I was determined from day one that my baby would learn to swim from an early age. The theory of this is strikingly different to the reality.
At eight months pregnant while I researched classes, one hand draped over my wiggling bump, I had visions of my baby squealing in delight, splashing around and generally loving the freedom of the water. In the fantasy I did not consider how much of a mission ‘taking the baby swimming’ would be and how I would actually achieve it.
In those early dark days after he was born (you know, the ones where you think ‘what the actual fuck is going on?’) I began to realise that a simple trip to the swimming baths was never going to be simple – hell, I could barely get all of our shit together and clean and feed both of us in time to get to a doctor’s appointment!
Going swimming seemed impossible, I mean really how? How do you get all your crap there? How do you get ready and in and out? If the baby screams when he so much as sniffs water in the house how will I ever get him in the swimming pool? I never knew when he’d suddenly demand a feed in those early days so I had visions of a full scale meltdown and me popping a boob out in the pool. What’s more, how do you make sure they don’t drown and how do you even get into the pool while holding him?
Undeterred, I still took him at eight weeks. But I did what any self respecting 21st century mother does and googled the ass out of it first. This meant that the first time I took my boy swimming, I had three massive bags full of crap I didn’t need just to make the situation even more challenging.
‘Helpful’ online posts had suggested taking a dressing gown for me for after getting out of the pool. Bullshit and unnecessary – we don’t live in the arctic circle! I felt so embarrassed when I realised this wasn’t ‘the done thing’ that I didn’t even get it out of my bag.
They also advised taking spare nappies and food for the baby to the poolside. Again, completely unnecessary and the teachers looked at me part bemused, part confused about why my baby couldn’t last half an hour without a crap or a feed (he often actually couldn’t last that long without those things back then but it turned out swimming changed the rules and he could!).
By this point, I had no expectations of a gurgling, splashing baby. I’d seen him in action in the bath, which in those early days was frankly like having all of my teeth individually pulled out with no anaesthetic. I’d also seen the drama that ensued with a simple nappy change, never mind a full costume change. Added to this, my swimming costume still didn’t really fit and I was leaking milk left, right and centre. I was basically just praying we didn’t have a thunderbolt situation in the pool to top it off.
Then something amazing happened. My baby, who had spent approximately 85% of the week crying, was calm. I can only think that the combination of the sounds, lights and water together put him into some sort of trance.
I wouldn’t exactly say he enjoyed those first few sessions (his face was a mixture of ‘what’s going on?’ and ‘are you nearly done with this Mummy?’) but he was calm and afterwards he slept like an angel. In fact, on one occasion he fell asleep while we were still in the water after he’d done his first submersion.
We’ve now been swimming for about 10 weeks and, don’t get me wrong, he’s cried in the water and he’s not too thrilled about being submerged, but it’s genuinely become one of the best bonding activities we do. The closeness of being in the water together, the confidence it has given him (which has transferred across to bathtime) and the songs make it actually really special and I’m so glad we’ve done it from an early age.
Despite my initial anxiety about how we would do it, it’s not nearly as stressful as you would think. So, for the Mums like me that want to prepare and be thorough, here is what I’ve learnt about taking your baby swimming:
- Preparation – try to take one bag that comfortably fits your stuff and is easy to manoeuvre. I’d advise bringing a big plastic carrier bag so you can dump wet things in there quickly and throw it into your main bag. I always put my swimming costume on at home under my clothes so that all I need to do is strip off to get ready when we arrive and can focus my time on getting my boy sorted.
- What to take – my advice is to keep it simple. I literally take the usual changing bag items, along with two towels for the baby (one to take poolside to wrap your baby in immediately after you get out and one to cover him like a blanket and dry him when you’re in the changing rooms), swimming costumes and a towel for me. Don’t over complicate things by bringing extra rubbish with you!
- Double nappies – your baby will need the double nappy system, i.e. one disposable or reusable swim nappy and a neoprene nappy over the top. Make sure you check the weights the neoprene ones are for as they need to fit well around the waist and legs. The double nappy system is designed to prevent little accidents in the water, though I still have paranoia every single time we go that my baby will poo and it will leak and I’ll forever be the mum whose baby shat in the pool and ruined the lesson. Touch wood and with fingers crossed, he has never even pooed at swimming so far let alone leaked, which was quite a feat in those early days that I swear I literally did nothing but change turbo turds. Though I can’t say the same for wees and, seeing as he does one in the bath every night, I can only conclude he has a tinkle every lesson!
- Swimsuits – there are tons of baby swimsuits on the market but I opted for a wetsuit style one that would keep my boy warm while in the water and that acts as a barrier to prevent his eczema outbreaks. You might want to consider how these fasten up as my boy’s first one had a really simple zip on the front which was handy while we were getting used to the swimming process, but his new one velcroes at the back and is more tricky.
- Feeding – try to feed your baby so they have finished at least half hour before you get in the pool. This means they are unlikely to be hungry while you are in and gives it time to go down first to reduce the chance of them being sick in the water. My pool luckily has a coffee shop on site so I usually arrive an hour before the lesson and feed my boy with a cuppa knowing I’m there all ready to go.
- Getting changed – most swimming baths have benches and some even have baby changing tables so make use out of them where you can. If there isn’t one available then a travel change mat is a good idea. I always get myself undressed first so that once the baby is changed we are ready to head straight for the pool (this keeps my baby who does not like getting changed distracted). On getting out of the pool, don’t try to be fancy. Now is not the time to start showering and washing or drying your hair (and don’t even think about taking make up unless you plan to do it in the car afterwards when the baby inevitably falls asleep) – this can all wait until you get home! I usually strip off my costume first and put my towel around me so that my body can start to dry and then focus on getting the baby dried and dressed. Once he is sorted it’s then usually just a case of throwing clothes on.
- Prams and car seats – some places won’t allow you to take these in. My baths luckily do, but to be honest with you I’ve tried both with and without them and it doesn’t make a shred of difference except I’m maybe slightly less panicked after getting him dressed because he has somewhere proper to sit while I get changed, but slightly more panicked during the class that someone might steal my pram or seat from the changing room so it’s swings and roundabouts.
- How to physically do this shit – you get help to get them in and out of the water so don’t worry about trying to hobble down those silver ladders with your little bundle tucked into your costume. And babies are surprisingly buoyant and light in the water, so you quickly get used to holding them. In my experience, a fab thing is the instructors, who really know their stuff and are very supportive in the water. They are also used to the odd meltdown, sick spillage and hiccups outbursts so won’t be phased by whatever your baby throws at them. A gentle bounce or splash of the water to distract them seems to work 99% of the time anyway, or lifting them a bit more upright and raised if they are a reflux baby like mine. And finally, submerging your baby is actually terrifying. Even if you know that they have a reflex that prevents them swallowing water under six months, I still get scared every time. But they really do get used to it and it becomes less traumatic over time.
- You won’t know until you try – I’d be a dick if I thought all babies were fine in the water and I am fully aware how lucky I am that my boy has taken to it (trust me, that is not usually the case – I have sat through countless baby massage classes as the Mum of the boy who screams relentlessly), but if you are thinking about swimming and are apprehensive, just give it a try. If it’s a drama you don’t need in your life you can just knock it on the head. But it’s worth a go as my experience was definitely that the initial stress was worth it.