Sarah Ashton from Water Babies explains why gaining water confidence and swimming skills is so important for babies and children:
Babies are born ready to play, and water is a wonderful, natural sensory play area, where your baby can learn and have fun – especially in the summer. Giving your baby water confidence is the best way you can prepare them for swimming and being safe in the water for life.
The start of the summer holidays seems an ideal time to share a few watery tips to help you and your baby explore water safely and confidently.
Having spent nine months suspended in fluid in the womb, babies generally love the liberating sensation of floating freely in warm water. The bath is the perfect place to start. Bathing together, skin-on-skin is incredibly bonding, and your baby will feel safe and secure being held by you. With water at body temperature your baby can relax and reach out their arms and legs – they may try kicking and splashing too, much as they did before they were born.
Using your hand, you can gently sprinkle water on your baby’s tummy. Let them reach for and grab bath toys, or try holding your baby’s head and shoulders, letting the water support them in a back float, and singing lullabies.
And it’s never too early to get them in a pool – as long as the water’s warm enough. Always phone your local pool to check the temperature of the water that day. It needs to be above 30 degrees for a baby older than 12 weeks (or heavier than 12lbs), and above 32 degrees if they’re younger or smaller. Popping on a warming wetsuit can really help those babies who feel the cold.
Normally, there’s no need for your baby to have had their immunisations beforehand (see the NHS website: www.immunisations.org.uk) but if your baby was premature, or you have any other medical concerns, check with your doctor first.
Six months to a year
Now your baby is more active, bath time starts to be an altogether more splashy experience! You can still get in with your baby, or you can run a shallow bath and let them sit or lie in it.
Encourage your baby to splash and kick. Trying showing them how to pour water from one cup to another, or use a watering can to sprinkle it. You can sing songs with actions – “this is the way we splash our hands/kick our legs/wash our face” (to the tune of Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush).
Toddlers and beyond
Baths, paddling pools, sprinklers, basins in the garden – your toddler will love water however it comes! You can buy all sorts of toys for bath times– boats, foam letters, crayons for drawing – but empty plastic bottles, pots and cups are just as good for pouring and experimenting.
You can teach your little one to blow bubbles – try making different sounds under the water. You can also help them learn what floats, and find sunken treasures under a carpet of bubble bath.
Water parks and swimming pools are also a great way of keeping cool and having fun. You can gently splash your toddler around a pool, sit them on the side and splash them in, and hold them so they can kick their legs.
Older babies and toddlers enjoy songs and water toys like plastic ducks and fish. If your child can walk, they may enjoy playing in the water where they can touch the bottom. Keep the mood light and let your baby dictate the pace.
Kit for fun in the pool
UV suit SPF 50+ for outdoor pools
Water resistant sun cream and a hat
Wetsuit for cooler pools
Toys – bath toys, inflatable balls, plastic floats
Heading to the beach? A day at the seaside is the epitome of summer holiday fun. It is safe to take your baby in the sea, although it’s not recommended for babies under six months because of the water temperature and saltiness. Salty water doesn’t taste nice and can sting your baby’s eyes, so no submersions…
Be aware of the waves, currents and tides which can knock little ones over, so keep hold of them at all times, even if the water seems calm. You should also stay in the shallows, avoid inflatables, and make sure you don’t stay in too long.
Kit for fun in the sea:
UV suit SPF 50+
Wetsuit – should be a snug fit
Water resistant sun cream and a hat
Plastic ‘jelly’ shoes for jumping in the waves
Water safety is as important as learning to cross the road, whether you’re going for a dip or you’re near a body of water. Some people think babies can’t learn water safety, but nothing could be further from the truth. Little babies are not innately scared of water – quite the opposite; they’ve spent nine months cocooned in it so they’re quite comfortable in water.
Drowning happens most often when people panic. Keeping children relaxed in water, and used to submerging in the controlled way means they won’t panic if their heads go under water by accident.
It’s so important to teach our children water confidence from a young age, and this is borne out by Micaela Beale from Eltham whose daughter Ruby nearly drowned in a swimming accident whilst on holiday with family last year. Ruby, who was 3 at the time of the incident fell into a swimming pool trying to retrieve a ball. Her parents had taken their eyes off her for a second, the next thing they knew was that she was soaking wet – but amazingly calm and collected. It transpires that Ruby had fallen in at the deep end of the pool, sunk to the bottom, kicked her way to the surface, swum to the side, and climbed out. Her Mum Micaela is sure that this story doesn’t have a tragic ending because she has taken Ruby to swimming classes since she was a baby.
“We truly believe that, had it not been for her swimming lessons, she would have panicked and probably the story would have ended very differently. However, she was not scared of the water, she knew to hold her breath, she knew to kick up from the bottom and swim to the side of the pool, and how to get herself out.”
Michaela goes on to say
“We were overwhelmed with the enormity of what might have been, but Ruby was completely calm through it all and still has no fears about water or swimming. Ruby may not be a strong swimmer yet as she’s still only 3 but she was capable enough and well trained enough in what to do when the worst happened to save her own life.”
Whatever you do with your babies this summer have fun and stay safe.
For more information on baby swimming classes contact
Water Babies London South East at [email protected] or 020 8858 5242.