Your baby is accustomed t o water, because she spent months in amniotic fluid while in your tummy, so water is a naturally nurturing environment for her. Gina Belli, owner of Little Ducks Swim School and a professional swimming instructor with the Professional Baby Swimming Teachers Association (PBSTA) explains that not only is water fantastic for your baby’s physical and social development, it also teaches her water safety. “By giving your baby the chance to exercise, you’ll be helping her muscle development and general fitness, while laying down habits that will help her grow into a fit, healthy adult,” she says.
Our expert answers your niggling questions…
What’s the perfect age to introduce my baby to swimming?
In South Africa, we start babies from six months but there’s no perfect age. Regardless of age, the sooner your child starts in a swimming programme the better, as drowning is the second highest accidental death amongst children in South Africa. If you start your baby earlier than six months, it would be advisable to try and keep her first few visits relatively short; start with 10 minutes and build up to around 20 minutes until your baby is comfortable in the water and with the teacher.
Will the pool be warm enough for my baby?
Pool temperatures should be at 32˚C (even during winter) for a comfortable swimming lesson. A closed pool environment is preferable during winter.
How can I get involved?
If you continue to sing the songs that are used for certain movements in the pool, your baby will connect the two and respond in good time. Continue to practice with your baby outside of swim school, as repetition is the best way for your child to learn. This can also be done at home in the bath by placing your baby on her back, placing your hands and arms gently under her head and body, and letting her float with her ears submerged. If she becomes distressed, then sit her upright and try again a little later.
What’s the best way to ease my baby into this new environment?
Remember to be patient with your little one as she is facing many new challenges in her life at this stage. Baby lessons are all introduced by nursery rhymes, to soothe your baby during the beginning stages. Hold your baby securely close to your body in the pool and gently wash water over her body, progressing to sprinkling it gently over the back of her head and, eventually, her face. While holding your baby, move around slowly with your shoulders under the water and feet firmly on the pool floor. Smile and communicate with your little one by making eye contact and reassuring her that she’s safe with you.
What are the benefits of learning to swim at a young age?
The more opportunities you can give your child to burn off some energy, the happier she’ll be. You’ll probably find that your little one will be more alert, with better eating and sleeping patterns.
Swimming develops your baby’s coordination, allowing her to move independently long before she is able to crawl or walk. This contributes to gross- and fine-motor skills development and improves the function of the skeletal muscles.
How much will it cost?
Prices differ, but ranging from about R450 to about R600 per month for a 20 to 30 minute lesson, twice a week.