Mother and Baby

Child Swimming Specialist Irene Joyce Answers Your Questions

Missed out on our chat with swimming expert Irene Joyce? Catch up on everything that happened here.

Every week at Mother&Baby we bring you the Wednesday Lunch Club – a chance to get brilliant advice for your fertility, pregnancy and parenting questions from a top expert.  

This week, child swimming specialist Irene Joyce was on hand to answer your questions.

Irene is the Aquatic Development Officer at STA, the world’s largest swimming and teaching organization, and has more than 40 years swimming teaching experience. She’s trained thousands of swimming teachers all over the world and her specialism is baby swimming and teaching people with disabilities.

Here’s what happened…

Some people say that armbands aren't great because it restricts my baby’s arm movements.  Would you recommend a floating swimming costume instead?

Irene: The best support that your baby can have in the water is you. Together you can jump up and down, swirl around and generally enjoy the water experience together.

As all children progress they enjoy a time of being on their own, so this is when they may need a buoyancy aid. Armbands are fine as long as your baby’s not in them all the time. What you are referring to is that armbands tilt the baby into a vertical position and restricts movement in the arms, however the benefit of the freedom it gives at this stage is fine.

Floating costumes are not a good idea. They cause imbalance and, as the child becomes more confident, the removal of flotation blocks can be fiddly.

A back float or shark fin would be a better option, as this places the child in a more horizontal position and allows full freedom of arms and legs.

Try taking a favourite bath toy with you to the pool that your baby can play with in the water

My 20-month-old child hates the pool (five weeks in) and still screams, even entering main building. Yet he’s fine in the bath and when water goes in his face. Any ideas?

Irene: There is obviously something that is upsetting your little one and trigging his screams – unfortunately there’s no obvious answer to this. It maybe that the facility is noisy as your baby’s getting upset upon entry to the building.

As it’s week five, I’m assuming that you are attending swimming lessons and then something occurred during the lesson to upset him and he is recalling this on each visit. If you’re not attending swimming lessons and this is the fifth time you have taken him, then if possible try a different venue. Try taking a favourite bath toy with him that he can play with in the water.

Visit the pool as a spectator and then slowly and gradually introduce him to poolside and the water again. In the meantime let him enjoy his bath play, encourage water all over him, show him how to blow bubbles. You can even get him to float on his back and kick and splash.

Should my baby be wearing goggles in the pool?

Irene: It would be better if your baby learns to enjoy the water without goggles however if your baby suffers severe irritation and red eyes then goggles are the answer. If you do decide to get goggles they need to be the correct fit.

My sister has toddler twins and I know she worries about taking them both swimming at the same time when she's on her own. But she doesn't always have the option of going with another adult. Is it safe for her to do so? And are there any swimming products that she can use to make her life easier with the two of them?

Irene: In order for her to feel safe when taking both of them on her own she needs to put both of them in armbands or back floats/shark fin. This will help them to bob around in the water allowing her to have free arm movement to move and guide them around the pool.

It's better if your baby learns to enjoy the water without goggles

Should I feed my two-year-old daughter before we go swimming? I'm never sure about how much she should eat/drink beforehand.

Irene: It's fine to give her a light meal but try to avoid milk as this tends to regurgitate. It is advisable to take some food and drink with you for after her swim as she will be hungry and thirsty. She should be wearing a swim nappy under her costume so don't worry about her having a wee.

When should I start taking my baby to swimming classes? He's six months old at the moment.

Irene: Now. I'm sure both you and baby will enjoy every minute.

What swimming aid do I use for a two year old?

Irene: There are a variety of aids available but the best one we find is a foam noodle. The noodle can be placed around the child's chest, under the arms and you can be positioned behind him so that you swim together, or you may come in front of him so that you have visual contact. Some children do not initially like the feel of the noodle. If this is the case then you may prefer to use armbands or a back float.

Our son is four months old and we go to the pool every week, which he loves. He swims on his back or tummy. Every week we try diving but he isn't happy doing that. How can we safely introduce diving? What is the progression of a baby swimming underwater?

Irene: I would suggest that you try cueing him. This means that he is aware that he is going to go under the water and is less likely to take water in. You can use your own cue, but be sure to use the same one every time you take him under the water For example, say his name so that he is looking at you and then say, ‘Ready  and go!’ and then submerge him.

It is also a good idea to face him and you blow into the water – bubbles, so that he can see your mouth. He will soon copy this action. Therefore, he is learning to exhale once his mouth touches the water.

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