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Baby Swimming by Debbie Kelso

Hi, my name’s Debbie. I’ve been a baby and toddler swimming teacher for almost 14yrs now and before that I was a midwife for 11yrs. I also teach older children and adults and coach triathlon.

I’ve been an open water swimmer for about 7 or 8 years and I’m having the most amazing winter with the Wild Ones in Edinburgh.
I believe swimming with your baby or child should be fun above all else.

Babies can obviously be introduced to water in the bath before they tackle a pool, although if you have access to a warm enough pool, >32C and equally warm air temperature, you can take them swimming from birth. Under current Department Of Health recommendations vaccinations aren’t required before swimming.

Children are just mini humans and have their own wee personalities from the start. Some will prefer to go swimming when the pool is quiet – less distractions, less likely to get splashed, not disturbed by the new type and volume of noise. Some will thrive on the noise and bustle of other children around them.

It’s always a good idea to take your little one when they aren’t likely to be tired or hungry, but try to give them an hour or so after food, especially if they are on solids, to avoid them vomiting in the pool.

They should always have a well-fitting swim nappy on. The “disposable” paper ones can be rinsed, dried and used several times. Don’t try to use a normal nappy – you won’t believe how much water they can hold!!
 I would always recommend a double nappy – disposable or reusable swim nappy underneath and something like a Splash About neoprene Happy Nappy on top. If you child does decide to have a poo, you can just change the inner nappy and carry on. It also gives more protection against leaks.

If your baby does vomit (not just a posset) or poos in the pool, please let pool staff know – don’t be embarrassed.

You’ll need to ensure your baby doesn’t get cold. Babies under a year should ideally be in water over 30C. Again, like us, some will get cold more easily than others. Try to keep your baby’s body in the water otherwise they may get cold more quickly. There are plenty baby wetsuits out there and some of you will appreciate only too well what a difference some good fitting neoprene can make!

Young babies don’t shiver, so keep a wee eye on the colour of lips and extremities. You know the score….get them out of the water, warm shower (their core temp probably hasn’t dropped much, so it’s ok to shower them), get dried, skin to skin, dress warmly. If you notice a quivering chin it is often caused by a little extra adrenalin – your child may be excited or a little nervous.

It’s always good to have a few toys with you to encourage play in a new, watery environment and to use as a distraction if anything does upset them.

Initially pool sessions should focus on you getting used to being together in the water. Sometimes it takes parents a bit of practice handling their precious moppet in the pool. Remember that the whole thing is a huge input of new sensory experiences.
What you do with them in the pool will depend on age, strength and their personality.

Encourage them to try new things – blow bubbles in the water, stretch their arms out to reach a toy/other parent/the poolside, throw a toy and encourage them to kick their legs to move in the water. Float on your back with your little one resting on your chest, lie their chest on your forearm when they’re strong enough and swish them around in a circle, pour water over the back of their head then their face so they aren’t worried about getting hair washed.

Learn a bit about your baby’s natural reflexes and use them to facilitate teaching e.g. amphibian reflex, gag reflex.

Think about what helps to make us good swimmers – streamlining, balance, buoyancy, rotation (in different planes), propulsion, aquatic breathing. Think about ways you can help you child learn these concepts whilst having fun. I find I don’t have to “teach” older kids in the same way as adults. I show kids what to do, they copy, hey presto! Adults are a whole other story!!

Don’t forget safety. Teaching you child how to be safe around water, whether indoors or out is just as important as swimming. Young children, around 2yrs old can usually be taught how to roll on their backs to float and breathe and also turn vertically to face the side of pool/river/pond to hold on/swim to side and climb out. I start teaching these skills in a very basic form as soon as we get the babies in the pool.

It’s difficult to describe the actual practices I use whilst teaching but there are some great swim schools out there. Please research very carefully before choosing one – look at the pools they use (I’m aware of some baby swim schools here who use pools we wouldn’t!) What qualifications do the teachers have, are they DBS/PVG checked, do they have an appropriate rescue qualification, do they carry a first aid kit and know how to use it…

I work for a company called Water Babies who have franchises around the country and around the world now. Teachers are extremely well trained, I know as I have trained lots of them ;) The classes are quite structured to encourage progression in learning of skills but allow each child/parent to go at their own pace. We do submerge children from early in their journey but only if they and their parent are happy to do so. Submersion isn’t the main focus of lessons but it’s a useful skill for children to have – they can explore buoyancy, balance, independence, build strength, learn aquatic breathing. It’s also a very good skill for safety – if the underwater world is a familiar one the child will be less likely to panic if they should fall into water.

If you or anyone you know is interested in lessons you’ll find more information here:


I hope this has been useful to someone. If it’s not you, please feel free to pass it on to friends and family.
Have fun!

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