The first time you take your baby to swimming lessons can be a slightly daunting experience for new parents. The logistics of getting them into their swimming nappy, keeping them warm and encouraging them it will be fun, is enough to put off many parents. However, most parents find there is nothing really to worry about once they try it. Remember to find a warm pool and keep swimming sessions short at first as babies can chill easily.
You may consider enrolling in special baby swimming lessons; these mostly start at around three to six months. A good way to prepare your baby at home for the experience of swimming is to get them used to the feeling of being immersed in water at bath time with a bit of gentle splashing.
With South Africa’s lovely weather, most of us love to swim. It is the largest participation sport and many children say it is their favorite family activity. Starting early with your baby is a good way to build early familiarity and confidence.
Coordination and balance
Practicing maintaining balance in the pool and the vestibular challenge it provides can lead to improved balance out of the pool too. Water supports the body, which helps the baby focus on body position and balance.
Bilateral cross-patterning movements, which use both sides of the body to carry out an action, help your baby’s brain grow. Cross-patterning movements build neurons throughout the brain, but especially in the corpus callosum.
This facilitates communication, feedback and modulation from one side of the brain to another. When swimming, your baby moves their arms while kicking their legs. And they’re doing these actions in water, which means their brain is registering the tactile sensation of water plus its resistance. Swimming is also a unique social experience, which furthers its brain-boosting power.
Along with the vestibular challenge, swimming is great for muscle development to help build nice strong core muscles.
Babies have your undivided attention whilst in the pool and this is a great opportunity for bonding. You are watching them, responding to their cues and having fun together. Make sure swimming is a fun and positive experience.
Along with muscles, heart and lungs, the stimulation that swimming provides will give your baby a great neurological boost. Lots of new experience, sensory and physical, will create new and stronger pathways in the brain.
All parents will tell you that swimming is a great exercise for promoting sleep. It is tiring and stimulating, both of which will encourage more sleep. What more could you ask for? All of that extra activity uses up a lot of energy and you may notice that your little one is sleepier after a swimming lesson. You may have to schedule time for a nap after time in the pool or move up bedtimes on the days that swimming is part of your routine.
Exercise and activity will increase appetite – it’s good to provide a feed or a snack straight after swimming.
Swimming regularly with your baby can help build their confidence around water, along with vital survival skills. It may increase your water confidence too if you are a nervous swimmer yourself.
Newborns and infants should never be left alone around anybody ofwater, like bathtubs or pools. It’s important to keep in mind that a child can drown in even just 5mm of water. For children under four, it’s best to do “touch supervision”, which means that an adult should be close enough to touch them at all times.
Here are some other tips to keep in mind when your child is around water:
- Be aware of even small bodies of water, like bathtubs, ponds, fountains and even watering cans.
- Adults always need to supervise children while they are swimming.
- Enforce safety rules around the pool, like no running or pushing others underwater.
- Use a life jacket while in a boat. Don’t allow inflatable toys or mattresses to be used instead of a life jacket.
- Completely remove the cover of your pool before swimming (if your pool has a cover).
- Don’t drink alcohol and eliminate distractions (talking on your phone, working on a computer, etc) if you’re supervising children swimming.
Myths about drowning
Myth 1: Kids who are drowning will make a noise.
Bystanders and parents should actually be more alert to the kids who seem to be playing quietly. Children love making noise while they play, but it’s when they get quiet that you need to find out why.
Myth 2: People that are drowning scream and wave.
Not always. Drowning is often referred to as a silent killer. Children who are drowning can’t call for help. They may not even struggle; they simply slip under water and drown.
Myth 3: Floating devices can protect young children who don’t swim well.
In fact, they are very dangerous because they give the impression that a child who can’t swim is safe in the water. It gives a false sense of security.
Myth 4: Drowning is always fatal.
Most people equate drowning with death, but medical experts see it otherwise. Statistics on non-fatal drowning are scarce, but experts estimate that at least four times as many people suffer non-fatal drowning than the number who die in a drowning.
Myth 5: My baby will be fine in the bath while I quickly run into the next room.
For children under the age of one, the bathtub is the most common site for drowning. Tragically, this often occurs while parents quickly leave the bathroom to answer the telephone or to get something that has been forgotten.
A baby can drown in just 30 seconds. If you need to leave the room, always remove them from the water and either take them with you or place them somewhere safe. You might think that your toddler is safe because they can sit in water, but they can easily slip and drown.
Signs of drowning
- Gasping: Drowning people rarely call out for help. That’s because a drowning person is focused on trying to breath and takes in air, not expels it. Children very rarely call out and splash. Instead, they will immediately go into the bobbing response.
- Arms at there the sides: Drowning people do not tend to wave their arms above the surface of the water. They usually have their arms spread out to their sides as they are trying to keep their head out of the water.
- Floating face down: if you see someone floating face down for more than a few seconds, they are likely unconscious. It is critical that they be pulled out of the water as quickly as possible.
- Head low in the water with their mouth at water level.
- Head tilted back with mouth open.
- Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus.
- Eyes entirely closed
Swimming is a life-saving skill, as well as a holistic and simple exercise with benefits that go beyond physical development and improved health. Swimming stimulates intelligence and extends lifespan. Learning to swim can prevent your child from drowning, which is a major cause of death in young children. Swimming is fun and imparts long-lasting happiness.
What else can parents do?
Even with safety measures in place, parents should be prepared in case their child gets into a swimming pool unseen.
Some precautions that may help:
Life jackets: Put your child in a properly fitted life jacket when around or near water.
Swimming lessons: Swimming lessons reduce the changes of drowning but always keep in mind that swimming lessons won’t necessarily prevent a child from drowning. Remove toys from the pool – don’t leave pool toys in the water.
CPR training: Parents, caregivers and pool owners should know CPR and how to get emergency help.
Check the water first: If a child is missing, look for him or her in the pool or spa first. This is especially important if your child is prone to wandering.