Calling little ones water babies isn’t just a turn of phrase – babies love splashing about, and from a very young age, too. “Swimming is beneficial for you and your baby for so many reasons,” says our GP Dr Lowri Kew. “Not only is it gentle physical exercise, as it develops her young muscles and coordination, it’s a fabulous bonding experience. She learns to trust you in a whole new environment, and you get the joy of seeing her experience a new activity.”
Department of Health guidelines state that you can take your baby before she has her first immunisations. So if you’re wondering where to start, here’s the lowdown…
Do your homework
The last time you were in a pool it might well have been the birthing rather than the swimming variety! So you need to check out the basics pre-swim. “Look for where the changing rooms are and if there’s a café where you can feed your baby and have a drink afterwards,” advises Lisa Bousted, co-founder of the Baby Swim Foundation. Leisure centres can be noisy, so it’s worth paying a visit to the café beforehand to get your baby used to the environment pre-swim.
The temperature of the water in the pool will be regulated, but it’s good to check it’s right on the day you go. For a child under 6 months it should be 31ºC+. Ask a lifeguard or at reception.
Check your kit
Your baby doesn’t need a swimming costume in the water, but you do need a nappy that’s designed specially for swimming. Normal nappies will fill with water, swell up and get heavy (and leak) very quickly. Check out our reviews in the links below to find the perfect swim nappies for your youngster.
Running through a kit list will help you avoid any ‘Oh no, I’ve forgotten it!’ moments in the changing room. See our list below for the essentials.
Taking the plunge
Once you’re changed, don’t hang around as your baby could get cold and you might get more nervous. “When you first get in the pool, gently lift a handful of water and let it run over her face so she’s used to it. A bit like you would when you give her a bath,” says Lisa Bousted. Once she’s used to the water, try moving around a bit. Remember it’ll be noisy and strange to her, so keep things calm for a while so she can adjust.
Swimming isn’t just about being in the water – even little ones can develop a technique. “Within six to eight weeks of starting to swim, a baby can be kicking on demand,” says Lisa. “Give lots of commands and cues. For example, take her legs and say kick, then help her make a kicking motion. Then ask her to kick without helping.” Toys can help develop a grasping and reaching movement, which becomes paddling arms.
Your baby will happily go underwater.“Babies can look startled if they’ve been under the water, but it’s more the shock of taking a breath coming back into the air. Never force it, just make it part of your play routine,” adds Lisa.
Watch the time
Half an hour’s the ideal time to spend in the pool with your little one until she’s six months old. “Build up to that gradually if you’ve taken her from a young age,” says Lisa. “If you see blue lips or mottling of her skin, get out of the water straight away.” Once you’re done, head for the showers and rinse off both your bodies with warm water (check the shower temperature with your hand first before splashing your baby’s skin with it). Dry and change her before you get changed yourself. “You could take a car seat or buggy to sit her in while you dress, if there’s room,” adds Lisa.
Bring along a drink and a snack, plus a toy or book to distract your baby while you’re getting dressed.
Worried about exposing your post-baby body? Don’t dig out your tired old swimming costume, treat yourself to a new one.
“My biggest worry the first time I took my son Corin swimming was whether he’d poo in his swim nappy. We’ve been to the pool four times now, and nothing’s happened – so far so good! As far as the swimming goes, he loves it. He swam straight away with my hands under his shoulders, and he absolutely loves using a swim float and having a good splash around in the water. I found that M&S do good cossies that hold everything for mums, but once you’re in the water you realise you’re all in the same boat.”
Wendy Spurling, 42, from Brentwood, mum to Corin, 9 months
Don’t go without…
- A swim nappy/swim suit
- Spare swim nappy
- Normal nappy for after swimming
- Towels (ideally a hooded one for your little one)
- Tissues for wiping noses
- Nappy sacks
- Change for locker (if needed)
- Shampoo/shower gel
- Spare socks/pants (you can guarantee these will be dropped on the wet floor!)
- Plastic bag for wet swimsuits