All healthy infants can take infant swimming lessons, as well as some infants with disabilities.
If you are in any doubt about whether your baby is fit to take part in infant swimming, consult a doctor. To start infant swimming, the baby must be at least three months old and weigh at least four kilos. Their navel must be fully healed. For preterm babies, the three months are counted from the original estimated due date. The water must be at least 32 degrees Celsius for infant swimming.
Wear a swim nappy
The baby must wear a swim nappy or Swimpants. The nappy or Swimpants must be tight around the legs and waist and free from plastic, so that no air can get inside and help the infant to float. The pants or nappy must be flexible so that the infant can move freely.
The parent decides the exercises and everything is based on the baby's needs
Infant swimming gives the baby more freedom to move around than at home in the bathroom. This allows the baby try new movements and exercises with the parents. When we think of swimming babies, we often imaging a smiling infant with its head completely under the water. But that's just one of all the exercises. Not all infants enjoy going underwater (and neither do all parents).
Further reading: Your child's self-esteem
Building water confidence
During the infant swimming lessons, the parents decide which of the exercises their baby will do. Everything happens on the infant's terms and it is important for both the children and the parents to feel secure. An added bonus of infant swimming is that it encourages playful interaction between the baby and its parents. It is lovely to see babies enjoying the water and gradually gaining in confidence. Most of the exercises are fun for both parents and kids.
The exercises are based on the infant's age and the parents' consent, and may focus on holding your breath, floating on your back or water safety. Some parents choose to go underwater with the child, but if you don't want to, there are many other exercises for learning water confidence. The infant also learns balance and motor skills in the water.
Facts about the diving reflex
It used to be thought that only infants with the diving reflex could do infant swimming. Now we know that the most important thing is to teach the infant to voluntarily hold its breath to prevent drowning in the event of an accident. In other words, the diving reflex has no practical benefit for children who go to infant swimming classes. The diving reflex is actually a combination of several reflexes activated when a human is submerged in water.
• The laryngeal chemoreflex is a response reaction that, for example, closes the larynx when water or other liquids enter their throat. The reflex also involves arm and leg motions to assist even the smallest babies up to the surface. Babies are born with this reflex, but it gradually disappears and is suppressed in adulthood by the more dominant cerebral cortex.
• The trigeminus reflex is activated when the area around the nose and forehead come into contact with water, and generates a similar response to the laryngeal reflex, except that there are no swallowing motions in this one.
• The facial reflex is activated when the face comes into contact with water, and also helps to protect the airways from water.
The two latter reflexes are also active in adults. The laryngeal chemoreflex is not activated in adults apart from in exceptional cases.
Your baby's skin
On an infant swimming course, you swim with your baby under the supervision of a qualified infant swimming instructor. The general aim of infant swimming is to build water confidence and teach infants to enjoy the water in a respectful way.