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Start Swimming Early and Give Your Little One a Head Start: Expert Advice and Tips

Start Swimming Early and Give Your Little One a Head Start: Expert Advice and Tips
23 October 2015 19909 Views No comments

Becoming a parent for the first time can be a nervous, stressful time, especially in the first couple of years, because you want to make sure that you do everything you can to nurture this valuable stage in their development.

Babies learn a lot in their first 18 months, but new mums and dads can be bombarded with advice (some of it sometimes conflicting) about how best to bring their little one up so that they develop physically, emotionally, intellectually and socially.

A great way to aid your child's development is to take them swimming from an early age. Although your little one may not yet be able to move around on land, the range of movements babies can enjoy in the water is incredible, and it's a great way for them to gain strength and have fun. After all, newborn babies have just spent the last nine months in the womb, so the pool is a very natural transition for them.

Swimming is also a brilliant way to bond with your baby – you can focus on just you and your baby by singing songs, playing and interacting with your baby in a relaxed environment. This also makes it an excellent ‘bonding’ activity for both parents to enjoy, with babies relying on you for help and encouragement.

And if you needed any further inspiration, research has shown that swimming not only keeps your baby active, fit and healthy, but can also have a positive impact on their sleeping and eating patterns.

Most importantly, you are teaching your child to be water safety aware. While all types of organised baby and infant activities and sports are great, swimming is the only one in which you are giving them a key life skill that could one day save their lives.

Start swimming early, build confidence and give your little one a head start.

So, where do you start?

We asked Kayle Burgham, STA's (Swimming Teachers Association) Aquatics Technical Manager (and a mum), for her expert advice and top tips.

"Having been a swimming teacher for 13 years and now a mum of an 18-month-old, I know the importance of learning to swim, and teaching water safety and water confidence. Some of my earliest memories are of being on holiday with my family and playing in the pool with my sisters and parents.

"So many people think of swimming as swimming length after length in a pool and forget about the fun, bonding and enjoyment that can be had as a family. It was really important for me to take my son swimming from an early age so that we too can create these memories, while making sure that he is water confident, which is an important life skill.

"Many of my new mum friends were really nervous about taking their baby swimming for the first time – at what age can they start? What should I take? What do they need to wear? What should I do with them? These are all questions I often get asked.

"Here are some of my top tips:

  • Babies should only be introduced to water in line with the most recent recommendations from the Department of Health. The current advice is that "your baby does not need any immunisations before they go swimming". However, a midwife, health visitor or doctor must be happy for them to go into a public swimming pool.
  • If one is available, go to a swimming pool which is at least 30°C, because babies can get cold really quickly. Also, be realistic; they may only last 10 to 20 minutes during their first couple of sessions. A baby wetsuit can also be worn if your baby feels the cold, or the pool you swim at is in the cooler side. However, a baby swimming costume or all-in-one swimsuit is ideal in a warm pool.
  • Your baby must wear a swim nappy, and if possible another neoprene swim nappy over the top.
  • Take a car seat into the changing rooms if possible; most leisure centre changing rooms are not big enough to take pushchairs. Plus, if you have a car seat, you can place your baby in there while you get changed.
  • Take three towels at least – one for you and one to take onto poolside, so that once you have finished swimming you can wrap your baby in the towel to keep warm. Disposable swim nappies absorb a lot of water, which will make this towel very wet. Your third towel can then be used to dry your baby once you are back into the changing room. The second towel can also be used on the baby changing table or bench as a softer layer between your baby and the surface, or you can use a changing mat.
  • Make sure you take a drink and/or snacks for after swimming; even a short swim will make your baby hungry, so ensure there is an appropriate place to feed your baby after swimming.
  • Choose a time to go swimming when your baby isn't due a sleep or feed; swimming will make your baby tired. I get the best naps after swimming; I go an hour before my son is due a sleep, which means he is happy, excited and ready to play while we are swimming, and then once he is changed and had a snack he always falls asleep in the car on the way home.
  • Check the swim school you attend – look at reviews online and check swimming teachers hold a Baby and Pre-School teaching qualification and are insured. See if they hold a STAmark accreditation – the STA checks policies, procedures, teacher qualifications and insurance to ensure that all STAmark swim schools meet our high standards."

When you are in the water

"You don’t need armbands, floats or a baby seat, as these do not fully support your baby and can restrict the movements – you holding and supporting them as they explore the water is preferred (a baby wetsuit also helps provide a higher grip surface). Swim buoyancy aids are more suited for infants and older children to build confidence.

"Make sure your baby's body is in the water at all times; holding them out of the water will cause them to get cold.

"You can hold them in the cradle hold, where you cradle the baby in your arms so they can see your face and the water on their chest with their head clear. In this hold, you can sing as you gently rock your baby to and fro. "Rock-a-bye Baby" and "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" work well in this hold.

"Another hold for older babies is the safety hold – your baby is facing away from you, and you bring an arm around their chest and under their arm so that your baby's chest is supported on your forearm. The other hand can support your baby under their bottom. This is good for babies to chase toys or gain confidence by splashing hands, you doing little bounces with them, facing their face, etc.

"And finally, remember that not all swimming sessions will go swimmingly! If your baby is going through a development change or learning a new skill, they may become unsettled or not want to join in an activity. You may feel like they are going backwards, but relax and stay calm. Go back to singing and activities which they enjoy – I have done "Humpty Dumpty" over and over again for 15 minutes before, as that is all he wanted to do!

"Most importantly, keep with it and you will create so many special moments, and give them a life skill which one day could save a life."

For further information or advice, the STA with the support of Konfidence have created this leaflet for new mums and dads wanting to take their little one swimming – it’s free to download here.