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Not too long ago, I was demonstrating an underwater drill with a 6 month old to a class of parents and after coming up, the swimmer coughed briefly to clear his throat. His father, who was in the pool, gently patted his back as most parents do, but his mother shot up from the side where she was watching and began screaming for help. As she took our attention, she began rambling about how her son was choking and how she needed me to help. Now, as you might have expected, this was her first child and she’d obviously been going through the overprotective, first mother phase of her life so I maintained a level of calm for the both of us as I explained that her son was coughing and therefore could not be choking.

I had never realized prior to that lesson that there’s a level of mystery around choking, especially for new parents who have never really experienced their child in a choking situation (which I pray they never do). So let’s chat about what choking is and what it’s not.

Choking, by definition, is the inability to breathe because of a blockage in the trachea. This means that the windpipe is fully blocked, creating a complete inability for any air to pass through. If your swimmer is coughing, they can’t possibly be choking, since coughing indicates that air is passing through the trachea. This is extremely important to understand as you start swimming lessons with your child. During a lesson, your swimmer WILL swallow water and they WILL cough periodically throughout their journey through lessons. There is nothing wrong with this. In fact, it’s an important part of learning to swim. Without experiencing the sensation of getting water in our mouths while swimming, we don’t necessarily understand why it’s so important to learn proper breathing techniques as we grow into competent swimmers.

I know this may seem redundant for some, but I want to make sure we’re all on the same page with the possibility of choking during a swimming lesson. For the sake of all new parents out there, please know that your swimmer is 100% safe in the water with their instructor, whether that instructor be me or someone else. We’re always going to ensure the safety of our swimmers and I promise to remain a source of safety and confidence for you and your swimmers.

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