From paddling pools to the open sea, summer is synonymous with water. And whether you’re planning your first dip with your baby or a big splash with your toddler, there are plenty of reasons to make swimming a big part of your holiday time, at home or abroad. During a child’s first three years, 75 per cent of brain growth occurs, so it makes sense to provide as much stimulation as soon as possible. Swimming’s a great way to do that. Not only is it a very sociable activity, it also helps balance by using part of the inner ear.
Going swimming with your baby
Your baby’s just spent nine months in the amniotic fluid, so water’s like a second home to her. Water supports the limbs and muscles, letting even the tiniest babies move freely and safely. Irene Joyce, Swimming Technical Expert with the Swimming Teachers’ Association (STA), says, “If babies are introduced to water outside the womb in a safe, secure, happy and stimulating environment they’ll swim contentedly. It’s natural for them and a nurturing of primitive reflexes into automatic movement.”
When can my baby start?
As soon as she’s had her first immunisations, you can start taking her to the pool. Jess Thompson, co-founder of swimming school Water Babies (www.waterbabies.co.uk), says, “It’s an activity you can do from birth, helping you cope with those difficult first weeks, and the skin-on-skin contact helps you both bond.”
Will the water be warm enough?
If she’s under 12 weeks old, check that the pool is heated to 32ºC. Any older, and 30ºC should be fine.
What do we do when we’re in the water?
Jess Thompson says, “Remember that the environment will be new to your baby, so spend some time sitting on the side of the pool with your baby in your lap, so she can get used to the sounds and atmosphere. Stay relaxed and maintain eye contact with her. She’ll take all her cues from you. Swirl your baby around in the water and even trickle some water gently over her face and head if she’s happy.
How long should we stay in the water?
Twenty minutes in the water is plenty for the first few visits.” Monitor her reactions and when it stops being fun, it’s time to get out.
Why is she happy underwater?
One thing you might notice is that your baby can go under water without choking. It’s an amazing reflex called the Mammalian Dive Reflex, and is a primitive reaction, which helps her survive. “When a baby’s face goes into water her glottis and epiglottis go into involuntary spasm, preventing water from entering the windpipe,” says Irene Joyce. This makes a watertight seal of the windpipe and stops her from inhaling water into her lungs. This lasts until babies are around 6 months old.”
Going swimming with your toddler
The fun really begins when your baby becomes a toddler. Introducing toys and watching her confidence grow is fun for both of you, especially when swimming becomes part of holiday play. When you’re abroad or outdoors remember to check for depth markers and tell lifeguards you’re there.
How do I find good lessons?
Anyone can set up a swimming school, so do your homework before joining. Check that the organisation has an ‘STA mark’, the definitive accreditation standard for swimming schools. Ensure the teacher displays empathy towards your child so that any lessons will be happy and productive. Don’t forget that the teacher will be educating you as well as your child, so you need to be sure they fully explain what you will be doing in the pool, and why.