Today at 6 Weeks and 2 Days Old I took my daughter swimming for the first time, she even got to go under the water. We both had a really great time, so I'm writing this article while it's all still fresh in my mind.
Rather than going to the local public pool we signed up with a local swim school company, which is a company that specialises in teaching very young babies to swim. I'd been told that I may have to change by the side of the pool, or in the disabled toilets as there will probably only be Mums and babies and there is a good chance I'll be the only man. Luckily there was another Father there so I didn't feel as uncomfortable as I could have.
We wanted to take a few photos and some video footage, I refused point blank to sit and film young children and their mothers in swimming costumes. I guess it is a sad reflection of the times we live in, but I had have felt like some kind of sick perv like the only clothed person on a nudist beach and didn't want everyone to give me the nickname 'Peter File'. So I got donned a pair of trunks and got into the pool while Clare watched.
We dressed Amélie in some 'little swimmer' nappy/diapers and some little bottoms over the top. I'm sure Clare will write an article with more of those details in for those of you that are interested.
First we had to shower with the babies for hygiene reasons. Then one by one we handed our babies over to someone in the pool before we got into the pool ourselves and then took our babies back, they tell you to never climb in while holding the baby yourself as that is dangerous.
I was last into the pool and missed any initial instruction so just held her under the head with one hand (exactly the same as when I bath her) and floated her towards the other babies and mothers.
There were about 10 babies in total, ours looked the youngest apart from one baby who looked about 3 weeks old. The others looked about 3 months to 10 months old, I'd say the average was 6 months but Clare would have a better idea so read her article if you are interested in that.
The first thing we did was to hold the babies under their arms with both hands and bounce them up and down a little as we all walked (I was walking on my knees) around in a big circle. Baby going backwards facing parent upright, parent walking forwards.
We were then taught the swim position, the baby horizontal in the pool facing the parent. The parent supports baby under baby's chest with hands cupped together upwards, thumbs fully extended pointing up to the sky and a little outwards. They said it was important not to hold the baby, just to support and let the baby float. We were then to walk backwards so baby was swimming forwards.
Not a single baby had cried to this point and none of the 10 cried at all from the start to end of the session. The other babies seemed better at this swim position, they put their heads up out of the water and faced their parents. Amélie faced to the side and almost fell asleep.
Next the instructor took each baby for a little swim in this swim position to make friends with them all.
Then in preparation for the underwater part we held our babies and said 'Amélie ... Ready ... Go' then scooped up some water in our hands and splashed it over their heads and wiped their faces with it. Amélie seemed quite happy to do this, and I'll be doing this every bathtime now.
Then we were taken to the side of the pool and told that the babies would be submerged. Their natural instinct should make them hold their breath, the reactions we should expect were 1. no reaction, 2. a little cry, 3. a pause and then a little cry, 4. they may still be holding their breath for a little when they come up out of the water.
One by one each baby was taken by the instructor facing the parent, about 3 feet or 1 meter away (could by done by the other parent or a friend I guess if you were thinking of trying this out yourselves but don't have water babies or similar organization in your area). The parent then said 'Amélie (or whatever the babies name was) ..... Ready ..... Go' This we were told is important word association so eventually the baby will learn to hold their breath when we say 'Ready'. The instructor then dunked the baby under and forward then up again into the parents arms.
All the babies coped well, and Amélie just looked a little bemused for a few seconds but didn't really seem bothered.
Next we learned the 'splish splash' move. It's basically just holding them vertical under their arms, then lifting and dipping them into the water while moving them side to side a little. We did this in a big circle walking forwards and every so often we spun around 360 degrees and lifted the babies right up into the air and back down again.
The last move was 'Humpty Dumpty' you lift your baby up and hold them up sitting on the side wall of the pool. Then (as if you hadn't guessed already) you say the popular nursery rhyme and pull them into the water with you at the appropriate time in the rhyme. You pull them in so their chest hits the water first.
To wind down we did the whole, 'splish splash' thing again with the little pirouettes and up into the air now and again. We had to sing twinkle twinkle little star while we were doing this. I've got to admit I didn't join in the singing, I couldn't even bring myself to mouth the words but I did manage the Humpty Dumpty thing earlier much to Clare's mirth.
That was pretty much the end of swimming lesson number 1. I felt that although it was mainly mothers there, that this was one of the best moments for me since the actual birth. I did a lot of the initial feeding, first bath, and a few nappies but this was the first time I felt I was doing something very natural with her rather than just trying to be involved.
I may be old fashioned, but I think a baby needs to be mainly with their mothers early on and that fathers are more of a supporting role at that stage. Doing the odd, bath, feed, and nappy. This was something different, I didn't feel I was making an effort to be involved and doing this instead of Clare, I felt this was something I should be doing with my young daughter. So I think that this is something the Father should get involved with if at all possible.
You could do a lot of this in the bath at home or in a public pool but if you are lucky enough to have Water Babies or a similar scheme in your area I would highly recommend investing in using them for at least the first few sessions.
I'll leave you with a few more bit's of info you may find useful before I sign off.
We were told the pool needs to be 30 degrees Celsius or warmer, 32 degrees for very young babies like ours (12 weeks and below).
The sooner the better, babies start to lose their affinity with water and natural breath holding reflex by 10 to 15 months old.
All information we researched says it's safe to do this before any immunisations. So long as baby is healthy.
The company we used offers 4 terms of 10 lessons each. We paid around £10 per lesson, we think it's great value if you can afford it.
There are supposedly health and mental benefits to swimming this early on. Finnish and German studies show advanced intelligence, motor development, social skills, and muscle control. It can also be shown to improve feeding and sleeping patterns and early swimming can ward off future breathing complaints such as asthma.
I'm not so sure about all the beneficial claims for early swimming but I can tell you it's great fun, and a good bonding experience. I will keep you updated as we continue with the course, and as I have said Clare will be writing an article which may have more information on the types of nappies etc.
This was our first swimming article and since then we have prepared diagrams to show the different moves. Click here to see the first diagrams. More will follow in the near future.