If you’re new to this mom stuff, taking your baby for their first swim might be daunting – and not just because it forces you to consider your long-forgotten bikini line situation. But there are a bunch of good reasons to get your babe in the water.
Swimming is great for babies’ development, with benefits including improved balance, muscle strength, sleeping patterns, appetite and confidence. It’s also never too early to start teaching your child about water safety (drowning is sadly the most common cause of death in children aged one to four, after birth defects).
Aside from that, babies learning to swim is a pretty damn cute thing to witness. They’re all wet, wide-eyed and splashy! Swimming together is a beautiful way to bond and have fun.
In this article we’ll explore when to start baby swim lessons, how kids actually learn to swim, and what to keep in mind as you get started on this wet adventure (including those all-important baby swimming safety tips!).
Tips for baby’s first swimming lesson
“So… when can I take my baby swimming?” we hear you ask
According to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), it’s safe for babies to go in water before they’ve even had their vaccinations. So they’re good to go from birth, provided their umbilical area (and circumcision for some baby boys) has healed.
But before you go dive-bombing into your local public pool, here are a few things to be mindful of:
- Babies can’t regulate their body temperature like we can. Swimming pools should be heated to at least 89.6°F (32°C) for babies, and they should be dried down ASAP.
- Public pools and outdoor bodies of water (rivers, oceans, lakes) carry safety and hygiene risks. Take a look at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state-based healthy swimming information to learn where you can and can’t swim safely.
- Infection and diseases like gastro can spread SO easily in pools. Always keep sick kids well away, even from home baby swimming pools and water play equipment. (Hello! Poop particles!)
- YOU might not be ready. Many physicians advise moms to avoid swimming until six weeks postpartum, or when your postpartum bleeding has stopped.
- Baby’s first swim should be calm, gentle and brief.
How to teach a baby to swim
Spoiler: Freestyle won’t be on the cards for a while.
1. Get them used to the water first
Considering newborn babies have just come from a watery environment (your womb), they’re usually quite comfortable in water. But if your baby’s first swim doesn’t happen until later on in life, they may need to reacquaint themselves with it. Your first few DIY baby swimming lessons might just involve looking at a pool/the ocean from a distance.
Don’t forget the value of bath time! This is a great chance to sprinkle water on your baby’s head, teach them the joys of splashing, and show them that watery play is fun.
2. Instil good water safety habits
Teaching a baby to swim is partly about showing them how to not drown.
Young babies can learn how to float on their backs, kick their legs, and hold their breath underwater – all great survival skills. As they grow older and understand speech more, you can teach them about the importance of staying away from water and ensuring an adult is always around to watch them.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is careful to point out that baby swim classes alone aren’t enough to prevent drowning. It should be one of several ‘layers’ of precaution. Install pool fences, keep water sources out of reach (that goes for Fido’s water bowl too) and don’t take your eyes off them, even for a minute, when they’re near a body of water. A minute is all it takes, mama.
3. Sign them up for baby swimming classes
The question of when to start baby swim lessons is really down to you. The AAP recommends enrolling your child after they turn one. Before this, you may choose to take dad and baby/mom and baby swim classes which involve games, songs, and splashing around. Most swim schools offer these to babies from six months old.
When it comes to training your kid for the Olympics, let’s be realistic. They won’t nail proper swimming techniques until they’re closer to four years old. (Not even Michael Phelps could bypass the developmental basics.)
The first few years of baby swim classes may look something like this:
- Getting comfortable in water.
- Learning to blow bubbles, glide, kick, float.
- Moving around assisted by you.
18 months–3 years
- Learning to dunk head under and hold breath.
- Learning to get in and out of the water using stairs.
- Jumping into the pool (right next to you).
- Learning to float on front and back.
- Using arms and legs to tread water for a short time.
5 years +
- Learning to dive.
- Learning specific strokes.
If you’re not sure where to start with official classes, check out the AAP’s tips for baby swimming lessons for parents.
Helpful baby swimming gear
Getting the right gear can make a trip to the pool or beach safer, less chaotic, and more enjoyable for everyone.
Here are a few baby swimming tools that might make life easier:
- A swim nappy – So your baby or toddler doesn’t poop in the pool (mortifying). Note: if your baby has diarrhea they shouldn’t swim at all – swim nappies won’t protect against the full force of a poopsplosion.
- Baby swim floats (‘floaties’) – These can help your little one bob around with ease, but should never substitute your supervision.
- A hooded towel – These bad boys are great for keeping your baby warm when they come out of the water. Also, they’re cute AF.
- Sun protection – Babies can burn even in the water. Arm yourself with sun protection gear when swimming outdoors.
Baby swimming safety tips: For pools and at home
- Keep your baby within arms’ reach at all times near water of any kind (yes, including the bathtub).
- Don’t let your baby swim if they’re sick.
- Install safety fences around home pools (this is law in some countries and states).
- Make sure fishbowls, birdbaths, wells or any other sort of water source are inaccessible to small children (toddlers are like moths to a flame when it comes to danger, right?).
- Do an infant first aid course. You don’t want to have to use those skills, but it provides great peace of mind in case anything ever does happen.
We hope you love taking your baby for their first swim! Get more tips for taking baby swimming, and sweet baby swimming gear suggestions on Mumli – download it today.