Preparing your baby for swimming

Giving your baby water confidence  is one of the most important ways you can help to prepare them to enjoy swimming and be safe in the water for life.

 

Alan Quinn Crisford photographed by Anna Fairs for Water Babies

Having spent the first nine months of their lives suspended in fluid in the womb, they generally love the liberating sensation of floating freely, as it’s such a familiar environment. But, just to make sure their first experience is an entirely happy one, here are some tips on things you can do to prepare them for that all important first visit to the pool.

‘We all love bathing our babies; and having fun in water starts with bathtime,’ explained Jess Thompson, founder of the UK’s largest baby swimming company, Water Babies. ‘First and foremost – keep it fun! Sharing a bath with your baby is a great bonding experience and something everyone can do. Lie back with them on your chest and encourage lots of splashing by playing with toys. Constantly smile, sing and talk to them whilst maintaining lots of reassuring eye contact.’

Of course, you don’t always have to get into the tub. In a shallow baby bath, lie them on the bottom with a few inches of water around them, or, if your tub is deeper, support them under the shoulders and then lower them gently into the water, letting it cover their ears. Use your free hand to pour water over their body – you can also swish them gently from side to side in this position and watch them gurgle with delight! As they get older, lie them on their front, making sure you keep their face out of the water.

 

Blowing bubbles has an important role to play in swimming as it helps babies learn to control of their breathing – important for later submersions and swimming strokes - so practise this from early on. Make yourself look as silly as you like and see if they imitate you! As they get older, use beakers, toys and sponges to pour water over their bodies and, as they grow in confidence, their heads as well.

If your bath is deep enough, encourage your baby to start kicking by letting them float on their backs in the water with you supporting just their head. Babies love this sensation as it’s a freedom that they can’t experience on land; so let them explore water’s natural buoyancy.  Encourage them to explore underwater by putting toys on the bottom – they’ll keep their eyes open as they put their faces down to see.

 

Whether you’re taking your baby to the pool on your own, or to structured classes, make sure your first visit is a positive, gentle introduction to this multi-sensory world. If you are starting lessons, try to take your baby to the pool before the first one. Spend time on the side getting them used to the noises, colours, splashing and general hubbub of the pool environment - these will all be much louder than at home!

Make sure you check the pool temperature – it should be at least 30 degrees - and think about investing in a baby wetsuit if necessary. When you get in the pool for the first time, smile and talk to your baby – show them that it’s all meant to be fun! It’s really important that you are calm and positive as they’ll take their cues from you. Get your shoulders under the water and hold your baby so the water covers their chests. Through the session, try alternating between holding your baby very close, with lots of reassuring skin-to-skin contact, then at arm’s length so they can move freely and feel a bit more independent.

Babies tire easily in the water, so restrict your first visit to around 20-30 minutes and make sure you have a hat and warm, cosy towel for afterwards. It’s normal for them to be hungry and tired after swimming, and not unusual for them to sleep for a couple of hours as well – definitely an added bonus to a successful trip!

Tips from Water Babies