Swimming and water play with babies

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Why is swimming and playing in water important for my baby?

Human beings have a natural affinity with water and babies are no different – indeed they have just spent nine months swimming in amniotic fluid and often find being in water a calming experience.

What games can I play with my baby in the swimming pool?

  • In a pool, show your baby how you can blow bubbles with your mouth just under the water. Encourage her to copy you as you are face to face. She will love the sound she can make, and being held safely by you helps to build her water confidence and understanding of the physical world.
  • Tummy time is easier in water as your baby is supported and floats. This allows her to make big movements with her arms and legs without any restrictions.
  • There are lots of lovely classes especially for babies and parents – they help you build confidence and have fun in the water. Ask at your local public baths to see if there is one near you. In these classes babies do not tend to wear waterwings, instead you will be in constant contact with your baby, either in your arms or holding her securely on a floating ‘woggle’ – a float shaped like a very long sausage. The woggle allows her to feel free with the water moving all around her, and as she gets older she can spend time on her back and tummy.

What games can I play with my baby in the bath or paddling pool?

  • When your baby can sit up after around six months she can have lots of fun in a shallow bath, but you do not need to buy lots of special toys – wooden pegs float, smooth fist-sized pebbles sink and plastic beakers are fun to fill and empty.
  • Babies can learn about cause and effect in the bath. They love to pour water out of teapots and jugs and into funnels, cups and waterwheels.
  • Holding floating toys under the water will delight your baby as they bob back up to the surface. Babies love repetition and will want you to do this over and over again. Soon they will anticipate the toy popping back.

Safety around water with babies

Water play is important and fun for babies, but they do not know when they might be in danger and will not cry out to alert you of a problem – so you must stay with them all the time they are in or near water.

Bath safety

  • Never leave a baby alone in the bath, even for a moment while you get a towel, as they can silently slip under the water and drown in seconds.
  • Don’t allow babies lacking head and neck control to drop their face into the water.

Open water

Make sure that older siblings and even pets stay away from babies in baths, paddling pools and open-air water like the sea. Babies find even small waves very hard to deal with, and the salt water makes it hard for them be stable when they sit down – so do not be tempted to leave them sitting alone at the edge of the seashore.

Flotation devices

It is a good idea to put your baby in a proper flotation vest as she will be safer if anything happens to you – if you get cramp, for example. However, never leave your baby alone in a floatation device as her face could tip forward in the vest, as they are not the same as proper lifejackets.

Sun safety

Although your baby needs sun to manufacture adequate vitamin D you should never let her skin burn. Babies are very sensitive, so always make sure she has a waterproof sun cream on if they are outside in the water on a sunny day.