Yes, babies dive and swim!
I believe you may have heard that babies are born with an inner instinct for swimming or diving. Of course, they don’t know how to swim crawl or dolphin style, or how to perform a 3m dive. However, after spending nine months in their mothers’ stomachs, babies are ready to “learn” how to swim after they are born. They certainly know how to dive as well. To be more precise, they know how to hold their breath once they are in the water. Unfortunately, this amazing ability of the babies is being lost after they turn six months.
Since I started the Baby swim club, I have had the opportunity to work with many babies, even more when my little shark and fish were born. In this way I realised how mother nature had it all figured out and it was up to us whether and how we would use these given opportunities. Exactly because of this inner reflex, the experts are suggesting that we should introduce our babies to the joys of water upon their birth, more precisely after they are two months old. Children who started swimming when they were babies will not only have better immune system and muscle development but will also sleep better and have better developed motor skills, and they will be less shy too. My kids have started playing in the water when they were four months old, now they are almost three. This doesn’t mean they have been having regular trainings, just that they have become familiar with the water and know how to enjoy it.
Water is the perfect medium to stimulate a baby. Parents are their first swimming coaches, because at home in a bathtub, they teach the baby both the pleasant and unpleasant feelings of that medium. That is why your bathtub is becoming their first swimming pool and your bathroom a place to learn, stimulate, have fun and enjoy. Parents should allow for this regular portion of cuddling, play and communication with the water, while turning your bathroom fun activities into a daily routine. These first bathroom experiences are actually your babies’ first swimming lessons. If your baby is crying while having a bath there must be something that he/she is not enjoying! Maybe he/she is cold, or hungry, or he/she hit the edge of your bathtub, or maybe water or shampoo got into his/her eyes… I’ve been there with my own children.
So, how do the babies swim and dive then? Babies and children do not have the basic motor skills to make certain swimming freestyle moves until they are four years old. However, babies can be independently mobile in the water long before they are of this age. Instead of using the traditional swimming techniques, they use the primitive-instinctive strokes to move in the water. Their moves, when they are young, reminds us of dolphins swimming and playing under the water surface.
What happens if your baby gags on water? Of course, it is not easy to see your child gagging on water, and I’ve been there many times with my own and other babies. But with these short dips into the water we teach or remind them how to hold their breath, and they will not harm your baby but actually help them acquire an important skill, that could potentially save their life one day… Therefore, don’t worry, and remember, if you are relaxed in the water, so will your baby be. Believe me, they can feel everything, your moves, your grip, body posture, tone of your voice… literally everything.
When should your babies start swimming? My advice for taking your babies to a swimming pool, under your own and the supervision of a swimming professional, should happen when they are six months old. However, for those great water fans, me being one of them, you could start training your babies even when they are four months old. At least that is what I did with my kids. It really depends on a child. In the same way some children start walking when they are seven, nine or thirteen months old. However, when they are six months old, babies are interested in different surroundings and activities, they have a good control over their neck and the parents could enjoy swimming with them.
It is worth mentioning that this introduction to the water must be done gradually and in a controlled environment. Babies should not be exposed to the sun, and the water must be warm enough (minimum 30C) in order to provide pleasant and enjoyable swimming conditions.
During their first encounters with the water, the accent should be put on the fun parents and babies can have together, while noting that babies shouldn’t be forced to do anything that they don’t want to. The best baby swimming lessons are those that are full of simple and made-for- babies activities, song and dance, with gentle and carefully designed and paced dips. Songs and music provide a tender stimulation and they are the most efficient way to communicate with your baby. Repetitions are fun, soothing and they promote learning, both for the babies and their parents.
Therefore, I suggest that you relax and start swimming with your baby, but above all have fun and enjoy your time together! Those moments are simply magical and unforgettable!