I’ve never been much good at swimming but always loved being in the water and I have fond memories of swimming in the sea at Bournemouth, the swimming pool at Butlins and using the school swimming pool when it was open to the public in the summer holidays as a child – though for some reason I hated the actual swimming lessons we had at school.
I want my daughter to love swimming, be confident in the water and ideally not dread school swimming lessons, and also – importantly – to be safe when we are around the water.
Even before I had my mini moo (baby Sophie) people would tell me ‘you must take her swimming, babies love it’ so I always intended to sign up for swimming lessons at some point. I wanted the structure of a lesson, or rather series of lessons, as I didn’t know where to start with taking a baby into the water otherwise. I looked into the different options available including our local leisure centre, and various companies like Turtle Tots and Aquatots, and decided Waterbabies was the one for me.
I was pretty nervous before the first lesson even though I’d been sent lots of information – Waterbabies sends a welcome pack including an album to fill in with swimming milestones, and emails to remind you what you need to bring and so on. Even then I didn’t know what to expect – the part I was most worried about was how I would change a wet slippery baby when I was dripping wet myself! So keep reading and I will share my top tips- so if you are thinking about starting swimming lessons with Waterbabies, here is what to expect.
Chapter 1 – the first lesson
Each term with Waterbabies is a ‘chapter’. Unlike at the leisure centre when you start at any time, meaning there could be babies or children who are in the pool for the very first time and others who have been going for months, everyone at Waterbabies learns at the same pace. So most of the babies in our class had never been in the water at all – one or two had been taken once or twice I think but they were still absolute beginners.
We were greeted by the side of the pool both by the teacher Emma and one of her colleagues – for the first session they always have an extra member of staff to lend a hand. I’d pre-ordered and paid for a happy nappy – Waterbabies uses a double nappy system where the child wears a disposable waterproof nappy like Huggies Little Swimmers then a neoprene swim nappy (their brand is Happy Nappy) over the top. Because I’d ordered it to be picked up at the first lesson rather than buying it online they gave me a medium nappy which we found was too small so we were able to swap it for the larger size right away.
After getting changed we went under a shower – I suddenly realised Sophie had never been in a shower before but she was fine – and walked into the pool down some wide steps with a handrail at the side.
I carefully held Sophie so she was just skimming the surface of the water as we went in, in case she freaked out, but she seemed more interested in everything around us. I decided to bounce her up and down above my head, as she loves that, and as she went down, dip her legs in the water. It worked well and in fact was the first thing that the teacher got us to do with our babies when the lesson started!
The lessons are only half an hour long – apparently half an hour in the pool for a baby feels the same as two hours in the gym for an adult – and the time went so fast as we were having such a good time. We swooshed our babies sideways through the water, sprinkled some water over their heads to get them used to it, and sang some songs while we moved our babies around the pool. We also held our babies under their arms supporting the chest so they were horizontal on the surface, then we walked backwards so they were sort of swimming – well, being pulled through the water really, but Sophie started kicking her feet straight away and seemed to enjoy the experience!
According to the Waterbabies website, babies lack the coordination and motor skills to actually swim on the surface of the water until they are about three, but can swim short distances underwater before that, and can definitely learn the skills they need at an early age, so when they are able to start swimming properly, they know what they are doing.
Finally we all lined up along the side of the pool and the teacher took Sophie, faced her towards me so I said ‘ready, go’ and gently placed her under the water and moved her through the water for a few seconds, then she came up again and saw me. For a moment she looked a bit surprised then almost shrugged it off, like ‘ok, that was new’ – some of the other babies cried so I was really proud of her!
We really enjoyed the lesson and Sophie seemed a real natural in the water, kicking her feet and taking everything in her stride. Swimming lessons are expensive compared to other activities I could do with my baby, but this is an essential skill in my opinion, and a real bonding experience that we haven’t so far had anywhere else. I’m looking forward to progressing through Chapter 1 and hopefully beyond!
Negotiating the changing room
This deserves a section in itself as it was what I was most worried about, and it was actually the hardest part of the whole experience. We had to leave buggies and car seats outside and there wasn’t much room in the changing room. I changed Sophie on a mat on the floor, kneeling down which wasn’t very comfortable, and when I was dripping wet myself I was probably getting Sophie more wet as I dried her off! It was also quite hot so I just felt a bit flustered at the end, but I think it should get easier with time. There are definitely things you can do to make it easier so here are my top tips for changing a baby at a swimming lesson:
- Take as little as possible in with you. I left my regular changing bag in the car and had a sports bag with our towels and other bits and pieces I could put over one shoulder, while carrying the baby over my other shoulder. I know babies can start swimming from birth but I don’t think I would have been able to carry Sophie when she was so young that I needed both hands to hold her and support her head – she was six months old when she started and I found that a much more manageable age
- Wear your swimming costume under your clothes so it’s easier to get changed when you arrive
- Take a padded changing mat rather than the small fold up ones that come with your changing bag. These are lightweight so easy to tuck under your arm and it makes a real difference being able to put your baby on one of these on the changing room floor.
- Nappies – the Huggies little swimmers nappies that you need for the lesson aren’t as absorbent as regular nappies for longer wearing so make sure you bring the baby wearing a regular nappy, change into a swim nappy when you get there, and have a spare normal nappy to put them in again afterwards. I’ve heard that if the baby doesn’t actually ‘go’ in a swim nappy you can dry them out and reuse them but I haven’t tried doing this – a packet isn’t that expensive and we will only need one a week.
- If you can order your Happy Nappy to be collected at the first lesson this means you get the right size and have a chance to change it if it’s not
- Take a hat for your baby to wear after the lesson as they will have wet hair
- Take a spare plastic bag for wet swimming costumes
- Smile at your baby and act confident even if you don’t feel it – they will pick up on your anxiety as you go into the water otherwise. Some babies will cry a bit in the pool and you can always take them out again – but all the children in my lesson seemed to enjoy themselves overall.