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Swim baby swim

Updated on June 5, 2013

20 month old swimming underwater

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When my first child was born and I gave up work to look after her, we would spend many days walking with the dog through the forest with her in the baby sling. It was fun, but for those first few weeks, when you’re waiting for the first smile, and there is little interaction, it can be a bit limiting knowing how to stimulate and play with your baby.

Then I discovered taking her swimming, after she had had the first 12 weeks of injections. There is some advice that it’s not even necessary to wait as the chlorine in the pool will kill off any infections, and you can start as soon as four or six weeks old.

Swimming with the baby was so much fun that I used to go twice a week. The water, particularly in the toddler pool was very warm and she loved bobbing around in her inflatable chair. I soon bought her armbands and we enrolled for swimming lessons. When she was a bit older, she would hold onto my swimming costume strap and I could even enjoy the exercise with her in tow.

To start with, the lessons begin with mothers and babies together, singing and dancing in circles, so it’s great for meeting other new Mums, and we would go to the swimming pool café afterwards for coffee, so it’s a good way to make new friends.

The teacher would encourage us to smile and sing to the babies, reciting nursery rhymes and songs which we could gently bob the baby underwater to at certain points, so lines such as “Humpty Dumpty had a great fall” or “Atishoo, astishoo, we all fall down” would be the point where we would gently blow in the baby’s face and then bob under water for a few seconds. When you blow in the baby’s face, they take a sharp intake of breath and as they are breathing in, you can gently duck them under, without it bothering them too much. They have a gag reflex that is generally at its strongest until 6 months old and they will instinctively hold their breath underwater. This builds up their confidence and your reassuring songs and dances let them know it’s nothing to be afraid of playing under the water. As they become familiar with this, they learn to hold their breath at the point where they know you will duck them under.

When the baby is young, you can play in the bath with the baby, and get them used to the idea that water is fun. Take some small precautions to avoid slipping while holding the baby, and NEVER leave the baby unattended in the water, but don’t be afraid to splash around and use squirty bath toys. Your baby needs the reassurance of seeing that you are confident that the situation is safe and fun.

When you first start to take the baby swimming, keep the lessons short and make sure that the baby does not get too cold. Sessions of between 10 minutes to 30 minutes will be fine initially. As your baby progresses to solid foods, try not to go swimming too soon after they have eaten and try to arrange the swim at a time when they will not be too tired. If your baby is feeling unwell, give swimming a miss.

When you go to the swimming pool, you will need to put a swimming nappy or diaper on your baby to prevent any accidents from spoiling the water. You can get disposable swimming nappies or reusable swimming nappies and you will need to be sure you have the right size. Try them out in the bath before you go if you are nervous about their effectiveness. You will find that there are no problems or leakages and you do not need to feel anxious about your baby making a mess in the water.

Most swimming pools cater extremely well for babies and you will find changing tables and play-pens to change your child safely and to keep them safe while you get changed. You will usually find any swimming equipment you need to buy for sale at the swimming pool centre.


When you take your baby out of the water, remember to shower them to remove the chlorine, which can dry their skin, and have a nice big towel to wrap them in, or a towelling bath-robe is ideal. They will be tired and hungry, so have some water, juice or milk ready for them and a snack. They will usually want a sleep afterwards, so try not to plan other activities until they are rested.

If you want to enrol your child for lessons, do speak to the pool as soon as possible as many have long waiting lists and once you begin your lessons, it can be hard to take a break from them without losing your place in the queue and having to go back to the waiting list. It can also be difficult if you have several children who all need to have lessons suitable for their age and ability – you might find your weekend mornings taken up with long sessions at the pool.

You can use a number of different style buoyancy aids, including inflatable rubber rings, inflatable baby chairs, armbands and foam floatation devices that are strapped around them or inserted into specially designed costumes. It is best if you use armbands so that the baby or toddler has maximum mobility to practise swimming movements. The armbands can be fully inflated initially and gradually let the air out, so that the child has to learn how to stay afloat without the help of the bands. Make sure that the bands are the right size for your child’s arm (they usually have the age and weight limit printed on them).

You might need to buy a swimming cap for your child if your pool has a rule about this, to prevent hair from clogging up the filters. These can be tricky to put on, as they are tight around the child’s head; a little talcum powder dusted on to the inside will help it slide on and off.

If your child has a verucca on their foot, you can still go swimming, but you will need to buy a rubber sock that you can buy from pharmacies or from the pool, to stop the verucca spreading to other pool users. Take care to make sure that your child does not run around the edge of the pool, where the floor is wet and they could slip, particularly when wearing one of these. Before you enter the pool, you should make sure that you walk through the footbath to wash your feet and you should also shower to remove body oils and cosmetics which will build up in the pool and clog the filters.

If your children enjoy swimming there are lots of cheap garden pools available now for them to enjoy splashing around in. You will need to make sure you have enough flat space in your garden, even the slightest slope can mean you have a deep end and dry end and a very wobbly swimming pool side where the water is gathering. You will also have to accept that the grass under the pool will be damaged, so consider this before you invest in the pool.

Read the instructions for pool maintenance carefully as you will need to use chlorine tablets to keep the water clean. You should also fit the pool with a filter and pump to keep out bits of dirt and grass. Cover the pool when not in use, to stop the water from being soiled. Keep a careful eye on your pool if you have young children playing in the garden, to make sure they are supervised near the water. Remember to use waterproof sun cream if they are going to be playing in the pool for a long time in hot weather. Some pools for young children have sun canopies to shield the children when they are in the water. You can also buy bodysuit swimwear that covers arms and legs and has UVA protection, useful if you're planning a whole day at the outside pool or beach.

Blow in their face and duck them under the water

Pass the baby to one another underwater

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