I've always felt that swimming is an important life skill that children should learn from a young age. Not only could it help save their life one day, but it's also a fun activity that they can enjoy with friends or on family holidays.
I've always taken both of my children from a young age and now at just turned two, my youngest is quite happy to splash about and is becoming more confident in the water.
Taking your baby or toddler swimming for the first time can be quite a daunting prospect; just the practicalities of getting you both changed can put a lot of people off. However, if you make it a part of your routine from an early age, it can become a hobby that you both enjoy.
It's never too soon to start
The first year of a baby's life is important in terms of their physical development and gaining new experiences, meaning it's a perfect time to introduce them to swimming. Swimming is an excellent exercise for young children, as the water allows them to move about freely. Starting early also means they're less likely to develop a fear of the water that can occur in older children.
There's no need to wait till your baby's had their immunisations, but you should allow at least six weeks after the birth before going swimming. For young babies try and go to smaller pools, where the temperature is likely to be warmer. At the baby and toddler session that we visit, the pool temperature is usually slightly warmer than normal.
Pick the right time
When you first decide to take your child swimming, make sure you pick the right time of day. If they're a fairly young baby then when they've just woken up, so they're not over tired, is probably a good idea. Avoid going straight after they've eaten.
Check out the schedules at your local pool as many have dedicated groups for parents and young children. We tend to go to a session once a week where they rope off the shallow end and put balls, watering cans and buckets in the pool for the children to play with.
Don't stay in too long
Remember that as your baby won't be moving about much they'll feel the cold quicker than you. Don't feel that you have to stay in the pool for ages - getting them used to it can be a gradual process. You can increase the time you spend there as they get older and more active, but the first times you take them it's more about acclimatising them to the water and the surroundings. You'll know yourself when your child has started to have enough, but even now we rarely spend more than 30 minutes there.
Before you set off make sure that you've packed everything that you'll need - swimming costumes, nappies, shampoo, etc. A good idea is to put your own swimsuit on underneath your clothes to make changing quicker. I always get myself ready first, so that my son's not getting cold. When we come out of the pool, we have a quick shower, and then I'll get him dried and dressed first. If they're old enough, a snack or drink to keep them happy while you're getting dressed is a good idea.
Make it fun
Above all make sure that you both have fun and that it becomes an activity you can enjoy together. Get them to love being in the pool, making splashes and jumping about. They'll become more independent and gain confidence the more often you go. If your pool doesn't offer a session like ours where they provide water toys, take a few of your own along.
One of the best products I had when my sons were younger was an inflatable baby seat. This allowed me to have both hands free, as well as giving them the independence to kick and float about by themselves. As they've got older, they've progressed onto flotation vests, armbands and swimming noodles. Different children develop swimming skills at varying speeds, so make sure they feel secure and safe in the pool before moving them onto the next level.
Hopefully if you don't already take your baby swimming this will have encouraged you to give it a try. It's certainly something that we both enjoy doing.