Water Babies: Are you thinking about taking the plunge with your little one?
When I first signed up to attend a Water Babies class with my daughter, I had a few things on my mind... All that dunking under the water - would she like it? What about the changing rooms - how would I get us both ready? And possibly the most terrifying thought that I had - what if the unthinkable happened? What if she has a nappy-related accident in the pool?
Turns out that my apprehensions were normal - most mums in my class had voiced the same concerns before starting their Water Babies journey - plus, any worries were water under the bridge (sorry) as soon as the class began. Yes, the babies went below the surface during the first lesson, but it's only a tiny part of the class, and it wasn't half as scary as I thought it was going to be.
For anyone thinking about taking the plunge (again, sorry), I spoke to Carol McNally, a teacher and joint business owner for Water Babies in the east of Ireland, to get answers to the most commonly asked questions that parents have before taking their babies swimming (including, how to avoid nappy accidents).
Why attend Water Babies?
- It’s educational, potentially life-saving and really good fun.
- Swimming is one of the few things your baby can do from birth. As well as being fantastic for them, it’s also one of the healthiest activities for you too.
- In water, little ones are able to exercise every muscle in their body – including some they wouldn’t yet find on land. While the emphasis in our sessions is on strengthening the bond between parent and child, swimming from birth is also excellent for their development.
- During their first year of life, a baby’s brain grows more rapidly than at any other time, with every movement they make helping to strengthen this growth. Despite looking gentle, swimming provides a complete physical workout, strengthening the heart, lungs and respiratory system, which, in turn, aids development of the brain. Regular swimming can also enhance their awareness, as well as improving eating and sleeping patterns – a definite bonus for parents.
- A weekly swim session will also help them develop physically, emotionally and mentally. For instance, right from the word go they’ll be learning to respond to voice commands, which is great stimulation for a newborn baby’s brain.
- Water familiarisation is an equally important aspect. Babies who swim on a regular basis develop a respect for water and can be taught potentially lifesaving skills. These skills kick in from remarkably early on, proven by the fact that Water Babies pupils as young as 2 years of age have saved themselves from drowning.
What are the benefits of starting early?
Not only does it teach vital life skills, but it also enhances the way babies and toddlers learn other skills. Here are our top 10 reasons why we believe baby swimming is an exciting, enriching experience for everyone involved:
1 It teaches water safety.
2 It’s great for their physical and mental health.
3 It promotes bonding.
4 It boosts confidence.
5 It develops their co-ordination.
6 It builds their strength.
7 It develops their learning skills.
8 It enhances their wellbeing.
9 It provides structure.
10 You can start from birth.
What ages are taught and what are the different levels?
Babies can start their Water Babies Journey when they are 12 months or younger. The Baby Programme consists of 5 10-week terms. When this is completed they can then choose to continue in our Toddler programme, which can be continued for a further 12 terms.
How long does the Water Babies journey last?
We teach up to when they are ready to move to mainstream classes - between 4 or 5 years of age - at which point they are very competent little swimmers.
What happens in the class?
We teach the parents how to teach their child to swim. The classes are quite structured but very progressive with skills being built on from class to class. We teach the parent how to swim the baby safely under the water using word association techniques to reinforce the child’s natural breath hold when submerged. We teach safety skills such as holding to the side of the pool so that should they fall in they won’t freeze with panic, but they will know to turn around and hold on to the side of the pool or something solid. We teach the parents how to float their babies on their both their back and front. Our classes are structured to teach fundamental swimming skills through fun, while building water confidence and water safety skills.
What are the Water Wobbles and how can they be overcome?
Parents are often surprised and upset when their baby or toddler suddenly stops enjoying the water. It can be frustrating to see your Water Baby seemingly unsure or upset when they used to love swimming, but it's a common developmental phase that kicks in between around 8-24 months. They will come out of it, and everything they learned and loved before will come back. Often, our most confident little swimmers are the ones who’ve been through the worst wobbles and come out again on the other side.
If your little one goes through this natural development phase, the important thing is not to worry - you’ll only pass your stress on to your baby or toddler. Don’t be embarrassed if they won’t get in the pool, or if they’re upset in the lesson, and do follow the advice of our teachers - they've seen it all before. Keep smiling, keep calm, and remind yourself it’s just a temporary phase.
What do babies wear in the pool?
Babies have to wear a swim nappy underneath and an approved neoprene nappy over the top – otherwise known as the double nappy system, which has been tried and tested over the years by thousands of Water Babies. In some pools, babies may need a wetsuit for a little bit of extra warmth to keep them snug and happy for the entire lesson. Water Babies will advise on the temperature of the pool that you will be attending when booking.
Do their eyes sting after they’ve been under the water?
After years of teaching babies and toddlers, watching them go under the water and come up smiling, I would say that they don’t sting at all. As toddlers get older (around 2 -3 years of age) we do advise them to wear goggles, but more so that it gives them confidence when swimming independently in order for them to see where they are going rather than the water potentially stinging their eyes. Nowadays, pools are maintained at a much lower level of chlorine and all of the pools we operate in are well maintained, so this has never been an issue.
Six months on and we're still attending the classes. What started as a reason to get out and active with my then 7-month-old, has now become a fun and cool way to spend time together; it's amazing to see the progress she makes every week. Also, you'll be pleased to hear that the double nappy system really does work.