One of my favourite all-weather activities for Travis is his swimming lessons. We’ve taken him since he was around 5-6 months old, and he absolutely loves it. Having grown from the baby classes into the toddler classes, it’s easy to see progress in terms of his abilities in the water, but also his confidence in water and his ability to listen and follow instructions.
Why swimming lessons?
If there’s one thing I could recommend to new mums looking for things to do with their little babies it’s this. There are so many benefits of this for mum and baby. Remember when the midwives gave you information on water births and they spoke about babies being surrounded by water when you carried them? That’s a main reason for starting swimming lessons so young – babies grew surrounded by water, so it’s something they are familiar with.
If, like me, your newborn absolutely hated bath time to begin with, swimming lessons are a way to combat that. Sure, they may scream the pool down the first couple of times (Travis returned to doing this again last week, despite swimming for a year!) but that’s only normal until they get used to the water. The lessons involve simple things like pouring water over different parts of your babies body to get them used to water whilst learning body parts too.
Other great reasons for booking a block of lessons are that it helps you create a routine with your child, going at the same time every week, whilst encouraging mums and babies to get out and see other mums and babies. As mum is going in the water too, it helps you get some gentle exercise (and not so gentle as your baby grows into a 2.5st toddler!) as you bounce your baby and guide them through swimming techniques.
Selfishly, I’ve also always found that it’s quite tiring on Travis, so it means he usually goes for a nice long nap afterwards – a godsend if mum is in need of some rest too, or just a hot cuppa in peace!
What do lessons involve?
As well as pouring water over the body, there’s time to splash, time to kick, and time to play at the end too. As your baby becomes more confident in the water, your instructor will show you how to hold baby to get them to move as if they were swimming. This encourages their motor skill development and invokes the urge to kick in the water. Your instructor will also guide you on dunking your baby underwater. Believe me – this is far more traumatic for mums than babies the first couple of times! In fact, I actually chickened out and only put Travis in up to his neck the first time.
There are usually songs or nursery rhymes to accompany most things you do, so you get that repetition and association that’s key to babies’ routines.
Depending on how well your baby adapts to and enjoys the water, your instructor will introduce floats and various different moves, such as lying your baby on their back and guiding them across the water. Like with everything, every baby develops at their own pace so there’s no time or age limit on anything really.
The toddler lessons involve more floats and swimming – and sometimes even letting go of the floats to watch your little one go! Plus there are opportunities to “catch treasure” by encouraging your little one to reach under water to bring out toys and (toy) coins that are placed on the steps of the pool.
How soon can I book swimming lessons?
The advice from health visitors is to wait until after your babies’ first round of jags. I think this is probably due to the fact that swimming pools and changing areas can be a breeding ground for germs.
However, after your baby is 8 weeks old, you’re free to book onto the next set of lessons. The lessons in our local pool (Ready, Steady Splish and Ready, Steady Splash) run in blocks of around 8-10 weeks to coincide with school term time. This might mean you have to wait a few weeks longer than planned to start, if there’s currently a block in the middle of running.
The only downside of blocks running like this is that there are no lessons during the 6 week summer break, but if your child has started before this then I’d strongly recommend taking them for a little splash during the holidays so they still remember the pool.
How much do lessons cost?
The price very much varies from area to area, and depends if you chose to go with a brand of swimming instruction (such as Water Babies) or stick with your local council pool offering. I’ve heard that some big brand name classes can cost upwards of £70 for a block of just 8 lessons.
Our Ready Steady Splash classes are run in the local council pool, and a block is usually between £28-£35 a time. The cost is dependent on the number of lessons per block, and other factors such as bank holidays within the block. This tends to affect us as Travis’ lesson day is a Monday, but most pools offer a variety of days and times to choose from.
What should I bring to swimming lessons?
As you would for swimming yourself, bring a costume and towel for each of you. There are costumes with in-built flotation devices/materials for kids, but it’s entirely up to you if you want to pay extra for this or just buy a simple all-in-one or two piece. As Travis has gotten older, I’ve found a two piece trunks and top set is much easier to get on and off a wriggly toddler than an all-in-one.
Swim nappies are other essentials, as nobody wants to be swimming alongside a poo! At first I was so paranoid, I used a disposable swim nappy with a cloth swim nappy on top so no accidents could leak through! However just one is enough, whatever your preference!
If you can, I’d recommend buying some travel-sized toiletries to keep in your swimming bag, with baby wash and Aveeno cream at the top of our list. Travis has quite sensitive skin which is prone to eczema in the folds so a slather of Aveeno after swimming keeps this away. And of course, be sure to pack the usual nappies, creams, wipes and spares just in case!
Finally, I’d recommend a snack/feed or toy to keep them occupied while you dress yourself. Unless of course you have another parent, relative or friend on hand to help for that bit!