When Can Babies Swim And How To Teach Them

baby swimming

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If you enjoy swimming, then you might want to take your baby to the pool. Swimming offers some significant benefits, but is it safe for babies? Can you teach a baby to swim?

In this post, MomJunction tells you when babies can swim, how to introduce them to water and the precautions you must take before taking them to the pool.

When Can Babies Go Swimming?

The US National Safety Council recommends a baby to be at least six months old to go to the pool for a swim (1). However, the lack of research about the appropriate age for swimming encourages parents to take their babies before the recommended age (2).

At six months, your child is no more a newborn and also has greater muscular dexterity like the ability to roll and sit without support (3). Considering the development, six months is usually an appropriate time for a swim.

Swimming would be not only fun but also beneficial to your baby.

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[ Read: Water Safety For Babies ]

What Are The Benefits Of Swimming For A Baby?

Here we list them:

  1. Lower risk of drowning: Children aged one to four, who learned to swim as infants, displayed lesser susceptibility to drowning (4). It means that a baby feels more confident in water if he learns swimming earlier in life.
  1. Better body balance and control: Swimming helps improve body balance and muscle control among infants. It is perhaps due to the extensive use of muscles when swimming (5).
  1. Promotes bone health: Swimming is said to improve bone health and strengthen joints, owing to the intensive body movement during the activity (6).
  1. May benefit those with asthma: Moderate swimming may help individuals, including children, with asthma cope better with the condition (7).
  1. Better cognitive and physical abilities: Children who start swimming early in life display advanced cognitive and physical abilities (8).

The benefits of swimming for an infant are debatable and do note that not all babies reap the same advantages. Also, most infants may benefit from swimming, only once they are older than 12 months.

Nevertheless, swimming can be an excellent pastime and exercise for a growing baby, provided you are selecting the right pool.

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How To Choose The Right Swimming Pool For Your Baby?

Keep the following points in mind when choosing a swimming pool for the baby:

  • The pool should be exclusive for infants. Pick a pool that is only for babies and not older kids. That reduces the risk of infection.
  • They should have fresh water. Prefer pools that circulate and filter fresh water to the ones that use chlorinated water.
  • Look for a well-shaded and ventilated facility. The swimming pool must have adequate ventilation and shade, yet be properly lit.
  • Go for a shallow pool: You cannot hold your baby well if you are busy keeping yourself steady in the water. Exclusive baby pools must be shallow enough for an adult to stand comfortably with head above the water. The water level should preferably be up to the shoulder for an adult.
  • Presence of lifeguards is a must. The facility must have a lifeguard who can help in the case of emergencies.

With these criteria, you are sure to choose the right pool for your baby but do not forget to pack all the things that the little one may need.

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[ Read: When Can Babies Sit Up ]

What To Carry In Your Baby’s Swim Bag?

A baby’s swimming bag should contain the following items:

  1. Swim diapers: Conventional diapers will not work in the swimming pool. So, get a pack of swim diapers as do not swell on contact with water and also have extra cuffs and elastic to prevent leakage when the baby is in water.
  1. Water toys: These are water-proof, floating toys that keep the baby engaged when in the pool.
  1. Towels: Pack adequate soft towels to wipe and wrap the baby in after he’s out of the pool. You can also consider using a baby bathrobe that your little one can wear immediately after coming out of the pool.
  1. Feeding bottle and snacks: Your baby will be hungry after swimming. Carry a feeding bottle either with formula or expressed milk. You can also carry some snacks such as mashed bananas or fruit purée.
  1. Extra clothes: Some additional clothing for after the swim.

If you are planning to take your baby to the pool regularly, then you may teach him to swim.

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How To Teach A Baby To Swim?

Here are the different techniques to teach infants to swim and nurture their swimming reflexes (9):

  1. Bouncing: Hold your baby in your arms and step into the pool. Get into the water slowly until the baby is halfway into the water. Allow the baby to feel the water. Gently bounce up and down with the baby in your arms.
  1. Swaying: Hold the baby straight, and move him forward and backward in the water. It helps acquaint the infant with the sensation of moving in water.
  1. Dipping: Hold the baby face to face, with one hand on the baby’s back and another on the chest. Gently blow some air on his face while you slowly dip the face underwater, and then, bring the baby back up to your chest immediately.

Blowing on the face triggers baby’s diving reflex and makes them close the mouth shut and hold their breath, to prevent them from gulping down water (10). Try this a couple of times more until the baby gets accustomed, and the diving reflex will initiate on its own.

  1. Front dipping: Place the baby in your arms with its back to you. Gently move his head forward so that it dips in the water. Pull back immediately. Front dipping habituates the infant to come in contact with water face-first.
  1. Floating: Place a hand on the baby’s chest and another under the legs and hold the baby horizontally with the belly touching the water. Gradually remove your hand to let the baby float. The baby is likely to move the hands and feet instinctively, to swim and stay above water. Keep your hand close to the baby as a safeguard.
  1. Reverse floating: Repeat the same steps as with floating, but this time with the infant facing upwards and his back to the water.
  1. Underwater scooting: Use both your arms to hold the baby in a horizontal position such that the head faces to the left, feet to the right and belly to the water. Now gently bring down the baby, in a sideways direction, into the water and pull him out after performing an arc-like or swoosh-like movement underwater. This technique will help the baby in getting used to the underwater action.
  1. Free swimming: If the baby seems confident in the water, then you can try and leave him all by himself to explore. However, stay close to the baby to prevent accidents.

The objective here is to make the baby comfortable in water while also letting him enjoy.

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[ Read: When Can Babies Start To Hear ]

Can Babies Swim On Their Own?

No. Babies cannot swim on their own. So they will need your support when in water.

Infants have a set of neonatal reflexes that make them comfortable in the pool, but these reflexes often disappear after 12 months (11) (12) (13). Babies aren’t physically developed to swim and cannot wade independently even if they spend a lot of time at the pool.

Teaching a baby to “swim” is all about acquainting them to being in the water and floating.

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How Long Should The Baby Swim?

There is no set time, but the ideal duration is 15-20 minutes. Be watchful for signs of discomfort, such as shivering and fussiness. If your baby appears irritated, then get them out of the water right away.

Of course, you have to follow safety measures when the baby is in water.

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How To Keep Your Baby Safe In The Pool?

Here is how you can ensure the baby’s safety when you take them for a swim.

  1. Never leave your baby alone: According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, infants can drown in as little as two inches of water (14). Accidents of drowning are preventable through adult supervision. So, never leave your baby unattended in a swimming pool.
  1. Avoid pools with intense chlorine odor: Experts state that if you can smell chlorine at a pool, then there is probably excess chlorine in the water. Chlorine can irritate baby’s nasal lining and eyes and should be avoided (15).
  1. Keep electrical appliances away: Ensure that there are no potential hazards such as electrical devices near the pool or the tub that the baby is in.
  1. Learn CPR: Cardio-pulmonary resuscitation is a first aid measure to revive someone who has stopped breathing due to suffocation (16). You can learn CPR from local support groups. If there is a lifeguard around at the swimming pool facility, then check if they know CPR.

[ Read: When Do Babies Start Seeing ]

To make swimming safe for a baby, pick a pool with clean water and supervise the baby when in the pool. At times, it is best to keep the baby away from swimming in any water body.

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When Not To Let The Baby Swim

Avoid taking your baby for a swim in the following situations:

  1. Diarrhea: If your baby has diarrhea, then do not take him to the pool (17). Even the best swim diapers do not guarantee protection against the transmission of pathogens into the water. This contaminates the pool for others.
  1. Ear infection: Swimming for too long can increase the risk of an outer ear canal infection. The condition is called otitis externa or swimmer’s ear (18) (19). If the baby already suffers from an ear infection, then swimming may complicate the problem further.
  1. Cough and cold: A runny nose and cough can contaminate the water. And the cold water can aggravate your baby’s problem. Going for a swim is certainly a bad idea when your baby has a cold.
  1. Eye infection: Swimming with an eye infection can irritate the eyes, while also transmitting the pathogen to the others (20).
  1. Asthma, eczema, and allergies: If your baby has asthma or other allergies, then consult a doctor before taking him for a swim. Chemicals, such as chlorine, in the pool can exacerbate the symptoms of these conditions. If your baby has eczema, then you need to take special care, such as applying petroleum jelly all over his body, before getting into the pool (21).

The general rule is that your baby should be completely healthy when you take him for a swim. If the baby is unwell, then wait till he recovers and is healthy.

Next, we answer a few commonly asked questions about swimming for babies.

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Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can I join the baby for a swim?

Yes. Women can start swimming six weeks postpartum (22). Since you would be taking the baby in the sixth month, you can certainly go into the pool with your little one. In fact, your baby will require a familiar face, like a parent, to hold him in the pool.

[ Read: When Can Babies Sleep With Pillows ]

2. Can I take my baby to swimming programs?

No. Up to the age of six to 12 months, your baby must only indulge in recreational swimming but not swimming lessons. Swimming lessons should be considered for babies over 12 months of age (23). Research shows that formal swimming lessons are effective in preventing drowning accidents only when the baby is at least a year old (24).

3. What should the ideal pool temperature be for infants?

The ideal swimming pool temperature for a baby is 86°F (30°C) (25). Keeping the pool temperature makes swimming comfortable for the baby.

4. Can my baby swim in the sea?

Avoid taking your baby to the sea at least until he becomes a toddler. The water on the shores is not calm like it is in a swimming pool. Heavy water currents and tides certainly make swimming difficult with an infant in your hands.

Not to forget, the dangerous sea creatures, such as a jellyfish, that your baby may playfully catch while on the shore like jellyfish (26). Seawater may also contain pathogens and pollutants (27).

If you still want to take your baby to a beach for a swim, then choose a protected one beach that is less polluted. Check with the lifeguard about the high and low tide timings for the day and the presence of any dangerous sea creatures around the shore.

Only waddle in shallow water and do not step deep into the ocean with your baby. After the swim, shower your baby with clean, fresh water to wash off the salt.

Swimming is an excellent exercise and can keep a baby healthy. But never leave the baby alone in a pool, for he cannot swim alone.

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[ Read: When Should Babies Use Walkers ]

Swimming with the baby can be a delightful experience for you, while the company of a parent can engage and excite the baby to try the new activity.

Have you taken your baby for a swim? Share your experiences in the comment section below.

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Rohit Garoo

Rohit Garoo took writing as a profession right after finishing his MBA in Marketing. Earlier he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Botany & Zoology from the autonomous St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai. Rohit has also done a Stanford University certification course on breastfeeding. This botanist-zoologist turned writer excels at life sciences, and at MomJunction he writes everything about pediatrics and maternal care. In between writing and being overly curious, he spends time cooking, reading, and playing video games. LinkedIn profile – linkedin.com/in/rohit-garoo-263115aa
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