Getting your baby used to water early in his life makes sense from a safety point of view. Swimming is also great fun and good exercise. Here’s some advice on taking the plunge with your little one.
How do I keep my baby safe in the water?
Baby swim classes tend to use small pools, heated to about 32 degrees C, which are ideal for tiny tots. If you plan to use a big public swimming pool, wait until your baby is six months old. Before that, the water will be too cold for him. He may also be put off by all the noise and activity.
Most babies up to six months of age can actually swim, with your help, of course! If you start early you can take advantage of your baby’s natural ability to do basic strokes. Also, your baby’s inbuilt gag reflex is generally at its strongest before six months. This means that he can hold his breath under water without even thinking about it.
Keep swimming times short at first, initially no more than 10 minutes, and build up from there. Don’t stay in for more than 30 minutes and take your baby out if he starts to shiver or looks like he’s had enough. Give swimming a miss if your baby is unwell or tired.
Once you are ready there are nine basic steps/exercises that you and your child can do to teach them how to be safe in the water. These steps were developed by Gretchen Mack, the founder of Water Babies Swim School.
You want to start by holding your baby on your should as if they were giving you a hug and then start walking backward so the baby gets the sensation of motion. You then use your hands to guide their legs until they get comfortable with the motion. Make sure that you are teaching you baby the correct way to kick and keeping their feet underwater.
This is the most important step in teaching your baby how to swim. Place your dominant hand on the baby’s back and your other hand on the chest. Count to three (or countdown from three) and then blow on baby’s face and quickly dip their face in the water. You must blow on their face continuously until the face is completely underwater. When you are finished bring the baby back up to your chest and relax before trying again.
3. Letting Go
This step is more for you, the parent, than for the baby. It gets you used to letting the baby go and it helps the baby to realize that they can float. Follow your order of the blow and dip; but this time when the baby is underwater let go of them for just a second.
Once again put one your dominant hand on the baby’s back and the other one on the chest. Blow and dip and this time let got a little longer than the last time. Bring the baby back to your chest, relax and then try again. This helps the baby with their breathing control.
5. Turning Over and Floating
Start with the baby in front of you (not to the side) with one hand under each of baby’s arms. Countdown and blow on baby’s face. Lift out of the water and then turn them over on their back slowly. Let your weaker hand support the head and use your dominant hand to touch them and reassure them. The baby will squirm and fuss but be strong and stay in that position until the baby gets comfortable. This will help the baby realize that they can float on their own and will not sink.
Put the baby’s head on your shoulder like a pillow. Move the baby down so that they are floating and gently move your hands away from their head. Rotate which hand leaves the head and have a continuous motion to get them used to being wet. Get it to where you and the baby are moving backward and they can get a sense of motion. When rotating your hands brush your thumbs near the ears to prevent the baby from turning their head and getting water in their mouth.
7. Turning and Pulling
Start with your baby in the dipping position in front of you. Dip, then lift and turn as in the previous exercise and then start pulling. Keep the motion going and eventually you should be able to momentarily release your baby and have them be able to be on their own.
8. Into the Water From the Side
Put the baby on the edge of the pool and get them comfy (try giving them a toy). Take hands on arms or elbows, wherever you are comfortable, and pull them forward into the water. Don’t submerge them just let them feel the forward motion. Do the same thing again but this time get their face wet. This will help the baby get used to falling from a height in case they were to ever fall in by accident.
9. Having Fun
In addition to just working on the skills here you also need to play with your baby in the water. Playtime allows children to take what they learned in their lessons and put it all together. It also helps them be comfortable in the water.
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