Introducing your baby to a love of water is one of the best things you can do for them. Alongside all the well-documented developmental benefits of teaching them to swim, spending time with your little one in water – whether in a swimming pool or your own bath at home – is incredible for nurturing the bond between you. Plus, of course, learning to swim could save their life one day.
Whether you’ve got your eye on your local pool for a bit of water play, or have booked on to a course of baby swimming lessons, here are our tips for making sure your first trip goes swimmingly!
Focus on fun at bath time
Bath time is a lovely time of day when you can step away from the hustle & bustle of everything else and spend some focused time with your little one.
Making bath time fun means your baby will soon learn to associate water with play, which in turn will really help to make the move to the swimming pool easier for both of you.
Start by creating the right environment - keep the room temperature nice and warm, and make sure the water’s neither too hot nor too cold (body temperature is normally considered ideal, so around 37oC - 38oC). And make sure you have a lovely warm towel all ready to wrap them up in once bath time is over – the last thing you want is them getting cold and grumpy!
Something that really helps with bonding is sharing a bath with your baby. It also helps them build the association that being in water is safe and comforting (and let’s face it, they won’t be small enough to do it for long, so enjoy it while you can!). Just arm yourself with a few bath toys, then make sure their body is covered by the water so they keep nice and warm as you lie back with them on your chest. Enjoy exploring the water together, gently splashing around and playing with the toys. Watch closely to see how they react to everything, you’ll soon learn to understand what they do and don’t like.
Handling a wet and wriggly baby can sometimes be a bit tricky, so experimenting with different ways of holding your little one in water will help you become more confident, which in turn will help them to feel more relaxed and secure.
Your first trip to the pool
Once you’ve decided it’s time to venture to the swimming pool, the most important thing is to make your first trip as enjoyable as possible (for both of you!). Also try to keep your first visit relatively short so as not to overtire your baby – around 20- 30 minutes is ideal.
Ring the pool on the day you go to check the water temperature – for babies under 3 months old or less than 12lbs, the temperature should be at least 32oC; if they’re older than 3 months, or weigh more than 12lbs, then it should be at least 30oC. Local authority pools can sometimes be slightly chilly, so think about buying a baby wetsuit – they’re really effective at keeping your baby nice and warm, and easy to take off if they start to get too hot.
Bear in mind that everything about the pool environment will be new to your baby - there’s lots of colours, noises and even smells that they’ll be experiencing for the very first time - so once you’re there, it’s a good idea to spend some time before you get into the water just letting them take it all in. Think about packing their favourite bath toy from home to give them something familiar to hold on to (it will also help reassure them when they’re in the water).
Once you get into the pool, let them see that it’s a fun place to be! You’ll find that they really react to your body language and facial expressions, so constantly encourage them by smiling, singing nursery rhymes and chatting to them, all the while remembering to maintain lots of eye contact.
Lower yourself and your baby until the water covers their chest, and your own shoulders are submerged. Keep your baby gently moving around so that they don’t get cold, first holding them very close to you so they feel nice and secure, with lots of skin-to-skin contact; and then further away from your body so they can enjoy moving more freely, gently swishing them from side to side (and chasing their bath toy if you’ve brought it).
Babies lose a lot of heat through their heads, so make sure you pack a cosy hat to keep them warm after the lesson. And here’s some more essentials for your swim bag:
Swim bag essentials
• Swim nappies: check the pool’s policy before you go. They may operate a double nappy system, which means that as well as a reusable swim nappy, you’ll also need an over-nappy.
• Roll-up changing mat: the safest place to change your baby is the floor, not a bench.
• Snuggly towels: one for baby, one for you. It’s also a good idea to have a spare dry towel that you can wrap your baby in to keep them warm if the changing room’s a bit on the chilly side.
• Baby wetsuit: if you’re at all concerned about the temperature of the water.
Finally, you’ll probably find that your baby is pretty hungry after their swim, so be prepared to give them a good feed. Then look forward to them having a nice long nap on the way home!