How to Teach Your Baby to Swim

From getting your tot used to the water to signing her up for baby swim lessons, here's what to know about teaching an infant to swim the safe way.
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Planning baby's first dip in the pool? Experts say you can begin introducing your baby to the water as early as you feel comfortable, as long as his belly button or circumcision has healed.

The younger a child is when she starts splashing, the more comfortable he's likely to be in the pool. Always check with your pediatrician before you head to the pool, though.

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

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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 her risk of sun damage. She still needs sunblock, though!

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

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

Have fun. Take in a toy or play a game, such as motorboat. Hold Baby under her armpits and sway back and forth, singing, "Motor boat, motor boat, go so slow." If she's fine with that, pick up the pace and sing, "Motor boat, motor boat, step on the gas!"

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

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Starting Baby Swimming Lessons

Thinking about swim lessons? Sign your baby up after her first birthday. Most swim schools teach babies 6 months and older, but the 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, their latest guidance recommends that parents should decide whether to enroll an individual child in swim lessons based on the child's 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 a year is not only safe but may help prevent drowning, new evidence suggests.

Here's the splashdown on swim-school specifics:

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What do babies learn in swim lessons?

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

Should babies wear a lifejacket 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 her 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.

Follow these pointers to keep learning to swim safe and fun.

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