First of all – safety first! I specifically asked my health visitor for recommendations for swimming and was given the go ahead to start at 6 weeks! I would always advise that you double check with a health practitioner just to make sure there’s nothing you need to be aware of before taking the plunge.
Find the Right Class / Pool for You
From 6 weeks old William has been going “swimming”, and by swimming I mean bobbing up and down in the pool. We first tried him out in some scheduled classes – but even though they advertised from newborn to 1 year old, most were much older. They tended to do organized things like splashing into the water from the side, dripping water on the head and even dunking underneath. These are perfectly well thought out and sensible things to get youngsters used to water – but my 6 week old hated all of that. He liked just bobbing around. Considering the price of the classes it became glaringly obvious that I wasn’t getting good value right now although it did give me extra confidence for those first few sessions. I will however revisit this when he’s older and he can enjoy more of the set tasks.
Therefore we ended up just paying a few quid for a public swim. With a newborn you’re only going to be in the water for 15-30 minutes max, so you really don’t need to shell out for anything special pool wise.
Pick quiet times to avoid your baby getting overwhelmed by other noises or being splashed by other people. Ask the pool specifically when their quietest times are, without any classes or events on. For most it will be week days, often in the mornings when the kids are at school. If you work week days, getting up early on a Sunday morning can be beneficial as a lot of people want a lie-in. I often find Sunday mornings extremely quiet but it does mean getting up and out early on a weekend.
Pay attention to Temperature
The most critical thing with babies and swimming is temperature. Ask the pool what temperature the water is heated to – my midwife told me to look for 30c and not all pools are heated that hot. Many are heated to 28c in which case you may want to leave it to 3-6 months plus. If the pool has a small toddler / baby pool, it might be heated to a higher temperature than the main pool.
For raising temperature in the water you can buy wet suits. William was really struggling with the temperature difference between getting in and out of the water before I bought him this wet-suit. At first we just had the separate bottoms and a wrap around top – but the wetsuit is lined with fleece and I’ve noticed it’s usually dry on the inside when he gets out. It also makes him really buoyant which helps us handle him in the water. Now he doesn’t struggle with temperature differences at all!
The above is the design I chose, but Splash About does a lot of different colours, designs and sizes. You can see their listing on Amazon here.
The only downside is £25 for a wetsuit on a baby that grows out of clothes every few months makes it a bit expensive. But then, I’m saving £70 on those classes so I guess it works out.
Have everything ready when you get out
Getting out can be a bit of a nightmare. Baby is all happy splashing around in the lovely warm water when bam, the cool air hits them. It’s this change of temperature that often induces a meltdown. Having a fluffy towel ready and wrapping them up nice and warm can help. Don’t expect to get dressed any time soon – take the time to dry, dress and warm the baby and sit around soothing him for a while if needed. Then once he’s nice and calm you can pop him down and get dressed.
I make a plan of action and leave my stuff in a locker right next to the baby changing tables, with the towel immediately on top. That way I can open the locker, grab the towel, lay him on it and bundle him up as fast as possible. One advantage is I’ve usually drip dried by the time I’m ready to get dressed!
Two hands are better than one
If you can go with a helper then it’ll ease the burden. Whether that’s mum and dad, or a grandparent or just another friend, numbers mean extra help when getting ready and an extra eye in the pool. Find a swim buddy! My mum loves swimming so swimming for William has very much become something he can do to spend time and bond with his nanna. Most classes only allow one parent – so this is another reason to just go to a general swim. It’s become a wonderful outing for us, often with all three generations in the pool.
If there is only one of you, consider a waterproof baby carrier, it’ll make life a lot easier!
If you don’t have anyone to go with, check out the App Mush that I talk about in my Five Must-Have Apps for Parenting. You can leave a post on your local forum asking if anyone fancies swimming – there are regular meet ups in my area at the pool. It’ll help you make some new friends too!