Being in water is great for pregnant women and during labour. Swimming is also a great activity for babies. Before they crawl and walk, swimming enables them to move around independently as the water supports them.
In terms of when to begin, most teachers will ask to wait until the baby is three months old. Some teachers ask that the baby has had all of their vaccinations but there is no rule about this as the chlorine kills off bacteria. If you are unsure, wait until they are three months old or ask a health official. Taking your baby swimming in a dedicated baby swimming class is safe. The teacher will explain to you that when a baby goes under water their ‘diving reflex’ kicks in. The reflex lasts up to eighteen months of age. The reflex is similar to what happens when you swallow, the epiglottis closes over and blocks the throat. This is why you often see photos of babies with their mouths open under the water. Toddlers from sixteen months old are taught to swim in a different way to babies.
If your baby is suffering from a cold or is generally unwell it is best to avoid swimming. If your baby becomes cold and starts shivering take them out of the pool and wrap them up warmly. You should gradually build up the time your baby spends in the pool and should not really be any longer than thirty minutes.
What should you take?
- Swimming nappy for little accidents although do not worry too much as the swimming teacher will know what to do if you need help. You can use reusable or disposable swimming nappies
- A swimsuit for yourself
- Towels for you and your baby to dry off
- If you are bottle feeding take a bottle of milk with you or some snacks if they are on solid foods because babies get hungry after a swimming session
Things to look out for
- Make sure the teacher has the relevant qualifications to run the classes
- The pool should be at least 31 degrees centigrade for babies to be comfortable. There should be a sign somewhere with the temperature
- A sign saying when the chemicals in the pool, like chlorine, was last checked
- Classes should not really have any more than ten babies
Some classes are very playful with lots of splashing around whereas others are more structured and skill based. If you are nervous in the water or you do not like swimming then it is best not to do swimming classes with your child. They will pick up on your anxiety so it is best they go with another member of the family who is confidant in the water.
- Visit swimming classes or pools which are not at peak times because lots of loud noise can stress your baby
- When you are in the pool keep your face close to your baby’s and maintain eye contact. As your baby becomes more confidant you can gradually move further away but maintain eye contact as you swish him around gently
- Blow bubbles into the water as this will show your baby how to breathe and they can’t inhale if they are blowing out
- Make bath time fun by gently splashing water over your baby’s body and slowly move your baby through the water on his back
Teaching your child to swim from an early age means they do not develop a fear of water. It is also an activity which fathers can do alone to bond with their baby.
By Lisa Pecos