Before birth, babies are in the womb surrounded by water, they're swimming for nine months and have a natural affinity for water. Swimming with your child from birth has many special benefits. Besides making them feel relaxed and one in the water it's also a lovely way for parents to learn how to handle their little one's with confidence.
Swimming with your baby is a wonderful bonding experience. The gift of swimming from an early age, offers hours and hours of healthy fun play and opens up the world of water to them from surfing, diving, sailing or simply floating in the ocean.
Even before going to a pool, you can float and bond together in the bath. From day one, you can bath together, and even feed surrounded by warm water. When they're in water with the sound of your heartbeat, the gentle rise and fall of your chest, they can rest in a space they feel safe and held.
It's a good practice to gently pour water over your baby's head. As their love of water grows, you can become more and more playful. When they're bigger they can pour water over your head and play in the shower. After bath is a beautiful time to massage your baby and snuggle together with warm towels.
Swimming in a pool can be a way to nurture the bond you created at home. Swimming together is such a gift, most of us feel very peaceful and happy in the water as it heals us, and connects us.
As your child watches and sees your enjoyment and sense of fun in the water, it becomes natural for them to foster the same feelings. Remember that your fear or love of the water will easily transfer onto your baby or child. If you are anxious about water, learn to let that go before you pass that onto your child. Breathe deeply and smile if you have anxiety in the water. This will centre you and help you relax.
Newborn babies are already well adapted to being underwater and will automatically hold their breath when submerged. This is known as the diving reflex.
They rapidly become confident in water, especially if the primary instructor is a parent or familiar caregiver. Holding them close to you in the water is vital.
Once you are both at ease in your swimming environment, you can begin to play. They can take a dolphin ride on your back, you can meet each other under the water, you can jump together in the water, you will naturally find a lot of game playing and bonding movement together.
Many people expect their babies should be swimming unaided sooner than they do,
and regularly enquire about when they, (the parent) can be out of the pool leaving the child to learn with a qualified instructor. When a child is 'ready' to swim without their primary caregiver is an impossible question to answer. It depends on so many factors. Ultimately very few children swim unaided before their second year and most are not ready for any real stroke development before the age of 6/7. Even then, fun is still their biggest priority. Things like standing on one leg, doing handstands, rolls, jumps and back flips come into play at this age. So I guess the question is why rush a process that does not need rushing? At young ages we accomplish much more when we feel confident. Having Mum or Dad near by is usually the best way to boost that confidence. No-one is ever drown proof, the strongest and most accomplished of swimmers can drown. The best thing to nurture is a deep love and respect for water. That will lead to many days spent enjoying water together and an ability to make good choices if faced with a challenging situation. Focusing on enjoying your time in the water with your baby rather than achievements will allow both of you to have fun swimming together.
It is important to be led by your child rather than having expectations for him or her. If you belong to a baby swimming group with different levels, avoid comparing your baby with others or forcing the next level, before they are ready. Being child led builds confidence. Most babies are happy to go underwater, particularly if you are in sight and underwater with them. Once basic skills have been learnt, there might be a long period when your baby seems ready to swim and yet is reluctant to take off. Ultimately it's your baby's decision, and it's good to realize that each baby's progression is unique.
DID YOU KNOW? Your body is 80% water. What we think and say can affect the vibration of the water in our bodies. Children with an early introduction to water, usually experience great love and respect for water and swimming.
Nicola Joubert is a swimming and yoga instructor. Contact Nicola on [email protected] or www.lana.co.za
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