How Long Should My Child Be Able to Hold Their Breath Underwater?

Blog Categories

Oftentimes, new member parents pose the question “how long should my child be able to hold their breath underwater?” It is important to note that while holding our breath is important to learn to avoid inhaling or swallowing water, the main focus should be teaching children rhythmic breathing while swimming. This is an important distinction as something called “shallow water blackout” can occur when holding our breath under water.

At Goldfish, our teaching approach is designed to encourage proper “rhythmic breathing” while performing swimming and life saving water safety skills in order to limit carbon dioxide build up in the brain. We never want our swimmers to feel like they can't take a breath when needed. In order to avoid panic in the water, which can be triggered by a lack of oxygen, we put an emphasis on teaching important life saving skills, so each student can use a skill or skills that they are comfortable with. All of which include:

  • Sea Otter Back Float
  • Rollover Breathing (and the progression to the side breath)
  • Treading Water

Here is some helpful information on what Shallow Water Blackout is and why it should be avoided at all costs:


Most kids, when at the pool, love to play breath holding games; I’m sure we’ve all done it. There are even “tactics” to make it so you can hold your breath longer, like breathing rapidly (hyperventilating). This “tactic”, hyperventilating then seeing how deep you can go or how long you can hold your breath, is dangerous because it can lead to a loss of consciousness while submerged.

Shallow Water Blackout results from a lack of oxygen to the brain. Your body naturally triggers breathing by the elevation of carbon dioxide (CO2). Hyperventilating before going under water reduces the automatic response to breathe. As oxygen (O2) is depleted, you can suddenly faint without feeling the need to breathe.

This doesn’t just occur to non-swimmers. Dr. Peter Wernicki, aquatics sub-council chairman on the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council and medical advisor to the United States Lifesaving Association, said “This is probably one of the most common ways that people who are relatively good swimmers die from drowning.”

CBS reporter, Dennis Thompson, wrote “A pair of U.S. Navy SEALs died in April 2015 near Virginia Beach, VA., while training underwater at a military facility, said Tom Gill, a spokesman for the lifesaving association.” In another case, he wrote, “two advanced level swimmers drowned while performing strenuous exercises to prepare for a military fitness test. After alternating between pushups and swimming laps, the two began intentionally hyperventilating and holding their breath underwater. Minutes later, they were found submerged and motionless. Dr. Wernicki emphasized that “no breath-holding swimming drill has been proven to expand lung capacity and improve swimming ability.”

This is why, at Goldfish, we discourage “breath-holding” activities and having guests stay underwater for long periods of time. We teach kids to roll over onto their backs when they have to breathe to ensure that they do not experience Shallow Water Blackout.


Here is a list of Water Safety Tips released by the Red Cross:

  • Always swim with a buddy - whether you’re at home, at the beach, at a lake, a public pool, a hotel or another favorite swimming spot.
  • Swim in designated areas only, and swim only when a lifeguard is on duty.
  • Wear a life jacket while boating - even on calm waters.
  • Actively supervise children near water, and never leave them unattended - even for a moment.
  • Install and use barriers around your home’s pool and spa.
  • Keep a life preserver near your pool and on your boat.
  • Make sure that everyone in your family knows how to swim well.
  • Before boating, swimming, going to the beach, etc, establish ground rules for safe conduct.


More Posts Like This