How to Teach Your Baby to Swim

From introducing your tot to the water to signing them up for baby swim lessons, here's what to know about teaching an infant to swim the safe way.

Baby and mother swimming in pool
Photo: TerryJ/Getty Images

Planning your baby's first dip in the pool? Experts say you can introduce your infant to water whenever you feel comfortable, as long as their belly button or circumcision has healed. (Always check with your pediatrician first, though). Indeed, the younger a child is when they start splashing, the more comfortable they're likely to be in the pool.

Ready to dive in? Here's how to get started.

Introducing Baby to Swimming

Be early birds. The town pool is less of a mob scene in the morning. Plus, your baby will (let's hope) be well rested from a good night's sleep. The sun is also less strong before 10 a.m, lowering their risk of sun damage. Your baby still needs sunscreen, though!

Relax. Your baby can sense your mood. If you seem to be enjoying yourself—even though you may be nervous—they'll try to follow your lead. Start slowly, dipping your tot's toes into the water so they can get used to the feel of it on their skin.

Get wet. If your baby seems happy, drip water all over their body, gradually increasing the amount. Once you're in the pool, stay where you can stand easily and hold onto them at all times. Even in the kiddie pool, always be within arm's reach.

Entertain your baby. Take in a toy or play a game, such as motorboat. Hold baby under their armpits and sway back and forth, singing, "Motor boat, motor boat, go so slow." If they're fine with that, pick up the pace and sing, "Motor boat, motor boat, step on the gas!"

If they seem upset, get out. You want their first time in the pool to be a positive experience. Trying to force them to take to the water can do more harm than good in the long run. If it seems like they're not ready, wait a month or so and try again.

Starting Baby Swimming Lessons

Thinking about swim lessons? Sign your baby up after their first birthday. Most swim schools teach babies 6 months and older, but the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) doesn't recommend formal programs until 12 months because there's no proof they're beneficial, and the health risks of swallowing water are greater before 1 year.

For children over 12 months, the organization recommends that parents decide whether to enroll an individual child in swim lessons based on their frequency of exposure to water, emotional development, physical abilities, and certain health conditions related to pool water infections and pool chemicals. Instruction for tots older than one year is not only safe but may help prevent drowning, evidence suggests.

Here's the splashdown on swim-school specifics:

What do babies learn in swim lessons?

First they'll get used to being in the water. They'll pick up basic skills such as how to kick, blow bubbles, pull with their arms, and get their face wet. Eventually they'll dunk and—when they're a wee bit older, around 3 or 4—take off swimming!

Should babies wear a life jacket during swim lessons?

Not during lessons, advises Connie Harvey, manager of aquatics technical development at the American Red Cross Preparedness and Health and Safety Services. "You want them to know what it's like to be in the water without a flotation device." Plus, a vest puts baby in a vertical position, which is unnatural for swimming.

What kind of baby swim class is best?

Seek out small-group lessons with up to ten caregiver-baby pairs. Look for a fun atmosphere with a relaxed, flexible pace. Instructors should be nationally certified by an organization such as the American Red Cross.

Where can I find a good baby swimming program?

Try your local American Red Cross chapter, YMCA, or parks and recreation department.

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