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Most infant swimming classes are for babies six months old and over, and there is good reason for that, says Cheryl Wu, M.D., a Manhattan-based pediatrician. "By six months of age, a lot of babies have enough truncal (upper body) strength and tone to sit up by themselves briefly. Because most parents hold their babies either upright or flat (in the 'Superman' position) while in the water, babies have to be strong enough to keep their heads lifted for a prolonged period of time without tiring out." Also by this time, a baby's legs have developed the strength to start kicking, an important part of swimming.
But it's important to keep in mind that baby swim classes are more about going over the basic safety rules of swimming -- and having fun with Mom and Dad -- than learning how to swim. "Under the age of four, children aren't developmentally ready to learn to swim," says Rick Weiermiller, M.D., a pediatrician affiliated with Beaumont Hospitals in Michigan. "A child needs to be able to listen to an instructor for the whole lesson and follow directions to truly learn how to swim."
Still, a parent-and-child swim class does have its benefits. A recent study by the National Institutes of Health found that providing very young children with swimming lessons appears to have a protective effect against drowning and does not increase a child's risk of drowning.
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