of birth for future generations and worldwide top pioneer in water birth and the importance of water for human wellbeing.

Michel has supported the foundation and development of birthlight, it’s an honour to celebrate his life’s work at Light in Water.


Main Speakers

Beatriz Esesarte Pesqueira

Françoise Freedman

Dianne Garland

Barbara Harper


Wallace J. Nichols

Terje Stakset

Birthlight Tutors