Follow these simple tips to ease your baby into the water for some summer fun.
Babies come into this world with a natural love of being in water. Before birth, babies grow and develop in an aquatic state for nine months. Here’s how to teach your baby a love of swimming and respect for water safety.
Help your baby enjoy being in water
Remember that your main goal is to help your baby be comfortable in water and have fun with it before even thinking about learning to swim. Enjoy tub time with your baby. During a bath for two, let baby snuggle against your chest while reclining in the tub. Not only does this help your child become comfortable in water, but it’s also great bonding time. Baby’s first impression of the water should be: “It’s fun to play in and it feels good!” Being in the arms of a loving caregiver helps baby to enjoy, not fear, being in water.
Help your baby be comfortable in water
Dips in the pool should be like feeding schedules: short and frequent. Be sure the water is lukewarm. The smaller the baby, the warmer the water needs to be. As a general guide, if the temperature is initially comfortable for you, it is likely to be comfortable for baby. Because babies have a large surface area relative to their body weight, it’s easy for them to get cold. Once your child begins learning to swim, try to find a heated pool.
Teach your baby to have fun in water
Remember, babies read and mirror facial expressions. If baby senses you are apprehensive about these short, frequent swimming times, baby is also likely to be apprehensive. Let your baby pick up on your facial expressions of joy and fun. Laugh and show baby how to splash the water with her hands. Also, reserve some special toys for baby to play with in the water. Soft floating toys that can fit in little hands and safely be thrown are always a favorite.
Teach your baby how to float
Babies are naturally buoyant, and they love the freedom of movement while being in the water. While holding baby securely underneath the arms, let them enjoy this sensation of bodily movement with less gravity. I remember the peaceful expression on the faces of my babies when I held them under their arms and let the rest of their body float. In teaching our babies to swim, we noticed they seemed to be more comfortable learning to float on their tummy while looking up at their trusted caregiver. Some babies initially find back-floating scary — I’m now enjoying this “flotation therapy” with our grandbabies. And, of course, I follow the safety instructions of their appropriately protective mothers.
Avoid heavily chlorinated pools
Remember, little noses are sensitive to strong smells. If you walk into a public or hotel pool room and are offended by a chlorine smell, it’s probably too strong for baby. Try to seek out indoor pools that use the newer and odorless technology of ozone filters instead of chlorine chemicals.
Protect baby’s sensitive skin and eyes
Sensitive baby skin and long, strong sun exposure don’t mix. In babies over six months, use a waterproof sunscreen that offers both UVA and UVB protection with an SPF of 15 or more, and a wide-brim hat. Sun protection that parents often forget is eye protection. Little eyes are particularly sensitive to reflective sunlight off water. So, remember to pack your baby’s sunglasses — the best are sunglasses labeled “100 percent UV filtration.” If baby’s skin seems sensitive to the chlorine chemicals in an outdoor pool, immediately have a comforting shower for two after the swim.
Protect against swimmer’s ear
Although swimmer’s ear is more of a problem in toddlers and older children, if baby enjoys frequent head dips underwater use my recommended home remedy to prevent swimmer’s ear: Mix a teaspoon of white vinegar with a teaspoon of water and squirt three to four drops of this protective solution into baby’s ears immediately after swimming; this will help quickly dry up the water in the ear canal.
During the first six months, your main goal is to help your baby enjoy and feel safe being in and around water. Around six months of age consider enrolling your baby into swimming lessons. Until baby gets to know and trust the swimming instructor, it’s best for parents or a known caregiver to be a co-swimming instructor. Usually by nine months of age babies can be taught to “swim” between two adults for a few seconds.
Bill Sears, M.D., is a father of eight and the author of 42 books on family health, including The Healthiest Kid in the Neighborhood. A practicing pediatrician for over 40 years, he is an Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine. Dr. Sears is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and a fellow of the Royal College of Pediatricians (RCP).