Early Exposure to Swimming is Key for Baby in the St. Louis Sun

Natalie Jane, NP

At around two months, our pediatrician cleared Baby Girl for swimming. Her dad and I are water-lovers, so we were excited to get her into the pool and increase her comfort levels. Baths were not necessarily going so well, and we found that early exposure to the water and swimming, recreationally, could make bath time more fun in addition to helping prepare her for water safety in the future. Unfortunately, now, we deal with crying when she LEAVES the pool rather than enters. Here are my best tips for getting baby acclimated to the pool from a former lifeguard and swim instructor of all ages!

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Water BabyNatalie Jane

1. Get cleared by your pediatrician!

Before you begin, make sure your pediatrician approves! You want to make sure Baby is healthy enough for the water exposure and won't develop some sort of related infection. Our pediatrician cleared us at around two months, but every doctor is different-and every baby.

2. Invest in a shaded baby raft.

Initially, swimming with Baby Girl was terrifying. I was so worried about her receiving too much sun exposure or, worse, sinking to the bottom of the pool. There are many shaded baby rafts available to protect babies from the sun while simultaneously providing floatation. This was a great place to start before she began to get more comfortable in the water. She would initially lay and kind of lounge on the shaded baby raft. However, eventually, she became a little bit antsy. These rafts usually have a special spot for babies to sit in the water-a netting that protects them from sinking. There are a few different positions they can assume in the raft and the netting-but it's important for you to be right there helping them! I think, as long as they have your assistance, the baby rafts are relatively safe. However, it's important to have an eye on baby at all times.

3. Invest in a Sun Hat with SPF.

The raft may be shaded, but in order to bring baby further into the water with me without a raft, we needed a hat to protect her little bald head from the sun. Babies can't yet wear sunscreen! The beach hat, with two velcro straps that attach under her chin, even shades her neck and upper chest. There are many varieties of the beach hat, but ours is Nike and provides 50 SPF. It is considered a "bucket hat." She doesn't particularly like the hat, but we had to get her used to it in order to prevent too much exposure. I think she is used to it now.

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Baby in RaftNatalie Jane

4. Take advantage of cloudy days and evening time!

Sunny and hot days in St. louis are sometimes a bit scary for infants. I don't like to have my baby out too long, especially in the sun, despite adequate protection. That's why I certainly take advantage of the cooler, cloudy days in the Summer for swimming, especially for longer sessions. It doesn't bother her eyes as much. The evening is ideal, when the sun is down, if adequate lighting is available. This way, you can really allow Baby to get comfortable in the water without all of the gear for sun protection. This is also true if you have an indoor pool available. We haven't yet taken Baby Girl to the indoor pool at Lifetime Fitness, but we plan to.

5. Don't forget the swim diapers!

My worst fear is getting kicked out of the pool for an accidental Code Brown! We use a swim diaper underneath and a re-usable swim cover to give us extra protection. Keep in mind-the swim diapers are NOT meant to hold urine! Only poop. So as soon as you are done swimming-change Baby into a real one.

6. Start the motions:

Babies know how to swim a little bit before birth! It is fun to go ahead and start going through the motions of swimming with them to prepare them for later and build up that muscle strength!

-Kicking

I like to hold her feet and move them up-and-down as she sits in the raft. She already kind of does this instinctually. Sometimes I will try to facilitiate this when I am holding her waist, too.

-Arm Movements

When I used to teach swim lessons, I would refer to the swimming arm movements as "Ice Cream Scoops." I hold her bicep and lightly guide her arms into an exaggerated doggy-paddle in order to build muscle and hopefully initiate some muscle memory for her swimming skills later.

-Floating

This seems to be the most instinctual water activity! We lay Baby Girl on her back and, by placing a hand underneath her mid-spine, we facilitate arching her back.

7. Practice sitting, standing, and walking in the shallow end.

The water has enough resistance for her to safely and more easily practice sitting, standing, and walking. She loves to do this outside of the water! In fact, this is all she wants to do. I have a feeling the practice as well as associated resistance the water provides builds her strength, too. It seems like after practicing in the water, her skills improve outside of the water.

8. Lounge and let baby nap.

On Saturdays and Sundays, sometimes you want to socialize, but also spend time with Baby! This is a great time to go swimming and get the raft out. You can let Baby nap while you push her back and forth and talk to friends. You can even hold baby in the water if you have an adequately shady area in the pool. I think promoting lounging and letting baby nap while you hold her in the water is the best way to increase comfort levels, normalizing the water as just another place to play and relax with added safety in mind.

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Baby LoungingNatalie Jane

9. Play.

Do the same things you would do outside of the water! Bounce with baby, giggle and smile, and talk to Baby. This really helps them forget about the new and potentially scary/different environment.

10. The Diving Reflex

It's not necessary to freak out too much if Baby gets submerged in water for a second in your arms, or baby is accidentally splashed. I wouldn't ever purposefully do this or facilitate this, but the prospect of submersion was something that initially terrified me. However, the pediatrician assured me that, although we need to exercise much caution with babies in the water, they are actually equipped with some survival mechanisms/reflexes in the first year of life that are meant to increase survival, such as holding their breath during submersion. This is known as the Diving Reflex.

11. Rest in the shade.

It is important to take a few breaks during swimming sessions. This may be to take a little nap in the shade, or even time for a feeding. If I want to spend a few hours in the water with my Baby, these rest periods are critical.

12. Get a swim shirt.

This can also be helpful if you want to ditch the raft for hanging together in the sun. This, along with a bucket hat, completely protects Baby Girl from the sun when we are swimming. The swim shirt also provides some SPF and I think it also keeps her a little bit warmer. I got hers from Target. You can actually get swim-suits like this that cover the entire body.

13. End the session with a warm towel and cuddles.

When Baby starts to get fussy, I know it is time to go in. I end the swim session wrapping her up like a burrito in one of her animal towels, changing her into a dry diaper, and then I hold her until she falls asleep. These are very energy-depleting activities and Baby Girl always sleeps well that same night. I think keeping her warm at the end is the most important part because I wouldn't want her to associate being cold afterwards with the fun we had together in the water.

14. Bring water fun to the bath tub!

Our swimming sessions in the pool encouraged me to try and make bath time an opportunity for practicing swim skills in slightly warmer water. I get some toys out and we splash around. She even practices floating. She initially hated baths, but now I think they are one of her favorite activities!

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Nurse Practitioner turned Board Exam Preparation Coach and Mom.

St. Louis, MO
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