We believe baby swimming is a fascinating subject — and we think you’ll agree.
Babies love swimming!
Babies have a real affinity with water, and because they’ve spent 9 months floating in the womb, being in warm water feels much more familiar to them than being on dry land. However, this early confidence usually diminishes with time, and can even turn to fear. That’s one of the main reasons why we believe in starting them young. But we never swim a baby against their wishes, and we always incorporate lots of bonding, fun and socialising, so you can be sure that a Water Baby is a happy baby.
Laura and George loving swimming on the woggle!
A bit of history (we won’t bore you!)
The idea of babies being able to swim independently underwater is centuries old. Captain Cook documented very young children swimming in the Pacific Islands back in 1778. In 1939, Dr Myrtle McGraw published her pioneering Swimming Behaviour in the Human Infant in the Journal of Pediatrics, following a study in which she filmed and studied 42 swimming babies. Pioneering baby-swimming teachers have included the inspirational Virginia Hunt Newman (USA) and Claire Timmermans (Australia), who taught both their own and many hundreds of other children to swim during the 1960s and '70s. In the UK, Dr Francoise Freedman is well-known for her work in infant aquatics, inspired by her experiences living with indigenous families in the Upper Amazon. So it’s hardly surprising that baby swimming is now firmly established in many countries!
How babies do it…
All babies learn through repetitive teaching, word association, play and regular classes. In their first few weeks, babies naturally make rhythmical, co-ordinated swimming movements, and also inhibit their own breathing underwater (something called the gag reflex). After about 6 months, that reflex lessens as they start to take control of their own breathing when going underwater. Until they’re aged about 3, babies and toddlers lack the strength, co-ordination and motor skills to swim on the surface; the way their body-mass is distributed also makes it difficult. However, with careful supervision and encouragement they can naturally swim short distances underwater from very early on. We structure our programme to reflect children’s natural development phases; for example the fully supported swim position little ones start in progresses as they develop their motor skills, strength and stamina to become independent swimmers with controlled arm and leg movements, eventually turning into front paddle and later, front crawl.
Going underwater plays a big part in developing your little one’s confidence. And for parents, this is often the most exciting bit — watching your baby glide towards you as you hover beneath the water’s surface! But as important and exciting as going underwater is, it’s only a very tiny part of the work we do. About 95% of the lesson is on the surface, and going under only ever lasts a few seconds.
Our method of introducing babies to underwater swimming is very gentle, gradual and carefully controlled. Babies do have natural reflexes, preventing water entering their lungs when their faces are submerged. Although we capitalise on the fact that babies will remember their effect, using easily understandable voice commands, we essentially train our Water Babies to control their breathing before any reflex is stimulated. Babies quickly become familiar with the way we work and are soon able to recognise the commands which precipitate an underwater swim. This, combined with the fact that we’ll never swim a baby against their wishes, helps to develop the confidence you see among our tiny clients. Watch the clip on our home page video to see this in practice!
The question of armbands
Using armbands on your baby can create a false sense of security in the water — for you and for them. And as one our core principles is that we teach you to teach your baby to swim, it’s important that you learn how the water can support them. So you will act as your child’s temporary support as they learn to swim freely from the beginning.
Nappies in the water
They’ll need to wear a swim nappy underneath and an approved neoprene nappy over the top.