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Swimming Lessons for Infants

I grew up spending my summers on a lake in Wisconsin with my cousins. I made some of my fondest memories while enjoying long days swimming in the lake. My mom now lives there permanently and much of our extended family still reconvene there annually.

For both my brother and I, my parents placed a strong emphasis on learning to swim from a very young age, since we spent a great deal of time around water. From the time we were babies, they took us to the pool often and when we were a bit older, they introduced us to the lake. We were in formal swimming lessons each summer from toddlerhood through early elementary school, when we transitioned to swim team. We both continued to swim through high school and had a great experience building lasting friendships, learning to set and work towards specific goals, and developing a life-long love of the water. We both trained to be life guards and worked for many summers on the various beaches around the lake. I also became a swimming instructor and loved teaching kids of all ages how to swim. As an adult I competed in triathlon for a number of years and was so thankful for my swimming background. Learning to swim as an adult is not easy task!

My husband had a very different experience learning to swim. He was afraid of the water as a young child and did not have much exposure to the water. His parents were determined that he would learn to swim, however, and an unwavering swim instructor finally got through to him. Finally at the age of 10, he became a proficient swimmer.

My husband and I view swimming as a life skill and before he was even born, we knew we wanted our son to be exposed to the water from as early as possible. Swimming is also an excellent activity to stimulate brain and motor development. We want him to become a competent swimmer, even if he never pursues swimming competitively as I did.

During one of my first meet ups with my Mamistad group, one mom whose son was a few months older mentioned they were taking free swimming lessons at a Swim Kids Swim School nearby. The lessons were free for babies between the ages of two and six months. I leapt at the opportunity and as soon as Levi was old enough, signed him up.

I was a little nervous when we went to our first class. I’d taken Levi in the pool in Wisconsin with my family, which he seemed to like, but this was official swimming lessons. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. How much could they really do with a two-month-old? Just getting to the pool was an ordeal, even though it was only 10 minutes away. We packed the swim diaper, towels, and swim suit. I waited to change Levi into his swim gear until we arrived at the pool because swim diapers only contain solids – not pee – and I didn’t want a mess in the car seat.

The swim school was thoughtfully designed for parents and very young children. In the locker room there was a large changing area with storage cubbies underneath that made it easy to get Levi ready for the water. When he was all set, we headed out to the observation area. Several other parents of older children watched through floor to ceiling windows as their kids took their lessons. There was another parent and baby class just finishing up.

The swim instructor smiled and gestured for us to come into the pool area. The water was very warm, perfect for tiny babies. We spent the 30-minute class (which seemed to fly by) singing songs with our babies, moving them through the water in different directions, pouring small amounts of water over their heads, and generally helping to acclimate them to the water. The instructor was very warm, personable, gentle-spoken, and kind. Levi seemed to really enjoy his first class. We continued attending weekly until he turned six months.

At that point, we had the option of continuing with the next level of lessons, for a fee. While we had greatly enjoyed the lessons, we decided to continue practicing what we had learned on our own at the local rec center. I spent some time researching how to introduce various skills to babies at this age, and I felt confident in my abilities to guide him along these early stages of learning. When Levi is a bit older, we will likely enroll him in some more official swimming lessons.

For now, we’re continuing to get him used to moving through the water on his tummy and his back as I hold him. With assistance, he’s practicing entering the water from the side, grabbing onto the edge of the pool, sitting and standing in shallow water, and kicking while laying on my lap. We’re also practicing cuing him to the verbal command of, “Levi, ready…go…” and then we pour a cup of water over his face, repeating several times. If he starts coughing or seems like he’s no longer enjoying it, we immediately stop and switch to a different activity. We’ve been working on this for a few months now, and we practice 5-10 times each night during bath time (before we use any soap), in addition to our weekly pool time. Once Levi can demonstrate that he’s consistently closing his eyes with the verbal cue, we’ll start practicing submerging him for brief periods of time. At this age, when he closes his eyes in this context, it means he’s also holding his breath. He’s getting close! Then we’ll move on to floating on his tummy and back and swimming very short distances from one adult to another with his face in the water.

If you’re interested in beginning swimming lessons with your baby, here are some tips to help you get started:

1. Find a pool or swim school.

a. Find a pool near you that has parent/child open swim times OR

b. Find a swim school that offers lessons for babies/ toddlers.

2. Gear

a. Swim suit

i. If your child will only be swimming once or twice a week,

they really only need one swim suit. While there are many

cute styles (especially for baby girls) think function before

fashion. The more skin coverage the better at this age, as it

helps to keep them warmer. For outdoor swimming, full

coverage suits also helps to protect their skin from the sun,

since babies under 6 months shouldn't wear sunscreen,

b. Swim diaper.

i. You may opt for a reusable adjustable swim diaper that will

fit your child for up to 2 years, or buy a pack of disposable

swim diapers.

ii. Don’t use regular diapers as they’ll absorb water from the

pool immediately (that’s what they’re designed to do), and

actually weigh your child down.

c. Towel

i. A regular beach towel will do just fine, but a hooded one

can be nice to keep your little one extra cozy. (Go for the

larger sizes intended for kids, not ones for babies as they

don’t offer much material).

d. Bag

i. You’ll need some kind of bag to carry everything, and

perhaps a wet bag to stuff all the wet gear after the lesson.

3. Some notes:

a. If you decide to casually take your child to the pool on a regular basis for

now, in lieu of swimming lessons, make sure the water is very warm. Young

babies get cold quite easily.

b. Try to schedule the swim sessions after baby has been fed and not too

close to nap time to give yourself the best chance that he’ll be in a good


c. If your child cries the first few times you expose him to the water, it’s ok.

Even starting with 5 minutes and working up from there is great practice.

d. Keep it fun! Games, songs, and toys all enhance the enjoyment and

learning for your child.

A word of caution. Even if your child is enrolled in swimming lessons and you believe that he is a competent swimmer, children should always be closely supervised whenever they are near any body of water, even if no one is swimming. Drowning is the number one cause of unintentional injury and death in children ages one to four. Drowning can happen in as little as 20 – 60 seconds in just a few inches of water. (It’s highly recommended that no one ever swim alone – even very experienced adult simmers).

With the proper precautions, drowning is 100% preventable. Sometimes, families get together and the adults are chatting around the pool while the kids are swimming, but there is no designated individual who’s truly watching the kids. If everyone thinks everyone else is watching the kids, then no one is really watching them. It may be helpful to take turns where everyone takes a 30-minute shift to really keep a close eye on the kids, or even be in the water with them, depending on the age of the kids. That individual may sit in a designated chair, or perhaps wear a badge that states they are “on duty.” Life guards are an excellent resource, but they aren’t available at every body of water. Even when life guards are present, as parents we shouldn’t rely on them to be the first line of defense when it comes to water safety for our kids.

For us, we have no expectations that Levi will be able to swim the length of the pool any time soon. We just want him to feel comfortable in the water and eager to learn new skills. So far, he seems to enjoy the water, and that feels like a win for now!

Resources on teaching babies to swim:

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