Water baby: The benefits of swimming
So, you marvelled at the youtube clips of newborns underwater, but what are the benefits of taking your baby for a dip in the local pool?
Remember those baking hot summer afternoons when you didn’t know what to do with yourself? The slide in the local park was too hot to play on and iced lollies were only a fleeting distraction. That was when my mum would gather up our swimming things and whisk us off to the local lido. We loved it, especially when she invited a friend and her kids along too. True, we were too little to think about swimming as exercise,but we had fun and that was the point.
On a practical level, it gave my sister and me a love of water and – eventually – a lifesaving skill. As adults, we both swim and, while it’s admittedly more of a challenge now that we have our own small children, we’ve both enjoyed introducing our babies to water…
For mums, dads and even active grandparents, taking your baby or toddler swimming can be a great way of getting closer and storing up happy memories. The skin-to-skin contact and reassurance babies get from you as you gently support and play with them, first in the bath, then, once you’re confident you can both handle it, the pool, is vital to helping them develop a healthy attitude to water; while even slightly older children are sure to need you close at hand in the pool for confidence.
‘It’s a great way to bond with your child,’ says Kate Evans, a qualified Accident and Emergency doctor and mum of two who works as a swimming instructor for Water Babies. ‘You’re at their eye level in the water and you’re having fun together away from the stresses of home, worries about sleep, and so on.’ What’s more, it’s sociable as it brings you into contact with other parents of young children.
‘Very young babies can’t do much activity on dry land, but swimming gives them total freedom,’ says Laura Molloy, baby swimming instructor and founder of Swimbabes, which offers lessons for babies up to 18 months in Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Oldham, Manchester. ‘People are often surprised at what they can do. They can kick their legs, splash, paddle while supported, reach for things and swim underwater.’
The exercise helps their brains develop as it stimulates the making of neurones and connections between them, which is vital for intelligence. And if you’ve ever seen young children horsing around in the water or a YouTube clip of babies swimming, it may come as no surprise that the health-related benefits include greater lung capacity, as well as improved strength and co-ordination. These apply for children with health issues such as asthma, autism and Down’s syndrome, too. Even with eczema, as long as you manage your child’s condition with barrier cream, a suit that covers their arms and legs and wash them thoroughly after their exposure to chlorine, there are benefits to taking them swimming.
I’m scared of water!
So what if you’re a mum or dad who doesn’t have that confidence? Around ten million adults in the UK can’t swim and many are scared of water. Kate Longthorn was one. She enrolled her son Thomas for baby-swimming lessons when he was five months old. ‘I wanted to him to have the confidence I didn’t have as a child, but the first time we went I had butterflies in my tummy,’ she admits. Kate took Thomas to Puddle Ducks, which uses small pools with warm water and it doesn’t matter if parents can’t swim as the water is shallow.
Do your homework
- Before you take your baby or toddler swimming, ask about the pool’s changing facilities (do they have family changing rooms, baby changing tables and play pens?), water temperature in the learner pool (ideally it should be 30°C for babies over 12 weeks, 32°C or more if they’re younger or smaller) and whether there’s pushchair access and a crèche.
- If you have more than one child under four, it’s vital to ask about the pool’s adult-child ratio policy as these vary and can make the difference between you being admitted or not.
- Try a dummy run solo to sort out small, but crucial, details such as what coin/s the lockers accept, how hot the showers are and so on.
- It could save time and prevent stress levels sky-rocketing on your first visit as a twosome.
- If you want to enrol your child for swimming lessons, ask about the syllabus followed as these can vary.
- There is no legal minimum qualification required for a baby swimming teacher, so check the instructors hold nationally recognised qualifications, have appropriate first aid training and have had criminal record (CRB) checks.
- Find your nearest baby-friendly pool at littleswimmers.co.uk (click on Baby Friendly Pool Finder); or visit sta.co.uk/pool-search for your nearest STA pool.
- The STA Starfish Programme (starfishswimming.org) and the ASA British Gas Learn to Swim Programme (swimming.org) are available at pools across the UK for babies and toddlers.
- While free swimming is no longer available for under-16s,
- it’s worth asking in your area about local initiatives.