As a new parent, you might have heard of the term “baby swimming.” You may even have seen images of little babies under a year-old swimming wide-eyes underwater. At first, it may seem scary. Putting your baby in water and letting them go will make any parent feel extremely vulnerable and unsafe. But the truth is, teaching your infant how to swim isn’t as hard as you might think—or unsafe. And naturally, keeping your infant or toddler safe while swimming is among your top concerns.
Having your baby know how to swim may one day be an important line of defense—not to mention providing them with a lifelong skill. In the United States alone, two kids die in pools and bodies of water every single day. Too much of a dependence on flotation devices can give them a distorted view of buoyancy. Therefore, it might be better to instill the swimming skill. Here’s what you need to know:
It Can Build Muscle
Muscle development and control is important for young children. Before they can hold their heads up, move, and coordinate with the rest of their body, they need to understand how these motions work, and swimming offers that knowledge at a quicker pace. Studies have shown that swimming helps babies improve their muscle strength, while simultaneously offering internal benefits such as a boost in cardiovascular health.
At an early age, swimming classes involve many crucial elements that are beneficial to interpersonal growth. Children not only interact with their parents, instructors, and are immersed in a group setting, but will also play and have fun while learning a new skill. Even if they cannot verbalize their emotions, these early months are highly formative for infants.
One study found that children who took swim lessons between the ages of two months and four years old grew up to have more self-confidence, are more independent than those that didn’t take swimming lessons, and were better equipped to adapt to new situations. Another study found that early, year-round swimming lessons among preschool age children resulted in greater self-esteem, better self-control, and a stronger desire to succeed.
Babies Are Born With Swimming “Reflexes”
Some advocates of baby swimming may falsely believe that babies are born “knowing” how to swim, having spent the majority of time encapsulated in water. This isn’t true. However, they are born with the reflexes of swimmers, which mimic natural swimming behavior. The ability to kick swim like a real swimmer starts to fade around the age of six months, which is why it’s important to start your infants as early as possible. This reflex is called the bradycardic response, and it’s responsible for why your baby will kick, hold their breathe, and open their eyes while underwater.
Before you make any final decisions about teaching your baby to swim, start with small steps, like acclimating them to the water. Be sure that your pool is clean and safe. According to Manning Pool Service in Houston, “Regular pool maintenance ensures that the pH of the water is balanced and doesn’t have too many chemicals, which can irritate the nose, eyes, and ears.” As you guide your baby above water, stay calm and relaxed. Your baby will be able to sense your mood if you’re frightened or on edge. Have fun with it, too. Bring toys and sing and play as you guide them and float in the water. As they grow more comfortable, you can advance to official swimming lessons.
Understanding the Risks
Like any endeavor you go on with your kids, it’s important to understand the risks. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you wait until a child is one year of age for lessons. This is because there is currently no data-based scientific study on infant swimming (though some evidence has suggested it may prevent drowning). Although babies have an instinct to hold their breath when submerged, this isn’t foolproof, and those instincts may not kick in, subjecting them to potentially inhaling too much water. Furthermore, prolonged exposure to chlorinated water can prove harmful.
If you’re intent on teaching your baby to swim, approach the situation cautiously. The fact is, the vast majority of infant swimming are successfully completed without a hiccup. But there are steps you can take to help you feel more confident about your decision. For example, choosing a great swim class with passionate instructors, small groups, and chemical-free water might ease your mind. You also want to choose a place with emergency services readily available.