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What Should be the Right Age to Take your Baby Swimming?
The American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that: you should wait until your child is 4 years old before you enroll them in swimming classes. This recommendation is based on the physical readiness required to be able to take swimming lessons. However, AAP does not strongly advocate against toddler swimming programs and lessons. This does not mean they recommend it, but they are tolerant to the idea.
7 Reasons to Start Baby Swimming Lessons Early
According to some studies, the earlier you start baby swimming lessons, the better it is. Here are the points in favour of early baby swimming lessons.
- Survival swimming lessons can save your baby’s life. Drowning has been estimated to be one of the leading causes of unintentional injury and/or death, especially of 1 to 2 years old children. Wouldn’t it be great if your baby was equipped to be able to save himself?
- According to several studies, enrolling your baby in swimming lessons early on can reduce their risk of drowning, between the age of 1 and 4 years.
- The earlier you begin, the easier it is to weed out aquaphobia (fear of water). Most phobias begin during early childhood, and exposing your baby to the causative factor before such phobias have a chance to emerge could be one way to protect him from it.
- This might be a good idea for competitive swimming. Some babies, it is very clearly evident, are water babies – they love being in the water! If you have such a baby at hand and plan to get them into competitive swimming, you might be considering starting early.
- Swimming can accelerate and improve lung and heart development, increases the strength of these organs, and aids in brain development too. It can also greatly enhance the coordination between various body parts.
- Swimming provides your baby with necessary physical activity for better eating and sleeping patterns and can weed out problems like low appetite, insufficient weight gain, and so on.
- Baby swimming lessons can be a unique bonding experience for baby and parent. They can also serve as an educative means for parents to learn about water safety and life-saving skills like cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR.
However, some studies have also successfully established that your baby’s swimming age does not expedite gaining proficiency over swimming. Irrespective of when your baby starts taking swimming lessons, he will attain a certain degree of expertise in swimming around the same age as his counterparts (who started swimming later) – estimated to be around 5.5 years. So technically… it really doesn’t matter!
How to Introduce Baby to Swimming
So, if after all considerations you have decided to start swimming lessons for your baby, remember: you cannot, and should not, do it alone (i.e. without a trained expert/supervisor).
It is best to look for a baby swimming program, offered by a credible institute. Look for qualifications of the experts who will actually be working with your baby. Ensure they are following regulatory guidelines with respect to making the swimming pool and the entire experience safe for your baby.
Having said all that, it would be best to not ‘hand your baby over’, but to instead join your baby in the pool. You do not want to regret and feel sorry if you are unable to rush to your baby’s side in time, should such a situation arise.
Also remember, any kind of swimming lesson should not be attempted until the time the baby has learnt to hold their head up. Your focus should be on 3 things when trying to teach your baby to swim:
- Teach them to float – this can be tried for younger babies.
- Teach them to roll over and put their face out of the water – this too can be tried with younger babies.
- Teach them to move to the sides of the pool – this might be suitable for slightly older babies (1 years and above).
As your child gains control over the above three movements, you may try teaching them advanced movements; maybe even a stroke.
- Never carry your baby down the steps and into the water. Always put the baby on a mat (by the edge of the pool), enter the pool yourself, and then pick up your baby, as shown in the video.
- Never allow anyone to hand your baby over to you while you are in the water; the risk of the baby being accidentally dropped into the water is too high.
- The first activity you can try is ‘swings and dips’; you hold the baby with his back facing the water, and swing him from side to side. If your baby seems keen, you may try to dip his ears in the water (so he can get used to the difference in pressure).
- Next, you can try ‘breathing activities; this is a demonstration only activity where you hold the baby in front of you, and show them how to take a deep breath (out in the air), and release it under water to make bubbles. With time your baby may show the willingness to try it himself.
- Next activity you can try is ‘kicking legs in the water’; hold your baby to yourself, supporting their head and neck, and hold and splash their legs in water up and down (as shown in the video). Similarly, you can even try ‘splashing hands in the water’.
- The next activity is ‘walk floating’; hold your baby with their tummy touching the water, head supported and held above water level. Slowly walk backwards, dragging the baby forward with you. You may notice your baby kicking his legs and hands (if the previous activity was learnt by your baby)! The same activity can be tried by holding the baby on their back too. After sufficient practice, you can try and give your baby more freedom by supporting ONLY their head, letting their waist, bottom, and limbs free to be moved and wiggled around as they please!
- Finally, while coming out of the pool, follow the same practice as getting into the pool: place the baby on the mat, step out of the pool, then pick your baby up.
8 Swimming Safety Tips
Here are important safety concerns, so far as taking baby swimming is considered.
- Learn about CPR. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation – or CPR – is a way of reviving an unconscious person, commonly one who has been a victim of drowning. It is a complex procedure that involves reviving a heart that has temporarily gone into cardiac arrest, and ventilating a person artificially (i.e. helping their body get ‘air’, so as to get oxygen, in order to remain alive). Knowing CPR can prevent a dangerous situation from escalating, and if you are taking your baby anywhere near a swimming pool, you should know CPR.
- Swim in proper gear. Swimming gear – including swimming costumes, swimming caps, swimming goggles, and ear-plugs – is essential for a safe and comfortable swimming experience.
- Floats are a must. Once in the pool, it should be imp[erative for children to use floats until they master swimming. The best kinds are inflated tubes that go around the waist. If not, life-jackets are another option.
- Beware of pool-borne infections. Swimming pools are perfect breeding grounds for all kinds of germs. So beware of pool-borne infections and take due precautions. The swimming gear mentioned above will also help keep infections far away from your child. If required, ask your paediatrician for preventive measures, and also seek him/her out at the earliest sign of things going wrong – rashes, redness, any kind of discharge (from eyes, ears, etc.) should be taken seriously.
- Also, beware of hypothermia. The temperature of the water in the pool has to suit your baby. Remember, babies cannot effectively self-regulate their body temperature, and extreme temperature differences can cause them to go into shock, a condition known as hypothermia.
- Instill discipline. This pertains to toddlers and older kids. Instill a strict code of discipline for being in and around a swimming-pool: no playing pranks, no pushing anyone into the water, no splashing or diving, and certainly no dares! While swimming pools can be enjoyable, they need to be treated with caution!
- Supervision is a must. No matter how old your kids get, never let them be around a pool without adult supervision. Also make sure the adult supervising your child knows how to swim, and will be able to intervene constructively and in a timely fashion, should an accident occur.
- Don’t push too hard. While you may want your baby to start early, pay heed to any signs of discomfort, hesitance, or unwillingness your baby may be displaying.
6 Ideas to Help Your Baby Enjoy Swimming
Here are some tips on making swimming time fun and enjoyable for your little munchkin!
- Involve them in the shopping process. Even babies have preferences for colours, patterns, etc. If you can involve them in the shopping of their sippy cup, first spoon and plate, clothes and toys, why not their swim gear too?
- Jump in with them. One of the easiest ways to comfort your babies in the pool is to jump right in with them. If you are yourself afraid of entering a pool, remember that you will be taking your baby to a ‘baby pool’, in which water won’t be above waist-line. It will indeed be reassuring for your baby to be only at an arm’s length from you, and might actually excite them to try it!
- Maintain eye contact and keep smiling. This will make your baby feel safe. You may sing to them, or praise them, to encourage them to move about independently in the water.
- Carry their favourite toy along. Toys always soothe babies, so make sure you carry their favourite toy to the pool. For older children, you can use toys to motivate them to swim.
- Click pictures. The younger generation is definitely more camera friendly than the older one used to be when they were kids. So one way to try and make the experience of taking your baby swimming a more enjoyable and memorable one is to also take your camera or simply your phone along, and have someone click pictures. (Beware of dropping the camera/phone in the pool though!)
- Reward them. Who doesn’t love gratification? For a successful time in the pool, you can reward your baby with a new toy, their favourite food or snack, or maybe just a nice and warm cuddle-session!
What to Carry in Your Baby’s Swim Bag
When you take your baby swimming, you’ve got to be prepared for any situation that may arise! Consider adding the following things to your baby’s swimming bag.
- First aid
- Swim gear
- Extra diapers
- All diaper-bag essentials
- Toiletries and bathing essentials (including soap, wipes, shampoo, towel, disinfectant, etc.)
- Fresh set of clothes
- Accessories (like toys, floats, etc. mentioned earlier)
Swimming is a skill that your baby will never forget once he learns it. It is like driving a car, or writing – no matter how little you do it on a daily basis, you never really forget. Swimming is a great way to unwind, and can be used for recreation too! All the best!