Baby Neck Floats: Awesome Fun or Sign we are Doomed as a Species?

Updated edit: Neck floats have found a following among parents who have infants with developmental delays. Great! What follows is my years-old blog post with regard to the phenomenon of neck floats being used not for therapeutic purposes, but so parents can teach their babies to swim and/or watch them float around in water without being held (particularly in Pacific Rim countries). Even in America it isn’t difficult to find vendors still pitching neck floats with claims such as ‘Your baby can swim!’ (see  I’ve removed Youtube videos from this post, but you can easily find them if you’re interested. This blog post was not, and is not, intended to deride families who have found an alternate, better purpose for the devices.. If someone takes it as such, I apologize… Heck, as recently as 2012, the Canadian Family magazine asked, Neck Floats: Cute or Scary?

I don’t know where to begin with this one.

Photo of a baby in a neck float in an inflatable tub.

The above image is from the October 2009 issue of Motherhood Magazine.

Apparently in Pacific Rim countries some parents’ idea of a fun swimming experience for their baby is to buy a “neck float.”

Step 1. Inflate the neck float.

Step 2. Secure the inflated ring around baby’s neck.

Step 3. Insert baby in water and watch the baby’s head float.

Often the float is sold as a kit with a water tub that is about 30 inches tall and wide. It provides room for the baby to float alone while his parents look on fully clothed and smiling at their precious plaything.

If it were me, I’d want to be in the water with my kid, holding and bonding with him as he kicks and splashes and learns to trust me and the water. Swim diapers. No other gear needed. You could splurge on a wet suit or a chest carrier designed for water. If you’re paranoid, maybe a life vest.

So, what exactly are these parents thinking? Listen…

I hate to be the harbinger of bad news, but a baby held by the neck and suspended vertically in the water is not swimming. Any kicking it does is no different from when a parent holds or cradles a baby in water. If the water is shallow, maybe the baby kicks the bottom of the pool, and the added value of that is… what?

Worse, if the baby is unhappy, he can’t self-soothe because he can’t reach his face nor be immediately cuddled by a parent. And what’s fun about having your head jerked up and surrounded by inflated PVC? Not to mention the whole solitary confinement tub some parents use.

There are a bunch of neck-float videos on Youtube, and the one thing they have in common is… nonplussed babies. Sometimes they smile, but mostly they just stare blankly. They pale in comparison to the excited, elated enthusiasm I’ve seen a baby exhibit being held in a pool or even while sitting in a bathing tub.

Oh, but surely there are neck defenders who will tell me I’m wrong. I took my lumps last year for essentially calling out Bumbo-style seats as a perversion of nature.

Perhaps parents of babies who have a disability requiring swim therapy can mount a case. I’ll buy that defense if a medical expert says a neck float is better than holding your baby.

Or you could say I’ve closed my mind to how other cultures do things, but in my defense, I suck snot, and that’s a particularly un-American activity for parents.

Maybe this phenomenon just needs a marketing makeover to become popular in America.

Call it bucket swimming…. It’s a compact athletic activity for apartment dwelling families. Why, I fondly remember Tuesday mornings from my own childhood. When we heard the garbage truck rumbling down the street we knew it meant hours of fun swimming in the freshly emptied trash can. Ahh, good times.

Okay, I’m done. This whole thing makes me want to throw ping pong balls at my son’s head in a vane attempt to win a carnival goldfish.

Photo of carnival glass bowls filled with colored water and live goldfish. Photo by McBeth via Flickr.

Thanks to Flickr user McBeth for the wonderful photo.


21 Responses to “Baby Neck Floats: Awesome Fun or Sign we are Doomed as a Species?”

  1. Molly says:

    Honestly, that is the most horrifying and heart breaking thing I have ever seen.

    When has suspending an infant by its head ever been thought of as a good idea????

    March 27th, 2009 at 6:04 am

  2. Laura says:

    I could never do that to a child. Makes me feel sick.

    March 27th, 2009 at 7:58 am

  3. Christy says:

    What a scary concept!!

    March 27th, 2009 at 9:45 am

  4. Kathleen says:

    Ummm…yeah, CREEPY.

    March 27th, 2009 at 10:02 am

  5. Allison says:

    Gah, that looks uncomfortable. The babies don’t seem to be into it at all. I can’t see any reason for it.

    I’m all for the baby/parent swim classes though where you hold your child and help them get used to playing in the water. We had great fun doing that with our son and I would recommend it to anyone!

    March 27th, 2009 at 11:31 am

  6. Deana says:

    Haven’t been here in a while, but thought I would chime in on this product. Again, I have a different view on this product, because I think it is a great alternative to the ghastly priced “special-needs” products out there for my child to be able to swim.

    Here you can see such products:

    Over $100 for the “rings” but they would all certainly be too big for my son’s neck, at 5 years old. He has such poor head control, that to hold him in the pool means that he can’t truly move around, and doesn’t get the full therapeutic affect of “standing” in the water because we have to hold him so tightly so his head doesn’t drop in the water.

    So, thanks again for pointing to a product that likely isn’t the best choice for children with typical needs…who can hold their heads up by a couple of months old…but for children like mine, who have yet to master that skill…just might allow us to go swimming with the rest of the kids this summer.

    March 27th, 2009 at 11:39 am

  7. Deana says:

    Also, the waterway babies link seems to be targeting mostly to children with special needs. It really does look like a good product for children with such low control.

    March 27th, 2009 at 11:45 am

  8. Jamie says:

    Those videos made me sick to my stomach. Why on earth would somebody do that to their poor baby?The babies aren’t even enjoying themselves.

    March 27th, 2009 at 1:36 pm

  9. lisa says:

    Funny, as i was reading this blog entry…i was thinking “BUMBO” (no in my head, i was shouting it) and there you were, referencing it……

    March 27th, 2009 at 6:12 pm

  10. Teacher Jennifer says:

    I choose “Sign we are Doomed as a Species”

    March 28th, 2009 at 6:53 am

  11. Christina says:

    It is pretty horrifying to see, but the baby in the last video didn’t look like he hated it, and babies are sure to let you know if they do hate something.

    March 28th, 2009 at 7:23 am

  12. Teacher Jennifer says:

    PS: on the subject of “Doomed as a Species”, what the heck is that Cyclone Dairy ad all about? **chuckle** It’s a joke, right?

    March 28th, 2009 at 4:47 pm

  13. Marcy says:

    What do you think about this:

    March 30th, 2009 at 1:54 pm

  14. Mommy B says:

    Good Lord that thing is scary! It looks totally uncomfortable but somehow the kids are not freaked out or crying. But that last video? “Sure, Mom & Dad, just stick me in a bucket to bob around in a circle for hours like some giant goldfish while you point and laugh.”

    March 30th, 2009 at 2:21 pm

  15. Elena says:

    Normally I would judge to harshly on foreign stuff but this looks a bit scary. Hooking anything up to a baby’s neck seems wrong. That said, they don’t appear to not like it. Interesting find.

    April 4th, 2009 at 12:10 am

  16. Ari says:

    BUCKET SWIMMING! omfg, hilarious.

    I’m sure here it could very well find its niche.
    I mean, swim classes are $200/month here where I live.. and no one has a pool in their backyard, and city pools frown upon infants with mommies. BLAAARGH.
    That said, I think this is awful. All the kids look so nonplussed, you are 100% right.

    QUESTION: HTH do you think they get that thing around baby’s neck before he even gets in the water? I can just imagine my LO SCREAMING bloody murder if i tried that on him.

    April 5th, 2009 at 11:36 am

  17. Ilissa says:

    I usually don’t comment on this sort of this but because I am appalled by this, I must. I think this is an absolutely horrible idea!

    Here’s why:
    1.) It is unsafe.
    2.) It is ridiculous.
    3.) It allows parents to get away with inadequate parenting.
    4.) It decreases family and bonding time.
    5.) It creates less than ideal memories for both the child and the parents.
    6.) etc… I could go on and on.

    Overall, I think this is an awful idea. I really don’t understand how something like this could be allowed to be sold.

    April 6th, 2009 at 11:59 am

  18. Lori says:

    Sad to say, but how is this different from those swimsuits with the rubber rings around the neck? Or floatie wings? Or a lifejacket, for that matter? As long as it’s not a baby, it’s okay for kids? All of these products are false senses of security for parents. “Oh, if I put my kid in one of these, he/she won’t drown.” If anything, these products all make it more difficult for kids to navigate the waters. My personal opinion: if your kid isn’t able to swim and tread water on his/her own, you need to have them within arm’s reach the entire time you’re BOTH in the water.

    April 11th, 2009 at 6:31 am

  19. Megan says:

    Okay. THIS IS NOT A TOY! It is not sold as a toy. I bought a pool from (which is referred to above) and before it was shipped to me I spoke to Nancy twice and contacted my daughter’s doctors. This is ONLY sold as therapy. Please read the homepage of for the intended users. The parents are excited that this child is moving because the child most likely cannot move outside of water. The neck ring that everyone is so appalled by is because most users cannot hold their head in the upright position and would tip in a normal life preserver. My daughter is 20 months old and cannot sit up on her own, but in the pool she is weightless and can use muscles that normally are not used. Please understand these products are not for 100% healthy babies and I know for a fact Nancy checks out ALL parents before she sells this product. I have seen drastic improvements with my daughter since purchasing this! We still play with her, but to get the therapy she needs we do not get in the pool with her. This is her muscles moving independently not just play time.

    April 19th, 2009 at 10:59 am

  20. Heather says:

    This is scary and sad. What is wrong with people?! This is abuse, and these terrible things should be banned!

    May 9th, 2009 at 10:16 pm

  21. Rebecaa Davis says:

    Some children have major difficulties moving their bodies against gravitiy. They may lack muscle tone and/or the organization to plan and complete a movement. Having the freedom in water to move your body in a way you cannot move it anywhere else is freeing and therapeutic for kids with gross motor delays. And, the sense of independence the ring may allow and the sensory input from the pool would be very therapeutic as well.

    June 17th, 2009 at 10:46 pm