With babies spending nine months suspended in fluid, it’s no surprise that they love the sensation of being in the water. But if you’re taking your little one to the swimming pool for the first time, making sure you’re fully prepared and feeling calm will help you both get the most out of the experience.
Tamsin Brewis, a baby swimming teacher for Waterbabies shares her tips on making it a fun day out for both of you
How to teach your baby to swim:
1) Pick a quiet time
Swimming pools can be quite noisy especially as their high ceilings mean the echoes bounce round the room very easily. Pick a special baby and toddler session, ideally during the week, or go early on the weekend to avoid the crowds.
2) Prepare your baby
Before you head to the pool, make sure your baby is well fed and not tired. If he’s due a nap when you’re there, he could end up getting upset and link feeling tired and grumpy with the pool.
3) Check the temperature
It’s worth ringing up your local pool to make sure the temperature is suitable for your baby. It needs to be at least 30C for a baby older than 12 weeks (or heavier than 12lb) and above 32C if he’s younger or smaller. If the pool isn’t warm enough, and your baby starts getting cold, you’ll know because his lips and his fingernails will start to turn blue, so quickly get out and wrap your baby in a towel.
4) Get the right kit
Disposable swimming nappies are designed so that if they get wet, they won’t expand to soak up the liquid like a regular nappy. You can also get swimming nappy covers, which fit snugly round your baby’s legs to prevent any leakages. If you’re worried about your baby getting chilly while in the water, or you want to provide a bit more flotation support, you can buy neoprene wetsuit-style swimsuits that have built-in floats.
5) Have a shower first
As well as being more hygienic, a quick splash of warm water will help get your baby used to water before you head into the pool, although don’t let his head go directly under the shower stream as most babies don’t enjoy it.
6) Take it slow
Start by sitting on the edge of the baby pool, holding your baby and showing him the water. Then gradually slide into the pool, maintaining plenty of eye contact and talking calmly while you hold him gently under his armpits. It’s really important that you are calm and positive as he’ll take his cues from you. (Image: Waterbabies)
7) Get the hold right
Once you’re in the water, dip down so that your shoulders are almost completely submerged, but so that the water comes up to his chest. Through the session, try alternating between holding your baby very close, with lots of reassuring skin-to-skin contact, then at arm’s length so he can move freely and feel a bit more independent.
8) Embrace the splashes
If your baby’s energetic splashing means he gets water on his face, smile and laugh rather act concerned so he knows that it’s ok to get wet.
9) Know when to save it for another day
If your baby is well fed and not tired or ill but is having a wobbly every time you get in the pool, it’s better to give up before he begins to associate the pool with being upset. He may be having an off day and you can always try again later in the week.
10) Pick the right floats
Very young babies don’t really need armbands or rubber rings as they’re being held safely and securely. As your baby gets older, he’s better off using float jackets or foam ‘noodles’ (the long, thin floats that you can rest under your body to keep you buoyant). Arm bands mean that your toddler’s arms are out by his side, which makes it difficult to develop a swimming stroke. (Image: Waterbabies)
11) Blow bubbles
Once your baby is used to swimming, try blowing bubbles on the surface of the water and encourage your little one to copy you. It’s great for developing his breathing abilities.
12) Take a bath toy
Bring along your baby’s favourite rubber duck or boat to the pool so he links fun times in the bath with being in the pool. (Image: Waterbabies)
13) Join in
Children love copying their parents, especially when it comes to swimming, so if your pre-schooler is tip-toeing around on the edge of the pool before he jumps in, show him how it’s done and with any luck he’ll be in straight after you. He’ll probably want to hold your hands at first as he jumps in, but it’s great for getting him used to splashes and getting his face and hair wet.
14) Don’t worry about baby jabs
NHS guidelines now say that you no longer have to wait for your baby to have his jabs before you take him swimming. But if your baby was born premature or has been ill recently, it’s worth waiting until after he’s had his injections.
15) Keep it short
For very young babies, you shouldn’t be in the water for longer than 20-30 minutes otherwise he’ll start to get cold. Older, energetic toddlers and pre-schoolers can stay in for longer as they’ll probably be splashing around which creates more body heat. But you’ll find he tires quickly, so don’t overstay. (Image: Waterbabies)
16) Take a changing mat
If you’re worried about whether your baby will roll off the changing room bench while you’re trying to squeeze out of your swimsuit, bring a plastic change mat so you can easily change him on the changing room floor without him getting cold or dirty.
17) Bring plenty of towels
Pack a towel to have by the pool so you can wrap your baby up as soon as you get out and then another one for when you’re getting changed. Damp, cold towels do not make for a happy baby.
18) Pack a post-swim drink
Splashing around in the pool could leave your baby or toddler feeling dehydrated, so pack a drink in your bag. It’s also a useful distraction tool to keep him quiet while you’re getting back into your clothes or drying your hair.
19) Dress right
Save the tight jeans and fiddly tights for a non-swimming day. There’s nothing worse than trying to shimmy into those jeans that you have to lie on a bed to do up. And the same goes for your baby or toddler – jumpers and tracksuits are the easiest clothes to get in and out of with minimum fuss.
20) Start now rather than later
The sooner you take your baby to swimming classes, the more normal the pool and water will be. Babies and children under one have no fear and are more accepting of new experiences although he may go through stages where he doesn’t enjoy swimming. So as long as you’re there to provide plenty of smiles and encouragement, you may even have a little Rebecca Adlington/Michael Phelps on your hands…
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