You might think that teaching a baby to swim is a silly prospect and one that is going to be basically impossible. While you certainly won't be able to trust an infant to swim unattended, there are a plethora of perks to getting your little one in the water from a very early age.
Most infant swimming experts say that six months of age is the right time to begin lessons; however, some schools will accept babies as young as three months. Still, there's some disagreement in the medical and swimming communities about the ideal age. It's a good idea to think about the options and decide for yourself.
It's important to understand that no matter what age you start, you won't be able to drop your baby off at lessons. You, as the parent, will be required to get into the water with your baby.
Under Age One
The American Academy of Pediatrics says that infant swimming programs might not be as beneficial as you think. Experts say that at this age, a baby is at risk of swallowing too much pool water, which can lead to water poisoning. Young infants may also have trouble regulating their body temperature in the water, which poses the risk of hypothermia.
If you choose to go ahead with swimming lessons anyway, be sure you find an instructor that is trained to work with small babies. A lesson at this age is more about getting your baby comfortable in the water than it is about teaching your infant to swim. And you'll want to find a pool that is 86 degrees or warmer for safety reasons.
After the First Year
Between the ages of one and two, swimming lessons will look very different from how they do for younger babies. Your baby may begin to learn techniques related to swimming, and the instructors for such lessons are trained in CPR. They will teach your little one to put his head under water.
Again, you will likely be asked to join your baby in the water during these swimming lessons as part of the program usually involves educating you on how to protect your baby in the water and how to work on swimming in your own time.
Things to Consider at Any Age
If you're unsure whether swimming is a good option for your infant, talk it over with her pediatrician. Even if your child loves the water, there are some other things to consider in terms of whether he's ready for swimming lessons:
- Development - If your child has any motor or cognitive developmental delays, she may not be ready for the pool at the same time as her peers.
- Health issues - If your little one has any kind of health problems, especially physical issues, swimming may not be a safe choice until she has approval from a doctor.
- Sensitivity to chlorine - Some babies react more severely to chlorine in the water than others, and if that's the case, the pool isn't a great place to be.
The goal of infant swimming lessons is to help your baby become comfortable in the water so that when he gets older, learning to swimming isn't scary and can be a good way to teach him how to be safe in the water. You'll likely know when your little one is ready to learn to swim.
What to Bring
Of course, you're not going to take your baby anywhere without being prepared, the swimming pool included. By making sure to bring everything you need, you will both get the most out of your swimming lesson. The specific items you need will vary a bit from age to age, but there are some basics that you won't want to be without.
Here's what to bring in your swimming bag.
- Swimsuits - You will need a swimsuit for both your baby and yourself, since you'll be asked to get into the pool with your little one
- Swim diaper - This is very important because most public pools will not allow infants in the water if they are not wearing a diaper specific for swimming.
- Floating toys - When your baby gets a bit older, you can encourage her to move around in the water by giving her something to reach for or move toward.
- Goggles - If your little one doesn't like water on his face, a pair of goggles can help him get more comfortable putting his face in the water without having to worry about getting it into his eyes.
- Infant life jacket - While this isn't required, putting your baby in a life jacket gives you peace of mind and lets you take your hands off your little one without worrying that she'll go under.
- Sunscreen - If your baby's lessons will take place outdoors, be sure to put sunscreen all over his body so that you don't have to worry about bringing your baby home with a sunburn.
- Towel - When you get your infant out of the water, chances are she'll be cold, so bring a towel to wrap her in until you get back to the locker room and get her dressed.
Preparing for a swimming lesson is one of the best things you can do before you leave for the pool. You'll have everything you need so that your baby can get the most out of time in the water and you won't be turned away for forgetting something important. Many parents keep a specific bag that they use only for the pool so that everything stays handy.
What to Expect
The most important thing to remember about infant swimming lessons is that they are not designed to actually teach your baby to swim. Instead, they are a sort of introduction to the water and are meant to help your little one get comfortable in the pool so that when he gets older, he has a jump start that will serve him well as he begins swimming lessons designed for older kids. Essentially, infant swim lessons are more about having fun than learning to swim.
Here's what to expect at each of your classes.
- Removing fear of the water - Some babies are scared in the water, even the bathtub, and swimming lessons are a great way to help get rid of that fear and help them learn how to enjoy the water.
- Sitting on the ledge - As you progress with lessons, your baby will learn how to sit on the side of the pool. This is one reason why lessons aren't always recommended for small infants (because they aren't able to sit yet).
- Jumping in the water - As your baby gets more comfortable in the water, she will get the chance to jump or wriggle off the side into your arms.
- Holding on - An infant swim instructor will also show your baby how to hold the ledge around the pool if he falls in.
- Dog paddle - Along with other basic swimming techniques, your infant will learn to dog paddle, which is a precursor to the movements needed for actual swimming.
- Floating - One of the beginning skills your little one will learn is how to float, which helps her feel safe in the water and makes it easier to teach her progressive swimming techniques.
- Blowing bubbles in the water - This will be all fun and games for your baby, but learning to blow bubbles in the water is how most infant swim instructors teach your child how to regulate his breathing for swimming under water as he gets older.
No matter the age of your baby, swimming lessons will start off slow and build on skills as you and your little one gain confidence in the pool and learn new things. It's important to find a swim instructor that you and your infant feel comfortable with, so look around and make sure you've chosen exactly who you want teaching your baby to swim.
Types of Class
Most formal swim lessons are for a group, though you can find private infant swim lessons as well. Private lessons will naturally cost more than a group class but will provide you and your baby with more face-to-face instruction. Learning a bit more about your choices can help you make the choice that's right for your child.
Group Swimming Lessons
This is the most common type of swim lesson offered to babies and children of all ages. The class will consist of one or two instructors and a certain number of babies in the water with their parent. Most places cap the number of participants in a given class, and they often fill up quickly. If you find one you want to try, sign up as soon as you can so you don't lose your place.
Here's what to look for in a group class:
- There should be no more than 10 baby/parent pairs for each swim instructor.
- There should always be a lifeguard on duty.
- Ask the pool temperature - the ideal for a baby swim class is between 86 and 92 degrees.
- You also want an instructor who is focused on letting babies have fun in the water and isn't too focused on skills.
During a group swim lesson, you will get into the water with your infant and follow the instructions of your swim teacher. You'll sing songs, let your baby interact with the other children and basically just have a lot of fun.
Private Swimming Lessons
A private swim lesson is similar to a group setting, but you and your infant will be working alone with an instructor. If your baby has special needs or is afraid of the water, this might be a good choice to build her confidence in the pool. You might also consider a private lesson if you prefer one-on-one instruction.
Here's what to look for in a private swimming instructor:
- Your instructor should have a child-centered approach to swimming.
- He or she should be trained to teach infants to swim.
- You should always be in the pool with your baby.
Beyond that, it's nice to have someone who is solely focused on your baby and helping him learn to love the water. There are some benefits to a private lesson, but there are some drawbacks as well. Your lesson will lack the social aspect that is so good for babies, and it can be hard to schedule a one-on-one lesson. If you aren't a fan of large group lessons and you can't make private lessons work, consider a class that only allows three or four babies. That way you get the best of both worlds.
The Pros and Cons of Baby Swimming Lessons
In the United States, two children age 14 and under die of drowning every single day. Drowning ranks as the fifth leading cause of death in America. Those are some scary statistics. Teaching your child to swim can save her life and will give you peace of mind when you're around the water. However, there are some pros and cons to starting in infancy. Understanding what you're up against can help you decide if swim lessons are a good idea now or if you should wait until your baby is older.
Pros of Infant Swim Lessons
The obvious benefit to teaching your little one to swim is that he can potentially save himself if he falls in the water. However, that's not the only reason to get him in the water. Consider the following perks and remember that actually learning to swim won't happen until your child is older.
- Research shows that children who start swimming early reach developmental milestones sooner.
- Swimming boosts visual motor skills, such as cutting, coloring, drawing and early math skills.
- Lessons may boost the emotional bond between parent and baby.
- Learning to swim can increase self confidence in young children.
Cons of Infant Swim Lessons
Yes, there are many benefits of teaching your infant to love the water. However, there are some drawbacks that you should know about before you sign your baby up for swim classes. Here are the biggest cons of infant swim lessons:
- Swimming lessons can give parents a false sense of security around water.
- There are some safety concerns, such as swallowing too much water and exposure to cold temperatures.
- Many babies lack the neurological maturity to grasp the concepts presented in swim classes.
- Expert entities disagree about whether early swim lessons can prevent drowning or not.
No Right or Wrong Answer
As the parent, you'll have to decide if you think your baby is ready for swimming or if it might be better to leave it for another day. If you do decide to try lessons, there's no shame in quitting if it isn't working out. There are a lot of benefits to getting your infant comfortable in the water, but there's no reason why you have to turn it into a chore. If you're both having fun and enjoying the lessons, then great! If not, try something else. Be vigilant around the water and come back to it down the road.