Did you know that almost 85% of Australians live within 50km of the coastline? In any case, whether it be sea water, pool water or dam water, learning to swim is an essential skill, and one that should be taught early.
Babies can go swimming any time from birth, though most baby swim classes start from the age of 6 weeks. This recommendation is in part due to the health of the mother after childbirth - you could pick up an infection and you could also be experiencing bleeding for up to six weeks following the birth of your child. Your baby, on the other hand, has just spent 9 months in a watery environment in the womb - they were born ready to swim!
What is the right age to start swimming with baby?
Many paediatricians or school teachers may advise you to hold back on swimming lessons until the age of around 4 - as this is about when they are developmentally ready to learn formal swim strokes.
That may be true, but when it comes to water safety, I'd prefer my children to be familiar with and comfortable in the water from a much earlier age. 26 children under 4 years of age died from drowning last year in Australia.
That's exactly the reason why every parent needs to take their baby to swimming lessons as soon as they can. Babies may not have the motor skills for learning a formal swim stroke but they can certainly be independently mobile in the water if you start teaching them skills and getting them comfortable in the water soon after birth.
Between the ages of 4 to 8 months, your baby could submerge, free float, back float, grip and kick. By the ages of 12 to 18 months, your water baby could be swimming small distances and turning themselves around.
A doggy paddle, propelling their head out of the water, rising to the surface and holding onto something, learning to hold their breath or even just preventing a panic state could keep them out of trouble if an accident were to occur.
Are chlorinated pools dangerous to your baby's health?
You probably have your doubts about exposing your baby to the chlorine-based disinfectant at such a young age. Your concerns are definitely warranted. Pools are chlorinated with hypochlorite, chlorine and chloroisocyanurates to kill off a wide range of water-borne pathogens.
In public pools, this will certainly prevent a lot of illness amongst the community, but for some, the byproducts that are released when the chemicals are mixed with organic matter such as urine and sweat can irritate the eyes, skin and upper airways, increasing the risk of asthma and hayfever in those vulnerable to allergies.
What are some alternatives to swimming in chlorinated pools?
- If you live right on the coast, ocean pools are stunning places to swim. Salt water, fish and other sea life make for a wonderful chlorine-free learning experience in the water. Just be mindful they may be too cold for baby - choose a warm, sunny day and a pool with a shallow end. Place a towel at the edge of the pool if it is too sharp or slippery to hold onto.
- Back yard salt water pools are not like a natural ocean pool - the salt in these systems generate chlorine by converting salt into chlorine gas. Don't be fooled - you're effectively swimming in a chlorinated pool.
- Freshwater pools are on the rise in Australia as an alternative to chlorinated pools. Most use a process of oxidization - Enviroswim have done a great pros and cons list of the different types of pool sanitisation. They're few and far between though, when compared to chlorinated public pools found in most suburbs. You could try calling around hotels, gyms and spas that may have an oxygenated pool in your area.
- Do your very best to ensure their first visit to the pool is a positive one. Public pools and beaches are prime places for sensory overload - loads of squealing, excited children running and splashing in bright swimming costumes making loud noises is enough to give anyone a fright. Especially a nervous mother - so be mindful of your own anxiety that your child may pick up on.
- Choose a quiet time of day to visit a pool or beach to reduce the distractions.
- Babies lose heat faster than adults. If it's too cold, this is enough to give them a fright. Ask what temperature the pool is at and keep them moving in the water.
- Swimming is tiring! Keep your visits short - around 20 minutes is enough.