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Little Dippers: Baby Swim Safety

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Updated on May 14, 2012

Taking a dip in a pool is a welcome cool down from the summer heat, and your baby isn’t too young to get in on the wet and wild fun.

Swimming classes can be an enjoyable, engaging experience to share with your little one and with other parent-baby pairs. Don’t let the term “class” fool you—your baby won’t necessarily “learn” anything. Rather, this swim program is simply meant to be a pleasurable introduction between your budding Michael Phelps and the big blue pool.

Splashing and floating can be a great bonding experience with your baby, but the water also presents a host of hazards that can endanger your child if you’re not careful. Use the tips below to ensure a safe dip in the water for both you and your little swimmer:

  • Age awareness. If the water’s warm and the sun’s blazing down, you can take your baby, in your arms, into the pool once he’s over a few weeks old. The younger your baby, obviously, the more closely you’ll need to monitor his reaction to the water, and the more careful you’ll need to be about the chill that can occur when his wet skin hits cooler air. Once your baby’s reached the 4 or 5 month mark, he’ll be able to hold up his head on his own, making doggie paddling in the pool much easier for you both.
  • Stay warm.Regardless of the temperature of the pool or air outside, your baby will chill before you do. Watch for signals that he’s getting cold while paddling around. If he’s shivering or his lips look blue, he should’ve been out of the water earlier. Quickly wrap him up in a snuggly towel and warm him up.
  • The golden rule. No matter the circumstance, never let your child out of your arms when he’s in or near the water. Accidents happen in a split second, so you need to always have your guard up. For an extra precaution, consider signing up for an infant CPR course prior to swim class.
  • Safety first. Make sure your water baby is well-rested and fed (with a bit of downtime afterward) before taking the plunge. That way, he and you can both enjoy the water and avoid any wet meltdowns. Really young babies don’t really need any floats or swimming aids, since he won’t be out of your arms at any time. If you decide to let your older baby float around in a baby boat or swim ring, remember; these aren’t designed for safety or protection, so your hands and eyes still need to be on your tiny swimmer at all times.
  • Follow the leader. Allow your baby to guide you while wading. If he seems happy and curious, then move him gently through in the water. However, if he’s nervous or frightened, don’t push him beyond his comfort zone. Some babies take time to warm up to the idea of a big body of water, even if they love to splash in the bathtub at home. It may take numerous trips to the pool or beach before he’s even willing to get wet. Be patient!
  • Teacher traits. Ideally, your instructor will have an understanding of child development as well as a swimming background. A knowledgeable teacher will be able to gear the class activities to the proper physical developmental abilities, as well as prepping your little fish for physical milestones down the road. Plus, make sure your teacher’s sensitive to your baby’s fear or uncertainty of the water, and who doesn’t expect your little one to do more than what he’s comfortable doing—even if that means just dangling his feet in the water for the first few lessons, or just looking at it from a deck chair.
  • Water attire. At the beach, your baby can wear a diaper, a bathing suit, or a birthday suit—whatever you and he are comfortable with. Consider bringing a tiny tee to protect from the sun, and if your baby’s a walker, invest in some aqua socks to prevent slipping while walking poolside. If you’re in a pool, disposable or reusable swim diapers are a great option. These don’t swell up like a sponge, but they do keep any “accidents” from escaping into the water with the other swimmers.
  • Skin protection. If you’re splashing around outside, be sure that your baby’s well protected from the sun with a hat and—if he’s older than six months—kid-friendly sunscreen. The sun’s rays are magnified when they’re reflected off the water, so there’s more risk of getting sunburned. Also, be cautious about putting your little one in a pool with a high level of chlorine, as this can irritate his sensitive skin. Once you’re done swimming, rinse off your babe with chlorine-free water directly afterward.

No matter how many swim classes your baby has bobbed and splashed his way through, and no matter what his comfort and skill levels while in the water are, and no matter what kind of swimming float he is wearing, never, ever leave your baby unattended while in or near water—not for even a second. Swimming lessons, if they’re successful, dispel your baby’s natural wariness about water and make it more likely that he’ll explore on his own if given but a second. Stay diligent, and you can make summer swimming safe and fun for the whole family—baby included.

Parenting educator Elizabeth Pantley is the president of Better Beginnings, Inc., a family resource and education company. She is also the author of twelve parenting books, including the popular "No-Cry" series.

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