When my baby girl turned 1 year-old, my wife and I decided that it was time to introduce her to swimming. Naturally, we had multiple questions and fears. When can babies go swimming for the first time? How can parents prepare themselves for this experience? Is it safe to dunk a baby under water? What are the risks of this experience?
We decided to move forward and tried introductory lessons at Aspria Royal La Rasante. with Eric van Eyseren, a swimming coach specialised in working with infants.
1. When can babies go swimming for the first time?
“Your child spent nine months in his mum’s tummy. Saying that a child is frightened of water just doesn’t make sense! From birth, a baby is more capable of swimming than walking” was the first thing Eric explained during our session.
When asked for the right timing to start swimming he said “I recommend starting at 4 months and a half and to take it slowly. The first five sessions should take maximum twenty minutes, and only once a week. You should also bear in mind that prolonged exposure to chlorine is very harmful to young children”.
2. How can parents prepare themselves for this experience?
Parents should remain calm before and during the session. For us, the first session was a quite challenging process. One has to take the baby to the changing room (the first time is always a bit chaotic) and dress him/her the swimming diapers. The other parent has to bring all the baby stuff to the pool and prepare the field with the swimming coach. If parents are scared or anxious, most probably their own fears will be transmitted to the baby. This protective instinct, as necessary as it is, can sometimes hinder the little one’s experience of exploring this new world.
At La Rasante, sessions are held in small groups of 4 and they respect the baby’s rhythm. The sessions take place in one of the swimming pools – exclusively dedicated to infants, which is quite convenient.
Our first session was a total disaster. Our daughter cried non-stop and was afraid of Eric. Poor Eric…he did his best. He spoke with her both in Dutch and Portuguese in order to establish a certain bond…but it didn’t work.
This reaction originated a certain frustration. Why should we insist doing an activity that is causing discomfort to our baby?
“The goal of the first session is to help babies get acquainted with the water environment and experience of new sensations” explains Eric. “A baby will never learn how to swim before the age of 3. A child has little control over the coordination of his arms and legs” he concludes.
To sum up: don’t give up after your first session because most probably it will be a disaster.
3. From discomfort to playtime
From session one to three, there was just one rule: to only play with mummy and daddy. The swimming coach was not “welcomed” to our small world. By the third session, our baby started to really enjoy this experience.
The first exercise consisted of moving her from one direction to another. The first minutes she was glued to us. It’s a skin-to-skin project. Your partner should follow you or waiting for you on the extremity of the pool in order to boost your baby’s confidence. During the first sessions the swimming coach will guide more the parents rather than interacting with the baby. One of the first tips was to play with floating toys. My daughter just loved it!
During the last session, she was already confortable with Eric’s presence and even played with him!
4. Is it safe to dunk a baby under water?
Immersion is part of the learning process and does not represent a danger when done properly. A child, until the age of one, who falls into the water will be able to do a reflex apnea. It may happen that the baby coughs, gets surprised from the experience, and that’s normal. Gradually and gently immersing makes the exercise quickly normal for the baby.
5. What are the risks of this experience?
“A swimming pool remains a source of diseases favoring infections, such as asthma, bronchiolitis or angina. It is important to cover the baby with a towel before and after the session in order to avoid these risks. Also, make sure that vaccines are up to date. Classes are usually given in the morning, when the water had the time to be filtered during a longer period” explains Eric.
Good to know at Aspria La Rasante:
Aspria La Rasante is a club designed for families, with facilities aim to make life easier for parents. The club has a supervised crèche and multiple activities for the youngest members.