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Taking Your Baby Swimming

As you look down upon your precious newborn, probably the last thing you’ll consider is that pretty soon they’ll need to start taking exercise. But, just as it’s really important for you to begin a gentle programme soon after giving birth, it’s equally important you allow your little one to start flexing their developing muscles too.

Yet if placing little Charlie on a step machine is obviously out of the question, or signing Amy up for tennis lessons a little premature, just what might you consider doing with them? The good news is that the very best exercise babies can initially have is the simplest. Just stick them on a soft clean mat on the floor and let them roll around, touch their toes and begin to lift their heads as nature intended. Any movement is good for your child. The first year of life is one of the most important (it’s a time when the brain grows more rapidly than at any other) and stimulation of the vestibular system (the balance) stimulates development of the brain, making it function more efficiently. We all rock and sway our babies naturally – and this is one of the best ways of strengthening the nerve fibre bundles connecting the two sides of your baby’s brain – so gently rock and swing away.

As soon as you want to start doing some more structured exercise, swimming is one of the most complete and beneficial activities, as well as being one of the few things you can do with a baby from birth, and it’s never too early to get them in a pool – as long as the water’s warm enough. Some babies literally slide from the womb and into the water. Generally, however, babies start swimming at around six weeks, when their mums are able to bring them.

There’s no need to have taken your baby for their immunisations before entering the pool, and if you have any concerns check out the NHS website: www.immunisations.org.uk. For a start, the diseases against which your baby is inoculated cannot be carried in water and other germs will be killed by the disinfection system used in any well regulated pool. The only exception to the rule is if your baby was born premature, as their own internal immunisation system may not yet have fully developed. If this is the case then you should check with your doctor before taking them swimming – as you should if you have any other medical concerns.

Swimming is excellent for stimulating your baby’s eating and sleeping patterns. Many courses teach using voice commands and learning to respond to these is excellent for your baby’s mental development. Generally lessons last about half an hour. Although they might look very gentle they actually provide your baby with a complete physical work out – exercising and strengthening lots of muscles they’d never even find on land!

Swimming with your baby is also excellent for strengthening the bond between the two of you. Lots of mums (and dads) find that becoming confident in water makes their baby more confident on land. Others say the best thing is finding an activity to do together that they and their baby both adore. With a clear emphasis on having fun, lessons are generally very sociable occasions and often your session in the pool will extend into the whole morning, as you and the rest of the class repair to the nearest café for coffee and cake whilst (blissfully) most of your babies doze.

Lots of mums take their babies to their local pools, and that’s great – providing you’ve checked the temperature of the water. For a baby under twelve weeks it must be over 32 degrees, for all other babies it should be at least 30. Some parents decide to join an organised session, and there are plenty of water familiarisation sessions available. Alternatively you might want to attend a more structured course. All lessons will probably involve some element of water safety techniques as well as incorporating songs, games and perhaps some basic swimming movements.

These days many people take their children to courses involving submersion work. The reason for submerging a baby is that it allows them to swim freely underwater, without constrains of gravity, whereas they’re not physically strong enough to swim on the surface until three or four. Swimming underwater is a wonderful part of the process of building water confidence, and lots of children adore it. However, we recommend you don’t submerge your child without attending a course as, although a very natural process, it’s still one that requires careful supervision.

Finally, in order to ensure that you and your baby have the best time possible in water, do make sure that if you are attending a course, the people running it are fully qualified to do so. There’s currently no regulation governing baby swimming, or the swimming industry in general. In our highly regulated world it often comes as a shock to mums to learn that anyone can set up a swim school, regardless of their qualifications, and no-one will be along to check they’re doing it right! For more information on this you can look at the ‘how to find a good swim school’ section on the Water Babies website.

Swimming from birth is fantastic for you and your baby in so many different ways. Try and start them as early as possible – when being in warm water still seems entirely natural – and you’ll soon experience the thrill of your watching your toddler confidently dipping above and below the surface, barely seeming to differentiate between the two.

Tamsin Brewis is the owner of Water Babies Milton Keynes, the UK’s largest national baby swimming organisation. For more information on baby swimming click on the logo to visit the website:

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