An Icelandic developmental therapist is helping babies less than four months old to stand on their own.

The astonishing feat takes place in a local swimming pool near Reykjavik to the delight of the babies' parents.

At this swimming pool, instructor Snorri Magnusson's young pupils are performing remarkably for their age.

Thanks to his techniques, babies as young as 3.5 months old are able to stand unaided. Usually this doesn't happen until around nine or ten months old.

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Babies attending this course take a twice weekly, twelve-week one-hour swimming class.

Most of the young students who attend are now able to stand, either balancing in Magnusson's hands, or on top of a corkboard.

Magnusson says the secret is strengthening the babies' spine and upper bodies.

"The parents are always very surprised. Really surprised by what their babies are able to do. But it always starts with the straight training. So when the kids come first they have homework to do in order to strengthen their spine.

"Because when there is strength in the spine and the upper body you can do whatever. And, also the babies are sometimes the first to start talking, to start smiling. We work with that during the class."

Earlier this year Magnusson teamed up with professor of neuropsychology Hermundur Sigmundsson from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology to carry out an official study on what goes on during the classes.

Sigmundsson's results were published earlier this year in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Psychology.

11 out of the 12 babies who participated were able to stand up without assistance for at least 15 seconds by the end of the 12-week course.

The remaining baby only managed to stand for about eight seconds.

The average age of the children was 4.3 months, with the youngest only 3.6 months old.

The babies do warm up exercises assisted by their parents, in which they are encouraged to reach for and grasp objects.

The children are then handed to Magnusson, who helps them follow a somersault routine on top of a floating mattress.

What follows then is something that turns the therapist into a sort of "baby whisperer" when he places the baby on top of his palm and the baby stands on his or her own.

For the next few seconds it's an exercise of balancing and standing.

Doctors have been left gobsmacked as to how babies are standing up at such a young age. Photo / Focus
Doctors have been left gobsmacked as to how babies are standing up at such a young age. Photo / Focus

The results of the research indicate that babies don't forget what they are learning. So once the babies learn how to stand they are able to repeat the skill.

Magnusson insists that rather than simply teaching them how to swim, what he does is work on the motor development of the babies' brain.

"I am not here teaching babies how to swim. I am working with their motor development. Working with their balance. That is the foundation of my work. I am not teaching them how to swim."

This time around there are 15 babies in total in the class. Three of them are between 6 and 8 months old. Ten are under 5 months old and two are only 3.5 months old.

The ten youngest babies have been taking classes for just a month.

The babies stand up on top of Magnusson's hand for about 4-6 seconds, up to 15-20 seconds each time.

And in each and every class they stand up about 4 times for a total time of 1 to 2 minutes. Not long enough to pose any risk on their hips and legs, according to Magnusson.

They have also been doing strength training, by laying on their stomachs to strengthen their spine as they lift their heads.

Magnusson emphasises that parents shouldn't try this at home but only during the classes.

As it happens during later stages of life, not all babies respond the same way to the classes.

Zorey Jonsdottir's two daughters both attended Magnusson's swim classes. Viktoria has just turned four months old and she is already able to stand on her own during the class.

Nevertheless, she explains that three-year-old Sylvia took longer to achieve the same feat, which she managed when she was a little bit older than Viktoria.

"I think that it's different between babies. like my older daughter wasn't standing on her own at this age. Even though she was swimming as well. But this one is different. She wants to do it. She wants to stand. And she is always trying to stand and sit up. She doesn't want to lie down. So I think it's a combination of the exercises as well as the baby's mentality."

Juan Ferrer de Paula, a paediatrician based in Barcelona, watched the videos of the babies during Magnusson's classes and says he can't find any medical explanation to what he sees.

"To be honest I have no idea. I would like to know how this man can stimulate these babies so they can stand on their own. It isn't logical. It isn't normal. Generally a baby can stand or sit down at eight months of age. Or standing up if they are leaning on a chair at seven or eight months. But to watch them standing on their own on top of the palm of his hands is something extraordinary."

Child development milestones suggest that an infant's ability to stand without support usually occurs at the age of 9-16 months

According to the report in the journal Frontiers in Psychology "Due to their large heads and short feet, infants have a relatively high center of mass (CoM) combined with a relatively small base of support (BoS)".

The results demonstrate that by forming neural connections during earlier stages, babies are able to do things earlier than previously thought, "demonstrating signs of motor learning in task-specific independent standing", but the authors of the report noted that the study was of only a small group of children.

AP