How early can babies start swimming?
Babies can begin to swim at any age, right from birth, although the advice is to check with your doctor before starting if your little one was premature. Also, mums – you need to wait for at least seven days after giving birth for your postnatal bleeding to stop. So, if you’re keen to get your newborn in the pool right away, ask a partner, relative or friend to get involved. It takes a village, as they say. Check NCT advice.
Early benefits of baby swimming
Being in water is a wonderful experience for babies in terms of physical and mental development. The properties of water allow a baby to move in ways they can’t do on land due to the forces of gravity. It creates gentle challenges for the baby through different sensory experiences which aids cognitive development. Research shows that babies who have regular enjoyable and loving experiences in the pool at a young age are more likely to swim earlier and retain a love and respect for water.
What about injections?
NHS guidance states that babies can go swimming at any time, even before they have been vaccinated, and that it doesn't matter if they haven't completed their course of injections. Check the NHS facts and our advice on baby injections.
Philomena Geary talks baby swimming advice for beginners
Parenting editor Jo Maggs spoke to Director of 1st Swim School, Philomena Geary for tips on how to help your baby feel confident in the water.
Jo: Hi Phil, how many babies have you taught to swim?
Philomena: I’ve been teaching since 1996 so I have been teaching long enough to now be teaching the children of some of my first babies! I’ve also taken swimming teachers through their STA Baby & Pre-School qualification since 2002, both here in the UK and abroad – Brussels, Athens, Dubai. So that must run into hundreds.
Jo: What advice do you have for absolute beginners, by which we mean parents, as well as babies!
Philomena: Start practising in the bath. You may want to have your partner or a friend with you, just whilst you get used to handling a wet, slippery baby. Make sure that the water’s about 32°C, anything less will be too cold. This also applies to pool water, especially for babies under 6 months old. After a few sessions, introduce a bath toy to play with – this will eventually be a familiar item to bring along to the pool.
Jo: The first trip to a pool with a baby can be nerve wracking. What’s your best advice for staying calm and comfortable?
Philomena: Have a search for your local ‘baby-friendly pool’ which will be warmer and have a shallow baby area. This will make taking a dip with a little one easier. Again, you may want to buddy-up with a friend who also has a baby. Make sure you are prepared beforehand by packing your baby Swim Bag Essentials. Before you get into the pool, have a quick warm shower while cuddling your baby, gently washing warm water over him or her to prepare them. Talk to them while entering the pool to give lots of encouragement – a visit to the pool is a massive sensory experience for little ones, which they may find overwhelming at first.
Jo: Is there anything specific we can say to encourage babies in the water?
Philomena: Every time you begin a new activity, it's great to use a 'cue' which they then recognise moving forward. Use words for each activity, like ‘bubbles’, ‘kick’ and ‘splash’ which will help your baby to form associations and predict what’s coming next.
Jo: What’s the best way to hold your baby in the water?
Philomena: Start with what feels comfortable and safe for you and the baby. Parents should try to ensure that their shoulders are level with the water surface, and they are holding the baby in a loose but close manner in the first instance with plenty of opportunity for reassuring eye contact. As the baby relaxes the parent can extend the hold away from their body allowing the little one to explore. Just ensure that the baby is not inhaling or swallowing water.
Jo: What’s the best way to avoid a wee or poo disaster in the pool?
Philomena: A swim nappy is a must. A disposable swim nappy, like Huggies® Little Swimmers®, will protect against leaks, and most importantly won’t inflate with water like a normal nappy, so helps keep your baby safe (and flexible) too. Some parents will use a neoprene nappy over the top for extra reassurance and peace of mind.
Jo: Thanks Phil. Lastly, any water safety tips?
Philomena: Pools and pool surrounds can be slippery. Take extra care carrying your baby. Never enforce anything your baby is not ready for. Always ensure that they are happy with the activities you are doing. Always remain within your depth with your baby. For toddlers who can walk/swim in shallow water make sure that you are no more than an arm's length away (toddlers often have difficulty in regaining a standing position in water).
Ready to take the next step? Go online or visit your local pool to find a qualified swimming teacher or class. Or ease in with a few short trips with a friend. Good luck, and remember, you’re not alone.