Admit it—when you saw the title of this article, you immediately pictured the cover of Nirvana’s “Nevermind” album, didn’t you? At the risk of dating ourselves, we can all certainly remember the first time we saw the cover of that 1991 album, with its iconic cover image of a baby boy swimming underwater, lured on by a dollar bill on a fishhook. It was clever and striking and seemed very odd to most people at that time.
After all, babies don’t swim, do they?
Well, they do, in fact, and ought to, and can start much earlier than you’d think. Today, we’ll explore the world of swimming with your baby, and how and when you can start sharing the water with the newest addition to your family.
Two Birds, One Stone
Many women who’ve recently given birth are familiar with the endless barrage of ways to “get their pre-baby figures” back, and some even involve your baby, like the many popular yoga classes for new mothers that incorporate baby. A great blog article on this, called “Mom and Baby Yoga,” by Tania Ochoa, will give you an overview. For a greater range of post-baby fitness options, there is an online class called “Enviable Post-Baby Body and Mind” that is very much worth checking out.
And while mothers are working on that post-baby fitness regime, there is no better time to introduce the child to a life of fitness and health. Fitness is not merely an activity, it is a state of mind, or more accurately, a state of being, of existence. Mothers who engage in fitness routines with their babies create children and adults who have a lifelong relationship with fitness, and there is no better way to get in the right mindset than with this online class, “Fit For Life.” As the title suggests, it proposes fitness as a lifestyle.
There are always those who pooh-pooh anything new, or that they have not tried, or anything that their parents didn’t do with them when they were children. If you are reading this, you are probably not one of them. With that assumption, let us consider the idea of babies swimming in an abstract sense, in terms of the doubters. “Isn’t that dangerous?” they say. “The baby could drown!” “The kid can’t even walk and you expect him to swim?”
The incredulous responses to the idea of babies swimming, especially from the older generation, are often comical but generally very emphatic and voiced out of real concern.
But consider this: your baby spent forty weeks in utero, floating in amniotic fluid. Your baby was underwater for 10 months, and while no pool is as comforting or welcoming as the womb, the idea that babies are not at home in the water is absurd.
In fact, the truth is that babies are at an advantage in the water, where their lack of balance and large heads don’t work against them as much as it does on dry land. A baby might not walk unassisted until it is a year old, but that same baby can be swimming (or at least comfortable in the water) by six months old, or even younger. Even if you’re a first-time parent, you no doubt have your child’s best interests so deeply in your heart that you’ve read several books on the subject already, but learning more about parenting is never a bad thing. This online course in “The Art of Parenting” is a good addition to the field.
And lets get that out of the way first, shall we? Yes, babies can’t really “swim” in the formal, adult sense of the word. Your nine-month-old won’t be learning the backstroke or the butterfly, that’s for sure. Children need to be around four or five years of age for formal swim lessons. Of course, once you get the bug for swimming, you might want to learn a few new strokes yourself, and there’s no time like the present. This online course, “Learn How to Swim Butterfly” is a great introduction to a demanding stroke that will challenge those who already know freestyle.
When Can Babies Start Swimming?
Many local health or swimming clubs offer “Mommy and Me” classes to introduce babies to the water, and most of those stipulate that the baby ought to be six months old before starting. We’ll talk about those classes in a little while. But you can get your baby started in the water long before that. Many parents start when their babies are six weeks old.
If you do begin taking your baby to the pool before six months, there are a few precautions you ought to be aware of. The main one is that your baby will need a heated pool. Generally, the neighborhood of 32 C (90 degrees Fahrenheit) is a good water temperature for babies. This means you’ll need access to an indoor pool, most likely, and probably it ought to be on the small side. Bigger pools are rarely heated as warm as babies will require.
You’ll need, of course, to invest in waterproof swim diapers. These are a must. The Nirvana album cover aside, babies just can’t swim au naturel when they’re in a public pool of any kind, unless you enjoy swimming in your child’s excreta, to say nothing of the response of the others in the pool, or the pool’s owners. Make sure that swim diapers fit well, leaving no opportunities for leakage. Spend a few extra dollars on this. You’ll be glad you did.
You’ll definitely want a big, soft baby towel, preferably one with a hood. They’re generally pretty darn cute, and so if you don’t have one, buying one won’t be too loathsome a task. Babies can get pretty cold when they come out of the water, and will need to be wrapped up right away.
Of course, it’s also smart to bring a bottle (if your baby is bottle-fed) and to make sure you have a way to heat it up. A warm bottle is very soothing for a baby making the transition from pool to air, and swimming is hard work—your baby’s going to be hungry after a good swim, as you’ll probably also be.
It might be a good idea, too, to bring along a few bath toys, to help your baby be at ease. If you can make the pool seem even a little bit like baths at home, you’ll have a better chance at success.
Baby Water Safety
As we said before, make sure that the pool you’ll be using is the right temperature. Don’t trust the old “dip the foot in” temperature check method – any pool that is set up for babies should have an accurate thermometer in view. As we said, somewhere in the range of 88 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit is optimal for babies under six months of age. Ask an attendant to check the temperature before you get in, even if you are sure. It can’t hurt to check, and aside from the fact that your baby will resist getting into a pool colder than that, there are many health risks associated with taking your baby into a water environment that is too cold. If your baby starts shivering, or you start seeing your baby’s lips turn purple, get out of the pool immediately and wrap up warmly in a towel.
Don’t go in the water if your baby is sick in any way. You probably wouldn’t go swimming if you had a cold with a runny nose and a fever, and that goes double for your baby.
Many parents are concerned about how the chlorine in the water will affect their baby’s skin. After all, babies have soft skin that is sensitive to many things—we use unscented and mild detergents for baby clothes, and the most neutral creams possible on our babies, so why would we want to expose them to chlorine? In general, if your baby is only in the water for ten or twenty minutes, the chlorine should not prove too irritating. Check with your pediatrician if you see any strange reactions to the chlorine, including redness, irritation, and any rashes or significant dryness.
In general, starting with ten-minute swims and working up to twenty-minute sessions is the best bet. Done weekly or more often, this will get your baby used to the water and get you used to your role, as well.
The Parent’s Role
In general, it is a good idea to keep your baby close when you begin going in the water together. Maintain eye contact all the time, and smile. It is important that you are calm and happy and that you convey those emotions to your baby. If you are calm and content, your baby will be, too. Praise your baby, in a calm way, for doing such a good job. Keep up a gentle stream of words, making the experience in the water a bonding moment for the two of you, and increasing your child’s sense of security in the water.
If you’ve never been in the water with a baby, you’ll need to get comfortable with the proposition. Hold your baby close at first, because you’ll both be a little nervous. Keep your baby facing you, so that you can maintain eye contact. Babies are as naturally buoyant as any other human being, so once your baby is relaxed, you can try a little supported floating, as you would at home in the bath. Lean your baby back, supporting head and shoulders, and encourage some leg kicks. You’d be surprised how quickly babies take to the water. As we said earlier, they spent all their time before you even knew them doing just that, and it isn’t a big stretch for them to get used to it again.
Taking a Class Together
Once your baby is comfortable in the water, and he or she is six months old, a “mommy and me” or “daddy and me” class is a great idea. Generally, such classes are held in small, properly-heated pools, and are small, no larger than perhaps ten parent and child pairs. A beginner’s class is the right choice, even if you already know how to swim. Such a class is more to get your baby comfortable in the water more than it is about swimming, per se.
Remain in constant physical contact with your baby, and never trust any flotation device to keep your baby afloat. You are the flotation device. You are the lifesaver. Remember that, and do not let your attention wander. These classes are typically short, so it shouldn’t be difficult to focus on the moment. Turn your phone off and leave it far away from the pool. No text message, call, or email can be more important than safety.
After the babies are comfortable, the instructor will get them doing some basic beginner strokes, like the dog paddle. Eventually, when the time is right and the instructor and you are in agreement, your baby may begin doing some underwater swimming. Don’t have a heart attack. Yes, we said “underwater swimming.” If you’re terrified, wait until some of the other babies in the class have done it. Watch and relax.
Swimming is one of the best ways to get in shape and keep yourself fit, and the same goes for your children. If you get your baby used to the water early, you will be raising a strong swimmer and a child who is fit and healthy. Fitness, as we said earlier, is a lifestyle rather than an activity. Start now!