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Baby swimming – your essential guide

Everything you should know about swimming with your baby


Posted: 20 April 2011
by Kimberley Smith

Swimming
Is yours a water baby?

Why take my baby swimming?

Taking your newborn for his first swim is a magical experience for both of you. Swimming is one of the best activities your baby can do and it’s amazing that, before the age of three, you can teach him one of life’s core skills.

If you go gently, introducing him to the water in a measured, sensitive way, you’ll instill not only a lifetime’s confidence, but open up a whole new magical underwater world, providing healthy enjoyment for years to come.

Your baby has spent nine months in amniotic fluid, so water’s like a second home to him. It also supports all his limbs and muscles, letting even the tiniest babies move freely and safely.

“If babies are introduced to water outside the womb in a safe, secure, happy and stimulating environment they’ll swim contentedly. It’s natural for them,” says Irene Joyce, Swimming Technical Expert with the Swimming Teachers’ Association (STA).

The majority of brain growth occurs in the first three years and you will notice how quickly your baby learns to respond to key commands. Swimming has been linked to faster learning and the development of motor functions. The water activities and new environment helps stimulate your baby’s brain for new learning. It has also been shown to help with balance.

Some babies can find the experience a bit scary so don’t worry if there’s some tears! Just pay attention to how he’s feeling and take it slowly.

When can my baby start swimming?

There are two schools of thought here. Some people, like Jess Thompson, co-founder of swimming school Water Babies, believe you can take your baby to the pool just a few weeks after he’s born. “It’s an activity that helps you cope with those difficult first weeks, and the skin-on-skin contact helps you both bond,” she says. Chlorine in the pool will kill off any bugs so you can choose to visit the pool before he’s had his jabs.

However, other people prefer to wait at least until their baby has completed his first round of immunisations at 16 weeks. Some pools, particularly if they’re a little cold, may require your baby to be 12 weeks before he comes for his first swim. But you know him best so it’s really when you feel comfortable.

What safety rules should I know?

  • Check that the water is warm enough. If he’s under 12 weeks old, the pool needs to be heated to 32ºC. Any older, and 30ºC should be fine.
  • Don’t spend too long in pool – 20 to 30 minutes is plenty.
  • Don’t submerge your baby unless supervised. This can be fun for both of you but should only be done in a class or with a professional.
  • Keep close by. This goes without saying but even with flotation aids, always stay within arm’s reach.

What shall I take?

  • Baby wetsuit – Baby pools are usually warmer than adult ones but still may not be as warm as your baby would like
  • Swim nappies – check out our favourite 5 funky swim nappies
  • Baby rubber rings or for older babies, flotation aids you can insert into swimming costumes - perfect for giving baby (and you) a bit more confidence
  • A muslin to put on the changing table for hygiene and warmth

What do we do in the pool?

“Remember that the environment will be new to your baby, so spend some time sitting on the side of the pool with him in your lap, so he can get used to the sounds and atmosphere,” says Jess.

Make sure you’re relaxed and keep eye contact as he’ll take all his cues from you. Swirl your baby around in the water and even trickle some water gently over his face and head if he’s happy.

As he gets more confident you can try games like Ring a ring o’Roses. Circle baby your around in shallow water and sing along to him. When he’s a bit older you can make him ‘fall down’ along with the song. Do this slowly though, first dipping his chin into the water, then up to his mouth and then his nose.

Just try to get him splashing with his hands.

To boost your confidence, try out a mother and baby swim group.

Swimming is one of the best activities your baby can do and it’s amazing that, before the age of three, you can teach him one of life’s core skills. If you go gently, introducing him to the water in a measured, sensitive way, you’ll instill not only a lifetime’s confidence, but open up a whole new magical underwater world, providing healthy enjoyment for years to come.

Mums’ tips from our MadeforMums forum:

“I recommend you go with another new-mum friend.  I was lucky and our whole new mum group - all 6 of us - were able to ask a swimming instructor to take us as a group.  It gave us confidence to allow the babies to enjoy the session.  No-one minded if the babies got upset or what each other looked like after having a baby!!”

Tricia Clark & Mina, 10 months

“After swimming strip off your baby and wrap him in a towel.  He’ll stay warm and dry off whilst you get dressed. Then you can dress him.  Do it the other way and you end up dripping over him!”

Emma Bradley & Erin, 5 months

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