Ask any of my relatives about my childhood and they’ll definitely bring up two things: that I was always undressing myself, and that I was always trying to get in the water. Leave me unattended for more than 2 minutes, I’d have gotten my kit off and be heading towards the pond. So maybe it’s my natural affinity for water or my preference for wearing as few clothes as possible, but I absolutely love swimming. It’s at the heart of my fondest childhood memories, it’s my favourite form of exercise (because you don’t jiggle in the water) and it’s the thing I look forward to most when I go on holiday.
As a swimming teacher and fully-grown water baby, I honestly think that swimming is something everyone should experience. Confidence in the water offers new ways to exercise and benefit their development. Teaching your baby to swim is also a great way to bond with them in a different environment. In honour of National Baby Swimming Week, which starts today, I’ve put together some basic tips for introducing your little duckling to the water.
when can you take a baby swimming?
"When can babies go swimming?" I hear you say. Well, here's your answer. It’s never too early to get your little one into the water – babies can go swimming any time from birth, although most baby swimming classes start at 6 weeks. You don’t need to wait until they are immunised, as the chlorine in the pool should kill off any germs. Mums, however, should wait at least 6 weeks, as if you go sooner you risk picking up an infection.
Equally, it’s never too late. Don’t be put off if you’re not a strong swimmer – most pools have adult classes if you’d like to learn.
If you do want to take your new-born baby swimming, look for a small baby pool heated to around 32 degrees. If you would like to use a larger public pool, wait until your baby is at least 6 months so they don’t get too cold.
what do I need?
The first thing you’ll need when teaching your baby to swim is swim nappies because, as we all know, accidents happen.
The second – and I would argue the most important thing – is a swimming costume that fits. We all get used to buying clothes just that one size bigger because they’ll grow into them. Although this works well for jumpers and coats, it really doesn’t for swimming costumes.
During my years' teaching, I can’t tell you how many poor kids I’ve seen wearing rash vests that are hanging off them, or sun safe suits that are three sizes too big. Loose costumes take on more water, creating more resistance and dragging the body down. They also allow cold water to flow against the skin, where fitted swimsuits trap a layer of warm water to prevent children from getting chilly.
Don’t forget the toys! You could buy some specialised pool games, or just bring some bath toys from home.
Lastly, you’ll want to be sure to have a cosy towel to hand for after your baby’s swim. A poncho towel is ideal, as it’s highly absorbent and quick drying, with underarm poppers for a snug fit. And you don’t need to fuss about with putting on trousers or tights! Just throw on the towel, strip off the wet costume and you can head home!
ok, we’re at the pool – now what?
You’ve got the swim nappy on, you’ve managed to stuff all four limbs of a wriggling baby into their swimming costume, now it’s time to dive in. Well, maybe not dive.
When teaching your baby to swim, it’s so important to make it all about play. They don’t have the muscle strength to swim on their own, but the more fun their introduction to the pool is, the more water confidence they’ll have. Don’t worry about whether they’re doing it right or not, in the beginning, it’s all about becoming comfortable in the water.
To start off with, just get your baby in and, whilst holding them securely, let them float around on their front and back. Get them out after around 10 minutes. You can build this up over time, but it’s not recommended to keep them in for over 30 minutes until they’re over a year old.
is there anything I should be teaching them?
Teaching some basic techniques early can make learning to swim much easier. Clearly, your eight-month-old isn’t going to be swimming lengths of butterfly anytime soon. But introducing key skills now makes the world of difference later.
Body position – Whether your little one is on their front or their back, try to lie them flat on the water. Keep their legs up high instead of underneath them.
On their back – A lot of new swimmers have a fear of swimming on their back. Some don’t like getting water in their ears, others don’t trust the water to support them. Lay your baby on their back with their head on your shoulder, and let them float while you support their back with your hand.
Water in the face – This is a big one. I’ve had so many children come to me who absolutely refuse to put their face in the water or panic when they get splashed. Get baby used to the sensation by gently trickling water over their head with your hand or a toy watering can, or softly flicking water at them with your fingertips. If the water gets in their eyes, encourage blinking instead of rubbing to reduce irritation.
try bringing some of your confidence-building techniques to bath time
Not all children are going to be eager swimmers. There are going to be days when your baby is feeling especially grizzly and it would be so much easier to stay at home instead of standing half-naked in a public pool holding a screaming child. I can only encourage you to keep going. Focus on building confidence instead of technique. And try not to worry if they’re not the next Michael Phelps by the time they’re 4 years old.
Find costumes, towels and toys to make teaching your baby to swim easier, by viewing our swim shop.