What do you do in the pool with a new baby anyway?
After teaching swim classes this weekend, I got home, and the first thing my own two kids asked for was to go swimming. Now, people always say to me oh your own kids must be great swimmers, well the truth is that when I’m in the pool, I’m usually working, so I don’t spend anything like as much time in the pool as I’d like to with them, so of course the Mum Guilt kicked in, and off to the pool we went.
I’m not at a public swim session that often, so my first thought when we got in the pool was that it was brilliant to see so many parents in the pool with their babies, and then of course I was having a nosy at what the babies were doing in the pool… I realised the BIG difference was that at our lessons the parents are generally confident, because there are teachers on hand to offer support answer questions, demonstrate how best to hold a baby…and there’s a constant flow of activities, movements, games and songs. Which it’s then easy to recreate when you swim on your own as you are desperately keen to show of your little star’s water skills.
At the pool yesterday most of the parents with babies were quite still in the pool and just bobbing baby up and down. And don’t get me wrong, it looked like they were having a lovely time, and all pool time is good, but this gets a wee bit bit dull…babies are AMAZING, and there is SO MUCH MORE they can do in the water, which leads to increased water confidence and gives the skills they need for early swimming.
So, here’s my Baby Swim Teacher’s Top Tips for going swimming with your baby.
1. Choose the Best Pool
Choose the warmest pool you can. Babies under 12 weeks or 12lbs need a pool that is 32 degrees or above. Babies under 12 months should be in pools which are 30 degrees or above. If your local pool is a little cooler, then consider buying a thermal wetsuit or wrap. These cost £15-25 and keep babies cosy. (You can’t go wrong with one of these for the first 6-12 months, regardless of where you swim) If it’s less than 29 degrees then you’ll both get cold so swim somewhere else!
2. Keep Baby IN the Water
We tend to hold babies quite high, up out of the water, especially in shallow pools. Try to keep baby submerged to their shoulders, with you crouched down as much as you need to be to make eye contact and give them support. This keeps them warm (its not nice being wet and above the water) and the water supports them, giving a freedom of movement they aren’t yet able to experience on land.
3. Try Some Swing Dips
Hold baby in front of you with one hand under their bottom and one hand on the back of their neck, supporting their head. Gently rock your baby back and forth from a sitting up position to lying flat on their backs. This is a lovely position to make loads of eye contact, pull funny faces, give kisses and generally have fun. It also allows you to have babies ears just under water when they are lying flat, so baby gets used to the feeling of water in their ears.
4. Blow Bubbles
We teach babies from their very first lesson about aquatic breathing by simply facing them and taking a big breath in above the water then sinking down so mouths are just under the surface and exhaling to blow loads of bubbles whilst maintaining eye contact. Your baby will probably find this pretty funny and as they continue to see you do it each week, they’ll eventually try and mimic you and before you know it at around 6-9 months they may be blowing bubbles of their own, an important milestone in learning to swim. Go baby!
5. HAVE FUN
Children learn best through play, so stimulate their senses, make them laugh, tickle their toes and hug and kiss them. You don’t need loads but take along a couple of toys, maybe a toy watering can, a squirty bath toy and a small ball and then mix these up each time you go. Hide the toys under water and then let go with an exaggerated ‘pop’ noise as the toys shoot up to the surface in front of baby. Take a baby wash mitt and use it to do a puppet peekaboo with baby or wash their face and head with water or tickle them. Enjoy every minute of being in the pool together and you’ll help them develop great water confidence, and a lifelong love of the water. It’ll also make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
6. Take a Shower
Use a toy watering can or just use your hands to gently sprinkle water over baby’s arms, shoulders and bodies as you cradle them just at the surface of the water. If they are big enough encourage them to sprinkle water themselves. If they are happy and confident you can start to sprinkle a few drops of water over their heads and then faces, very gently getting them used to this. Songs like Incy Wincey Spider work with this activity.
7. Get Baby Splashing
Paddling arms are a big milestone on the learn to swim journey and you can start working on these from really early on. Take a brightly coloured bath toy to the pool with you. Hold baby on their front in the water, snuggled in cheek to cheek and shoulder to shoulder with you, with your arm reaching around their back and hand tucking under to support them. Move around the pool, throwing the toy ahead… The youngest babies will just track the toys with their eyes. As they grow you’ll see their hands start to come forward, maybe a few tentative splashes and soon they’ll be reaching for the toy and splashing like crazy. Encourage them to reach and splash and chase the toy, let them get it, hold it, and then repeat.
8. Get Baby Moving on their Front
Young babies have what is called an amphibian reflex. When a new born is placed in water, the movement of water on their limbs will make the hip flex with the knee, so the baby is ‘kicking’ as they move through the water. You can stimulate this response by moving babies gently through the water. You can then praise this with lots of well done, clever baby, kick, kick, so that by approximately 8 months of age when this reflex starts to fade, your baby already knows how to kick their own legs and understands the cue ‘kick kick’. A really nice way to do this is to have them on their tummies in the water, facing you, you crouched down to eye level. Support them by laying your hands flat under their chests on their tummy, and your thumbs hooked up over their shoulders, meaning they get lovely head and neck support on the soft pads under your thumbs and you can move backwards through the water, encouraging them to kick kick kick as you go.
9. Get Baby Moving on Their Back
Sink your shoulder down under the water so your head acts like a pillow, then lay babies head on your shoulder, one hand wrapped under their back and around, supporting. Move around the pool backwards and give them lots of praise and encouragement and again if you see kicking, lots of praise and reinforce that kick kick kick cue.
10.Read Your Babies Cues & Go With Them
If baby gets upset they may just need a little reassurance, hold them in nice and close so they have skin to skin, and eye to eye contact with you and be patient. If they aren’t enjoying something, don’t do it or try it a different way next time. A public swim session is usually 45 mins. Our lessons are 30 mins long which is long enough for babies under 12 months. With the tiniest babies, you may only get 15 or 20 mins before they are tired and hungry so build up gradually, and when they look like they have had enough take them out the pool. They will be having an amazing sensory experience, seeing, tasting, hearing, smelling and feeling things that are new to them, and also working brand new muscles, and concentrating. Tiring work when you are only weeks old.
About everything that you are doing and remember to tell them well done, babies thrive on positive feedback and praise. Sing lots of songs with actions that fit whatever you are doing in the pool, whether its Humpty Dumpty, Ring O Roses or Horsey Horsey. Numerous studies have found children who have attended swimming lessons as babies are more advanced linguistically and a lot of that is attributed to the language used in the pool, listening to instructions etc so mimic that. Eg Chase the red toy, swim around here, look under there etc.
12. And Repeat
Try and go once or twice a week if you can – repeat things, try new things, and you’ll be amazed and inspired by the developmental leaps your little one makes, and how quickly they progress. And the knock on effect this has to their adventures on dry land.
So much has been written about the physical, social and cognitive developmental benefits of early swimming, whether you swim with Merbabies / attend lessons or not, please do take your baby swimming and try some of these activities. Although of course I would love everyone to come along to Merbabies swim classes, it would make me so happy next time I’m at the pool, to see parents trying some of these wee tips and tricks out.
If you try them, let me know what you think. And if you’d like to join us at Merbabies lessons for baby to pre-school ages please get in touch