Babies are born to swim – and swimming classes for you and your little one can be huge fun, and are proven to benefit you both.
Anyone who’s ever watched a tiny baby propel themselves through the water, giggling and kicking, will understand that it’s never too early to introduce your little one to swimming.
At a glance
- Babies are natural swimmers, take advantage early on
- Many public pools are too cold - if you're worried invest in a baby wetsuit
- Enrolling in a baby swimming course could be a good idea
It’s not surprising really, that after spending nine months sloshing about in the watery environment of your womb, your baby is a natural in the swimming pool.
Babies are born with primitive reflexes that allow them to swim from birth. They lose these at around six months, so it makes sense to take advantage early on.
You can take your baby swimming right from the start, but mums should wait until their six-week check before venturing into the pool because of the risk of infection (it’s fine for dad or someone else to take your baby in the meantime).
In the early days, swimming with your baby is a fantastic bonding experience – for mum or dad – as it provides great opportunities for skin-to-skin contact (this is proven to promote bonding).
It’s also a time when the two of you can have fun together, away from the pressures and distractions of life at home. Watch their reactions as you start by holding them close, then gradually build up to zooming them through the water, chasing down bath toys you’ve thrown just out of reach.
It’s amazing exercise for their developing muscles, too, as they can move far more freely and smoothly in water than on land, where their movements are still jerky and uncoordinated.
One study found that the benefits of baby swimming were surprisingly long-lasting: five-year-olds who had swum two hours a week as babies had strikingly better balance, and superior catching and grasping skills than those who hadn’t been swimming as babies.
They are also less likely to be afraid of the water in the toddler years. This fear can make going swimming a real trial for lots of mums of 1-3 year-olds.
You can enjoy one-to-one baby swimming at your local pool, but you could also try a weekly baby swimming class. They will teach them to control their breathing by responding to verbal commands, which is fantastic for their language skills. And because babies naturally hold their breath under water, some classes teach underwater swimming, too.
It’s also a great opportunity to meet other mums and get some exercise into the bargain (although does it still count if you have coffee and cake in the cafe afterwards?)...
Some practical tips
Watch the temperature of the water. Most large public pools are too cold for babies. You need the water to be 32C for newborns and at least 30C for babies under six months
Keep the session time to 15-20 minutes in the early days. It will be a lot of stimulation for a young baby, so best not to overwhelm them early on. Pick a quiet time so they don’t get spooked by the echoing noises
You’ll need a swim nappy (disposable or re-useable) plus a hooded towel (kept poolside if possible to avoid the cold walk back to the changing rooms) and possibly a flotation suit. If you’re concerned about the pool temperature, you could invest in a baby wetsuit
Hold your baby close but not in a bear bug. Give them space to enjoy the sensation of the water
Smile and look relaxed; if you’re happy they will be, too. If they’re really enjoying it you can try swooshing them through the water and making little splashes, but if they’re initially unsure, get them used to it first
Most leisure centres run baby swimming courses; contact them for details.