Water to water

How young were you when you first went swimming? I was about 5 months old when my mum dipped me under water. I have no doubt that those were the foundations of my love of water. My own water babies were younger still: 9 weeks, 11 weeks and 10 weeks respectively. The youngest baby I know of was just 31 hours and 46 minutes old!

It helped that his dad was a Water Babies teacher, and that the hospital where he was born by c-section had it’s own hydrotherapy pool, but still a day old seems very young for your first swimming lesson! But Phoenix Elwell was relaxed and happy in the water. Well, naturally! Just 32 hours before that, a watery world was all he’d known.


Phoenix Elwell, aged 1 day, with his dad

The idea is that little babies who have spent 9 months protected by the amniotic fluid surrounding them in their mother’s womb, have a natural affinity with water. If you swim with your baby from a very young age, that affinity won’t be replaced by fear of water, which can happen otherwise. This concept has been explored in for almost a century, but there have also been counter-arguments.

In the UK from the 1960s, the polio vaccine was a live vaccine given orally – on a sugar cube, as I remember. Because that vaccine was live, it wasn’t safe for babies to swim before their vaccinations. In 2004, that changed when the polio stopped being a live vaccine. The swimming advice changed too, though some healthcare workers still cite the old advice. Just to be clear, you do not have to wait until after vaccinations to take your baby swimming. If you don’t believe me, here’s word from the Department of Health.

Another concern is that swimming pools contain bacteria. Of course, this is true. While chlorine kills most pathogens, it doesn’t kill them all. But then nor does your sterilising solution, and the finger you put in your baby’s mouth to soothe his crying is full of bacteria, as is the air. Going swimming is no more likely to make your baby ill than anything else you do.

And the benefits of swimming from a very young age far outweigh any risks. By gently introducing your baby to water, you will make sure that he stays happy and relaxed in water. That doesn’t just bode well for a life enjoying the water, but could potentially save his life, as the shock and panic for the uninitiated of being plunged underwater is the causes of drowning.

Water births have grown in popularity over recent years. Not just labouring in water, but giving birth in water too. Most hospitals have birthing pools, and you can also hire a pool at home. The benefits for mother and baby are supposed to be huge, and the risks minimal. You can find out more from this balanced article by the NCT.

I didn’t quite make the pool for any of my births, but I did take my babies to a gorgeous, hydrotherapy pool from a very young age. To me, it follows that the support of the water, which allows your baby to move, stretch, kick in a way they can’t on dry land, is wonderful for physical and cognitive development.

I also found it extremely bonding. I found the transition to motherhood a bit of shocker. My ideas of being a parent weren’t quite the same as the reality. R wasn’t a tricky baby, he was just a baby, and I felt for those first three or four months, that all I did was service him to stop him from crying.

My second baby came quite soon after R, and that was even harder. B was always in the pram or in a sling so I could deal with R’s needs too. She had reflux and got her first teeth at 14 weeks. She also suffer from dramatic nosebleeds and respiratory problems. I felt like I was under water for the first 6 months of her life, barely breaking the surface for air. In retrospect, I think I may have been verging on post-natal depression.

But our swimming sessions were heaven. With R, it was time when I could communicate with him, focus on him and play with him. With B, it was special time with her, where we could be together just us two. With C, my bonus third, it was special time with him while his siblings were at school. There was nothing that matched it in terms of mother-baby groups, or time to bond.

I love seeing tiny babies in the water. Water Babies start babies under a year old, but I would go further and say that under 6 months old is ideal, as babies can start to develop separation or stranger anxiety as young as 8 months, and it’s good for your teacher to be able to swim with your baby too.

If your baby is really teeny tiny, you should find a private hydrotherapy pool. The temperature is bath-like, and chlorine levels can be lower because fewer people use the pool, and strict shower first rules are in place. If your baby is under 12 weeks or 12lbs, they should swim in water that’s warmer that 32 degrees.

Read more about the benefits of baby swimming here. To find Water Babies classes near you look here. If you’re looking at other swim schools, make sure they follow the code of practice for safety here.


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