It is NEVER too early to enroll your child in swim lessons. The American Academy of Pediatrics now recognizes that infants and toddlers can benefit from early exposure to water safety and swimming classes. A few years ago I wrote in support of the AAP’s revision of their previous recommendation to wait on swim lessons until the age of four, and shared my experience with infant lessons.
But what exactly can you expect from swim lessons for an infant? Here is a more indepth look at what might happen as you begin an aquatic program with your infant.
1. Swim diaper requirements. Most swim lesson programs or community pools require a cloth, reusable swim diaper alone or over a disposable swim diaper. The cloth swim diaper should be snug, but not too tight around the legs and waist. Its purpose is to contain fecal accidents. This prevents pool closures, and you know you don’t want to be the one responsible for everyone’s lessons getting canceled! My favorite reusable swim diaper is made by Finis and can be ordered online or can be found for sale in most swim schools. I personally recommend you use a DISPOSABLE swim diaper like Huggies Little Swimmers under the cloth swim diaper. It makes for easier clean up in case of a fecal accident. Also if you are waiting for your class to start with a baby on your lap, you will not get soaked by a pee accident, since the cloth diapers do not hold liquid.
2. Swim diaper trick. If you decide to forgo the disposable swim diaper underneath the cloth one, here’s a trick you should know. Put on a REGULAR disposable diaper under the required cloth swim diaper if you want to get ready before you arrive or if you arrive early to class. Then you can simply remove the tape and pull the disposable diaper out without even taking off the cloth when you are ready to hop in the pool.
Now for the real stuff!
3. Your first class. Your baby is becoming acclimated to a new environment. Even if your infant is used to being in a tub, pool, or spa, and loves the water, they might be distracted by activity going on around you. Be patient and give them time to take it all in. Have fun with them and enjoy their reactions as they explore new tactile sensations.
4. Bond with your baby. If your Olympic swimming expectations are not met right away, this is the perfect time to develop a strong bond with him. He will realize it is you who will give him security at a time when he is apprehensive, and that is something that you will both be grateful for the rest of your lives.
Enjoy this time with your infant. Splash a little, play with toys and bubbles, smile and laugh with them, and sing songs. This is essential to learning to swim. A baby having fun in the water is more likely to love swimming and consequently learn much more quickly and willingly. Maintaining and retaining skills will never become a battle.
5. Kicking. Some babies will innately start kicking as soon as you put them in a pool. Some will kick when you swish them around in the water. Others will just chill out and remain motionless. None of these are wrong! Your goal at this age is safety, and babies can become safer around water even if they are not kicking. Some prefer to use arms for propulsion. Babies who are not making forward progress in the water can still be taught to come up for a breath. It may not be ideal, but it buys you time should they need to be “rescued” after an impromptu jump in the pool. It is important to focus on and solidify your baby’s strengths at this time. All babies are different and they can only learn what their level of coordination and development allows.
6. Back floating. You have probably seen amazing videos of babies rolling onto their backs to survive. This is obviously possible, and I’ve had a few students in my 20 years of teaching who just naturally rolled that way. However, it’s not always the best scenario for everyone. If your priority is for your infant to roll on his back as soon as possible, you must have a thick skin. Babies go through periods of development where they are comfortable on their backs with assistance and periods where they throw their arms and feet up in protest. Once their limbs are in the air, their face goes under, and what good is being on your back at that point? When you see these wonder babies floating on their backs, their bodies are rigid in order to keep their balance. This is not a fool-proof life-saving technique if there is any motion in the water such as that caused by other swimmers moving about. If you want your baby to enjoy swimming and be happy and comfortable, don’t force your expectations on them. Feel out their comfort level when they are on their back, offer the appropriate support for that level, sing songs and rock them, and most importantly take it at their pace.
7. Going under water. Most babies will be able to go under water on their first or second lesson. The key to success is giving them the proper cues. The cues, like “One, two, three, GO!” should be given clearly, slowly, and consistently. In a Parent & Me class, the instructor will be able to teach you how to hold your baby while taking them under water. Your baby’s first dips will be very quick and shallow, and most infants learn to hold their breath after the first two to three times. When it is done correctly, your baby will not choke or swallow water. Over time you will be able to lengthen the amount of time they are under, and eventually it will be long enough to let go!
8. Research your options. I taught swim lessons at few different places before landing at AQua Wave. I’ve also visited many other swim schools who are USSSA members, so I’ve seen a range of teaching methods in a variety of facilities over the years. Ideally, you should find a warm, kid-friendly environment. You may be paying a little more for professional, seasoned instructors, but it might be worth it. It all depends on you and your baby’s needs and goals. Teaching methods vary too. Ask yourself if you want your child to enjoy swimming and retain the skills for a lifetime. If you do I recommend a more nurturing, less military style of teaching.
Remember that whichever method you choose; any action is better than no action. Every swim lesson your baby takes buys you more time in the case of an aquatic emergency.