Benefits of swimming for baby or toddler
While wading through the changes to life that becoming a parent can bring, taking your baby swimming can provide the relaxation and bond-building that is essential in those early months, says Melanie Symonds, mum to Vera, 2, and swimming instructor specialising in the early stages swimmer of 3 ½ year olds upwards.
Being in the water provides a stimulating atmosphere for your baby as well as a fun and enjoyable experience for you too.
But don't stop there. It can be easy to drop your weekly swimming routine as new commitments take over; going back to work, toddler groups, or even the arrival of a new baby! Just as swimming is great for babies in those early days, it is also vital for toddlers too. Through repetition, a respect rather than a fear of water develops, with the added benefit of potential life-saving skills.
Swimming lessons can provide a complete physical work-out, strengthening your baby's heart and lungs and in turn aiding development of the brain. But it can also be a potentially life-saving activity too.
Repetition of holding onto the side of the pool when in the water, or jumping in and then turning in the water to swim back to the side, help if the worst were to happen with a fall into open water. Start from a baby and continue as a toddler, to maximize on this repetition and familiarity.
Babies and toddlers need to learn a respect for water that comes from knowledge and confidence. Having fun, moving around, learning how their bodies move differently, all promote confidence in the water and leads to the fundamentals of the four main swimming strokes. As a swimming teacher, it is more worrying to see four-year-olds petrified of getting wet rather than those who can't wait to get started.
It can also be a great weekly activity for you both to enjoy together. The skin-to-skin contact with your baby can help strengthen the bond between you and for toddlers who are faced with a younger sibling, they suddenly have you all to themselves.
"From when Andrey was a baby, I've always looked forward to our weekly swimming lessons," says Dina, Audrey 2 years and Imelda 3 months. "And now Imelda is here, it gives me special time with my first born, where she has my complete focus and attention."
Where to go
There are lots of independent schools that focus on baby and toddler swimming. Some leisure centres also provide adult and baby/ toddler classes alongside their ASA swimming lessons, geared to getting the child ready for school-age lessons. These are great in getting your toddler used to a certain pool and its environment, with you there all the way.
Joining lessons gives you a routine, ideas on what to do in the water with your baby, and that surge of confidence to take your baby swimming surround by people in the same boat. But if lessons aren't your thing, then look into specific adult and child sessions at your local pool. They will provide floating toys, watering cans, or woggles, all to help you and your little one have fun without a teacher to lead the way.
For swimming your baby doesn't need a lot of swimming products, just a swimming nappy. There are lots of reusable swimming nappy brands out there. While it's tempting to put your baby in a rubber ring, holding them is best, as it allows them to experience the movement in the water and to feel it all around their skin. As your toddler shows their inevitable independence, there are many belts, arms bands or other floating devices for them to use.
What you can do
Be prepared to get wet. It's surprising how many enter the swimming pool with their toddler and refuse to get their face wet. Your toddler will look to you for guidance. If you have your head firmly above the water and flinch if any touches your face, then your toddler will too. Smile, enjoy yourself and show them that water on your head, eyes, or face is nothing to be feared.
It is reassuring to give your baby a cuddle when you first enter the water, but refrain from cuddling too much. Move around the pool, vary your position and allow them to be at arms length with you facing them or to their side. Your confidence in the water will be infectious, even if your toddler is suspicious at first. Repetition and following your example will lead to a water confident toddler with a respect, not fear, for the water.