Splish-Splash Swim Time!
Here in Southern California, although we don't get much rain from the sky, we have water all around us. The ocean is nearly in our backyard, and swimming pools are in everyone's backyards! However, water is dangerous. Drowning is the leading cause of death among kids in California and rates of drowning are highest in kids between age 1 and 2 years. Having comfort in the water and strong swimming skills is so important to help keep our children safe in the water at any age.
When can my child get in the pool?
There is no reason why you cannot take your infant in a pool with you for a few minutes of water time. Public pools are busy and carry risk of catching a virus, so I would avoid bringing an unvaccinated baby. The ocean's salinity might dry out your baby's skin (and it's cold!) so I would wait to hop in until your child is a few years old.
When Can My Child Start Swim Lessons?
Previously, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) did not recommend starting swim lessons before age 4. However, in 2009 a small study (comparing 61 cases of drowning with similar age and gender children in the same communities) showed that the risk of drowning is decreased 88% among kids to 4 years old who had taken swim lessons. Another study done in China reported a 40% decreased risk of drowning by 40%. Infants can learn rudimentary water survival skills after training, however, parental vigilance is still very important.
I think that early exposure to water (via formal parent-baby classes or unstructured time in the water with mom or dad) is a great opportunity to introduce your child to being in the water. Earlier exposure to the water is more easily enjoyed and met with less fear and apprehension as compared to waiting until your baby is older.
Swim lessons are a great opportunity to bond with your baby in a new environment and relish the joy that they experience with learning to be comfortable in the water. There are many parent-baby swim classes offered around town. Check one out with your baby and see how it goes.
Early Swim Tips
-Wait until your infant can support her head, at around 4 months old.
-Make sure the water is about 85-87 degrees F. Any cooler and your baby might get cold quickly.
-Gear her up with a swim diaper and bathing suit to reduce the chance that any poorly timed poops are contained.
-Always hold your infant - floaties are not safe and an infant should never be left unattended in a swimming pool.
-Limit pool time to 20 minutes, because infants can get cold easily even in warm water.
-Think of "Touch Supervision" - always stay within arm's reach of your swimming child - and always pay attention.
-Water is fun, but close supervision is necessary at all times!
For Older Kids
After the fourth birthday, kids are developmentally ready to start formal swim lessons. Strong swimming skills gives children confidence and the ability to enjoy playing in the water. It also helps give you some peace of mind too. Lastly, swimming is s great way to stay active!
-Watch for small bodies of water that might be dangerous for little ones: bathtubs, ditches, rain barrels etc. Make sure you never leave children unattended near these hazards. It isn't hard for a little one to fall in!
-Swimming children should always be watched by an adult, bonus points if the adult knows CPR.
-No running near the pool or pushing other kids underwater
-Inflatable toys or mattresses are not a substitute for a life jacket
-Mark the deep and shallow ends of the pool clearly. Never dive into the shallow end.
-Protect children from wandering into the backyard swimming pool by surrounding it completely with a 4 foot fence with a gate. The gate should open away from the pool, with a latch that is at least 54 inches high. Make sure that there are no spaces under the fence or between the vertical beams that a small child can sneak through.
-Remove any pool cover completely before using the pool
-Always keep a safety ring with a rope next to the pool.
-Do not allow young children to use spas or hot tubs; they can easily overheat.
-When riding in a boat or doing water activities, always protect your child with a life vest.
-Adults should not drink alcohol while swimming or supervising children in the water. Avoid distractions while supervising children (put away the phone and laptop until after pool time!)