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A water toy from Otteroo, a company based in San Francisco, is changing how babies move in the water.

Otteroo’s flagship product is the Otteroo floatie. It’s a flotation device that goes around a baby’s neck. Most floaties go around the arms, or the legs, keeping most of a baby’s body above the water. But by cradling the neck, the Otteroo keeps most of a baby’s body within the water, allowing them to freely move their arms and legs.

“It gives us the ability to interact with one another, to play with each other face to face. For him to be able to see his body, that he can use his body, to move where he wants to go,” said Julie Forbes, a spokesperson for the company.

Forbes’ son Booker plays in the Otteroo, and has since he was 8 weeks old. For him, it’s a fun opportunity to splash in the water.

“It’s a great way to get into the water, to get comfortable, to experience water play,” said Forbes. “And it makes the transition to swim lessons so much easier when kids get older, because they know the water is a fun place to play. And so, it’s  fun toy.”

But Dr. Joe Kim, a pediatrician with Stanford Childrens Hospital and an adviser to Otteroo, believes the Otteroo has the potential to be more than a toy.

“I think that water therapy has been an underutilized therapy in terms of development,” Kim said.

Kim believes the Otteroo has great potential as a tool for physical therapy, a way for children who can’t move on land to move their arms and legs. The resistance of the water helps strengthen and condition muscles. And for babies born addicted to drugs, the Otteroo could be a soothing way to treat painful withdrawals.

“They are very, very sensitive to stimuli, those who are going through withdrawal,” said Kim. “Water may provide a more ambient, a more natural or soothing environment.”

It’s not just Dr. Kim who sees potential in the product. Baptist Health Hospital in Kentucky is interested in using neck floaties to treat babies in the NICU. And a professor with San Francisco State University is studying how the Otteroo may affect a baby’s development.

So while some babies like Booker may enjoy the Otteroo as a toy, it’s the babies who can’t walk, talk, or feed themselves who have the most to gain.

“Once they get into the pool, for lack of a better word, they are normal. For the first time. And their siblings interact with them, and we can feel like a family. When we’re in the pool, we can all interact together,” said Forbes.