Sudden gusts of wind startle young infants that causes them to hold their breath for a second before breathing in heavily, and sometimes it appears as though they take a second consecutive breath of air.
This is called the mammalian diving reflex and is common in all babies less than a year old but prominent in babies under 6 months old.
Many parents use a neat little trick to stop their little ones from crying by blowing in their faces, targeting the nose area. It instantly stops the crying because it actually stops your baby’s breathing rhythm.
The sudden gust of wind startles your baby, who will freeze for a moment before they take a big gulp of air, and the surprise distraction may halt the crying altogether. Yes, it is a neat trick but is it good to do this to your baby, and why do they respond in the same way every time they face a gust of wind?
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Babies have little control of their bodily functions, and breathing in optimal conditions comes naturally, but it becomes a new ball game when the conditions are changed.
Babies have to learn how to control their breathing in different conditions, especially in windy conditions, and this type of breathing control has to be learned.
As a survival mechanism to compensate for the lack of breathing control in windy conditions, babies are born with an innate survival reaction which in layman’s terms is called the mammalian diving reflex. They will automatically stop breathing for a split second to access the situation before they continue breathing again.
Being nose-breathing mammals, people will breathe mostly through their nose and occasionally through their mouth.
We all know that babies are very sensitive, and their nose area is susceptible to environmental changes where a sudden and big difference in air pressure can startle them, triggering the diving reflex.
This is actually beneficial to babies, but it is an innate ability that fades away with time.
Babies learn faster
I’m sure you’ve heard moms say that their little one is like a fish in water, and they could be right. You see, the bradycardic reflex, which is part of the mammalian diving reflex, allows babies under 6 months old to instinctively hold their breath underwater, and infant swimming coaches take advantage of this gift.
According to a Paediatrician and professor at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, Goren Wennergren states that cold water on a baby’s face slows down the heart rate, and blood is shifted from the outer or peripheral muscles to conserve oxygen for the heart and brain.
At this time, the baby will automatically hold its breath. He adds that this reflex is the same reflex that prevents babies from getting milk in their lungs while feeding.
Take advantage and teach your baby to swim
Although young babies love water, they still have to be introduced to the idea of holding their breath underwater.
This can begin during bath times, where you can gently pour a bit of water over their forehead so they can get used to the sensation. Babies should never be left in a bathtub unattended or get dunked in water without fair warning.
If you want to take advantage of this natural gift babies are born with, then the best thing to do is find a seasoned professional infant swimming coach who has the knowledge and patience to correctly teach each individual infant the fine art of swimming.
They prepare your infant by teaching cue words that your baby reacts to by closing their eyes and holding their breath. Babies respond positively to such early learned cues, and their confidence levels get a big boost in the process.
In addition to the dive, there is the gag reflex. This reflex helps babies prevent inhaling water into their lungs. The passage to the lungs is blocked by the epiglottis, a small moveable lid that protects the windpipe from food and liquids.
Last but not least, babies react in the same manner as dogs when placed on their bellies in water. They begin paddling with their arms and legs, mimicking the swimming motion.
Now that we know that babies are equipped to sense and handle sudden differences in air pressure and have a natural tendency to cope in water, it does not mean all is good and well.
Your little one is unique in the way they behave to sudden changes, and as a parent, you must be aware of your little one’s comfort zone or tolerance level to sudden changes.
Although babies have the basic idea of swimming, it does mean they can actually swim, and the same applies to how they cope with breathing in a windy environment.
Being outdoors on a windy day is not very pleasant for adults and will most likely be even more unpleasant for infants who haven’t yet mastered how to control their breathing in tough conditions.
Going about windy days
Infants benefit from being outdoors from the get-go, but the weather conditions should be comfortable and bearable for your little one. If there is a strong wind blowing or intermitted gusts of strong wind, stay indoors with your little one.
Covering your baby stroller with a blanket may help to a point, but we all know how unpredictable the weather can be. Besides, when your baby is all covered up and cannot see out their stroller, the object of being outside is defeated.
Your baby will not even hear the birds chirping; instead, they will hear the wind blowing against their flimsy blanket protection, so it’s a lose-lose situation.
Make outdoor time a priority and make sure the weather is baby-friendly as far as the wind is concerned.
Wind blowing in your baby’s face will not only trigger the dive reflex and create a difficult breathing situation, but it will also dry your baby’s skin and possibly lead to skin irritation.
Wind also tends to reduce temperature, and babies lose heat a lot faster than adults. They also take much longer to build up sufficient heat again.
One myth that should be addressed is that wind causes ear infections. It doesn’t!
Ear infections occur behind the eardrum and are caused by bacteria that grow in the middle ear, which cannot drain due to nasal congestion and a build-up of mucus that prevents drainage.
Another important point to consider is the wind in your baby’s face while driving. Your baby will naturally be in their car seat secured to the back seat, and you can’t drive and keep an on your baby at the same time.
Also, having any of the windows fully open allows for wind to circulate in your car, and your baby might be caught in the wind flow.
This will make the travel from A to B unpleasant for your little one, who may end up very grumpy when you reach your destination. I haven’t heard of any cases where an infant suffered due to having a continuous draft blowing over them but just thinking about it makes me imagine that it’s pretty uncomfortable.
Of course, adults get irritated with the wind constantly blowing in their face from a fan or air conditioner, so the assumption is babies must feel the same way.
Wind is part of life, and so is keeping your little one comfortable when venturing out. There are some ways to prevent the worst of the wind from hitting your little one full in the face that’s better than a blanket covering.
If you have a pram or baby buggy with front and rear-facing seating, simply turn the seat so your baby cannot face the wind. Alternatively, you can use the rain covering that comes with the buggy to protect your little one from the wind. Some are transparent, so your baby can still enjoy the view.
Keeping exposed skin moist will help prevent dry skin that can be sore to the touch. A little bit of moderate wind now and then is fine as it allows your baby to learn how to control their breathing better. So, don’t avoid nature on account of the wind; rather, discover ways to still enjoy the outdoors.
Remember that babies have to learn how to control their breathing in harsh windy conditions, so if the windy weather conditions are unpleasant for you, imagine how much more annoying it will be for your little one.
Although sensitive, babies do have some resilience to them, and they learn pretty fast, but as a parent, you need to judge the conditions and care for your little one without going overboard. Use the little trick to stop your baby crying if you can but remember it fades away from a year old, and you’ll have to dig up some new tricks.