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Swimming with Your Baby

By Erica Martin, M.D.

Baby in Pool with mother

Most physicians recommend waiting until the baby is at least 6 months of age before going swimming with your baby.  If your baby is less than six months old, avoid taking him or her to a large public pool, as the water is too cold. Make sure the water temperature is heated to at least 89.6°F before taking baby in.

A majority of baby water classes start at six months of age. The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn't recommend formal swimming programs for children age 1 and under. Parent/infant water classes at a young age are meant for enjoyment and bonding as opposed to water safety for your child.

Keeping Baby Safe and Comfortable in the Water

Regardless of the water's depth, make sure you are always within arm's reach of your baby.

Start off with 10 minute sessions in the water, followed by 10 minutes out. Gradually work up to 20 minutes in the water if the temperature is appropriate. For babies younger than 1 year, limit time spent in the water to 30 minutes maximum.

Putting your baby in the water up to the shoulders will help keep him or her warm. Keep baby moving through the water, gently swishing him/her around close to your body. As your baby gets older, you can extend your arms.

A baby's gag reflex is usually strongest up to 6 months of age, which means holding his/her breath underwater is involuntary. DO NOT put your baby underwater intentionally, but know your baby has this ability if his/her head goes under accidentally.

As soon as your baby begins to shiver, take him or her out and wrap in a warm towel. Babies lose body heat much quicker than adults, so if you feel a little chilly, take your baby out right away.

If your baby has a fever, cold or just isn't feeling well, do not take him or her swimming. Ask your doctor about any skin condition concerns before heading to the pool as well.

Make sure you always rinse off the chlorinated water and apply a baby-friendly moisturizer afterwards to avoid dryness or irritation.

Boosting Your Baby's Water Confidence

While in the water, make sure you're constantly talking and praising your baby. Let your baby splash and play with toys. If he or she can throw a toy, "zoom" over to it with baby so he or she can grab it.

For children who can support themselves, set them on the edge of the pool, count to 3 and pull your baby gently into the water at the end of the count. As your child gets older and can stand, have him/her stand on the edge and fall or jump into your arms.

You should also invest in an infant/toddler life jacket/personal floatation device (PFD). Before purchasing a PFD for your little one, make sure that it is approved by the United States Coast Guard. Most PFDs for young children have a neck support, buckles for the torso and a strap between the legs or pair of "pants" underneath to keep the PFD on. The neck support ensures that a young child with poor body control will be upright in the water. Using arm floaties or water wings is not recommended, as they may slip off.

Age Guidelines for Swimming

As your child ages, he or she will become more confident in the water. Certain skills come with certain ages, especially with the help of swimming lessons. Each child develops at a different rate, but it's important to always be encouraging if water activities will be a part of your child's life.

6-18 months

  • Explore water, feel comfortable in it
  • Do very basic kicking and pulling movements
  • Start to master floating and gliding, blowing bubbles, changing directions, getting in and out of water (ALL WITH ASSISTANCE)

18 months-3 years

  • Keep building skills (basic arm motions, kicking)
  • Get in and out of water by him/herself with stairs (closer to age 3)
  • Learn to dunk head and hold breath
  • Jump in to you, next to you

3-5 years

  • Learn to float on front and back
  • Roll from one side to another
  • Use arms and legs to propel forward, tread water for short time

5 years and older

  • Put all motions together (arms, legs, breathing) and start swimming
  • Jump in alone, learn to dive
  • Working on floating and gliding