Swimming With Your BabyAn aquatic environment is perfect for babies as it allows them to move all of their limbs freely long before they have the coordination to crawl. Early exposure to swimming can be a long-term advantage in terms of muscular and cardiovascular development for your little one, not to mention years of enjoyment for you both as your baby gains confidence in the water. It may be that babies find the environment similar to life in the womb; in any event, they generally have a real affinity for water.
You can start your baby in swim classes as early as 12 weeks, although a programme like “Waterbabies” may accept children as young as two days! Government guidelines no longer advise that you wait until after the immunisations so it's really up to you when you feel confident enough to take the plunge! Most children will not actually learn to swim until their coordination is more developed at the age of two or three, but you can have a lot of fun in the meantime, and certainly help them to build their confidence and ensure that they are comfortable in the water.
A good idea is to begin at home first, with bath time play. Have some water toys on hand and gently splash water over your baby, then move him (or her) through the water.
Check with local pools to see which ones offer parent and baby swim classes and dedicated small pools for little ones. Be sure the pool is warm, preferably between 84 and 86 degrees F. Most sports centres and swimming pools are now fitted with adequate facilities for babies, but it's always a good idea to find out what baby accessories and adaptations they have, i.e. change tables, playpens, pushchair access, and toys before you go for the first time and maybe even ask what toys or swim aids you are allowed to bring.
Invest in some swim nappies, whether they be disposable or reusable. There are a really great choice available to buy now. The “Waterbabies” programme recommends a double nappy system with disposable aqua nappies and a “Splashabout Happy Nappy” on top. It's also a good idea to always have a spare disposable on hand - in case of emergencies! Other style options include snugs, wetsuits, and eczema suits for babies with skin conditions.
If possible, try to go at off-peak hours to begin with; as public pools may be intimidating if crowded. Keep your baby close, face to face, making eye contact - constantly smiling and reassuring baby until you are both comfortable in this new environment. Once settled, you can then begin to move gently through the water.
There are some great swim toys available now which will help to keep your baby's interest in swimming afloat! From little inflatable ring seats with palm trees, ride-‘em whales or turtles, depending on the age of the child - there is something out there for even the most discerning baby and you will have as much fun with these as your child does!
A few tips for your first trip:
- Check with your doctor if your child has a skin condition that chlorine may aggravate.
- Do not take your child swimming when ill or suffering an infection.
- You may want swim goggles for yourself to see underwater; if so, try to accustom your baby to seeing you wear them before you go so they don't get a shock!
- Babies should not be in the pool more than 30 minutes but if you notice shivering, get them out and wrapped up.
- Have a bottle or snacks for after the swim; exercise makes children very hungry!
Above all, have fun!
If you start children young and give them confidence in the water, they can build on this early experience as they grow. By the age of three or four, you may even find that you have a real swimmer on your hands!