One of the first activities that I always recommend to new parents is swimming. In addition to being a life skill, it stimulates development, lets your little one have fun, and is a great incentive for your baby to work on their physical activity, especially during the winter. Not to mention that it is another moment that parents and children spend together, further strengthening their emotional bonds from an early age. After spending nine months in a uterine environment, our little ones love to be in the water; they also already have three swimming reflexes to help them. That is, they learn how to take a quick breath before going underwater, and then they hold their breath, automatically close their mouths and start moving their arms and legs. Consciously? No, but it is a voluntary stimulus that makes the baby up to one-year-old learn to swim easily if stimulated. So, why not put them in swimming class?
An activity that contributes to child development
Swimming for babies does not have the main goal of teaching them how to swim, but to help with sensory and motor development. Babies begin to know their bodies better, learn to make different movements, and experience new sensations. Swimming – and other sporting activities – are essential to stimulate children’s self-confidence, help them become more independent and be more communicative, as sports are sociable and most of the time, require teamwork.
Some pediatricians recommend that babies start swimming lessons at 3 months of age, as the benefits are greater since the baby gets used to the aquatic environment from an early age. While others recommend from the age of 6 months when they have already taken all the vaccines and parents can feel safer regarding infections, as the risk in this phase is much lower.
And some argue that the ideal is the from the age of 2, arguing that the child is able to take better advantage of classes, as they have an understanding of what is happening and feel safer, too. But, everything really depends on how the parents feel and how their babies are developing, and how exposed they are to other potential risks.
In my career as a professional nanny, I was in charge of taking my babies to swimming lessons (quite a privilege, as I also learned how to swim very early, and I absolutely love it!). Most of the time, they started when they were between 6 and 12 months old. Here in the northeast of the United States, where winter is long and outdoor time ends up being limited for children due to subzero temperatures in the winter months, swimming is one of the ideal activities for children to use their energy – which we know they have plenty of.
To help parents choose the best option for their children, I’ll talk here about the risks and benefits of swimming for babies.
The benefits of swimming for babies
In the previous paragraphs, we have superficially mentioned the benefits of swimming for your baby, now we will explain in more depth.
Familiarization with water, although they still do not have an understanding of what they are doing, especially because water is not an environment that they are familiar with outside the womb. Upon contact, this familiarity will be built and strengthened. This will facilitate your learning how to swim when they are older, prevent or at least lower the risks of drowning and being afraid to swim. They will even feel more confident swimming in the ocean in the future. As I said earlier, it is an incredibly useful life skill.
It increases the connection between parents and children: in addition to spending more quality time together. This activity works with confidence and a sense of security that parents, or caregivers, will pass on to the little ones. Thus, nurturing an even greater connection.
Improves the respiratory system: swimming helps the chest muscles to be strengthened, improving the baby’s breathing. It is also often recommended for children who already have a respiratory problem.
It stimulates motor coordination: because your baby will move around a lot, it may seem like playing, but swinging their legs and arms is hard work which is also a fundamental activity for the child’s development.
It helps them have quality, solid sleep: Well, besides the numerous benefits mentioned previously, as a bonus, you will see that your little fish will have a great sleep after this activity, as they use a lot of their energy. However, it is imperative that you are aware of the class schedule in relation to your baby’s routine, and not force them to stay awake to take that class! The best time is to have a schedule about 60-90min before nap or bedtime, so they are ready for it afterward.
Swimming risks for babies
As everything good has, perhaps, a bad side, with swimming it does have some points that you should consider. There are indeed some risks, especially when they are very young, these are:
Risks of infections: with very young babies (under six months), the risk of infections can be high; first, because their immune system is still in formation and also because they have not yet received the doses of the vaccine in order for their body to build up some resistance to possible viruses and bacteria.
A traumatic event can occur: as your baby does not yet have control over their body and does not know how to perform the correct movements, it is possible that at some point, they will be afraid to swim even with you around. It is important to learn that falling and getting up is part of life. Fear is common, but it is up to you to pass the sense of security they need to feel safe and confident in the water. Never force, push, or throw your child into the pool – even if someone is there to catch them – so as not to feed that fear in your child.Hearing problems can develop: parents should be aware of getting water in the baby’s ear, which can cause illness, such as ear infections. Unfortunately, this is one of the risks that are most difficult to avoid 100% of the time.