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Parenting columnist Ian Munro discusses young children and water safety.
It hasn’t been the greatest weather for swimming so far this summer. Driving rain is lashing the window as I write.
However, any time is a great time to get baby swimming. Babies have an innate ability to cope with water.
If you think about it, they have only just finished living in an aquatic environment and know more about moving around in that than they do about getting around on carpet or vinyl.
By capitalising on this as soon after birth as possible, you not only provide baby with a warm, gentle reminder of this period of their life but also provide an opportunity for a full range of safe physical activity along with stimulation of all parts of their skin.
Every movement, every sensation is registering in the brain. Even the sounds of the water swirling and splashing contribute to developing those sensory pathways.
The best way of doing this is to run a full bath and get in with baby. Make sure the water is about 32degC, and, if not full, then deep enough to cover their shoulders to keep them warm and allow them to keep moving.
Provide support using both hands cupped under the chest. You aren’t holding, just supporting and you wil find that baby will float without further help. For very young babies who can’t hold their head up yet, you will also need to support gently under the chin.
Babies aren’t born with the ability to swim but you might be surprised to see that they know to hold their breath when their head goes under the water and usually keep their eyes open. This is a reflex that’s lost after 10 or so months if not used much before then.
At the end, it’s a good idea to have someone else there with a warm towel to take baby from you immediately they come out of the water. If they start shivering, get them out straight away and wrapped warmly. Babies lose heat very quickly.
As the weeks go by you will see more activity, hear more squeals of delight and will probably need to mop up more and more water.
This is a great bonding activity, especially for Dad during those early weeks when most intimate interaction is with Mum.
Studies also indicate that there are benefits for motor development, social skills and muscle control as well as advancing intelligence.
It should also improve sleeping patterns because of the tiring effect of the mental and physical activity and could help ward off breathing complaints.
Don’t consider a public pool before they are six months old. The temperature changes are likely to be greater than at home and it gives time for their immune system to better cope.