Water Safety for Little Swimmers
Will your baby splish and splash or scream and shout? You can't know whether he'll take to the water until you take him into the pool for the first time. Getting in the water can be perfectly safe for a baby, provided you test the temperature first and keep him safely cradled in your arms the whole time. An infant can drown in less than 2 inches of water, but if you're careful, your baby's first swim story should have a happy ending.
Baby's First Swim
Hold off taking baby into the pool until he's about 6 months old. Younger babies may not have adequate neck strength to keep their heads up, and they may struggle to regulate their own temperatures. Outdoor swimming can also be a problem before 6 months because sunscreen isn't recommended for young babies.
By 6 months your baby should also have had enough baths to be comfortable with water so he can enjoy the experience. That said, it's worth asking your pediatrician for his or her blessing before taking your child into the pool for the first time.
Preparing Baby for a Swim
Swim diapers are an absolute must. Your baby's regular diapers will get waterlogged and fall apart in the pool, which may result in a mess that no one wants to see. Dress him in a bathing suit or pull a diaper cover over his swim diaper for an extra layer of protection. Put a wide-brimmed hat on him to protect his face from the sun. Cover the rest of his skin with sunscreen. You can try putting infant sunglasses on him too, although he may not be willing to cooperate.
Check the pool temperature before climbing in. It should feel warm to you or it will be too cold for your baby. A good minimum temperature is around 86 degrees Fahrenheit, but even warmer is better. The cooler the water, the less time your baby should spend in it. Watch his lips and skin for any sign of a blue tint. Get him out and warm him up with towels and warm clothes if you see any signs that he's getting cold.
Swim Safety With a Baby
Hold your baby at all times when he's in the pool. Don't use flotation devices of any kind with a baby. If you have an older child swimming too, make sure another adult is watching her at all times. With a baby in your arms, you won't be able to reach her quickly if she needs help.
Stay in the shallow end so you can keep your feet firmly on the ground while holding your baby. With him in your arms, lower yourself gently into the water so he can get used to the sensation gradually. If he seems to like it, you can sink down so he's submerged up to his shoulders. Move carefully through the water so he doesn't get splashed in the face. Some babies will cry or fuss in the pool. There's no magic cure to make your baby love water. Try to engage him with a floating toy and, if that doesn't work, cut the swim session short and try again another day.
If you're swimming in your own backyard pool, now's the time to invest in a fence if you haven't already done so. Don't wait until he can walk. A pool should be completely surrounded by a fence with a self-latching gate and slats that are no more than 4 inches apart.
If you're swimming at an indoor pool, sniff at the air before taking your baby in. A small amount of chlorine shouldn't hurt him, but if you detect a really strong smell the pool may have too many chemicals to be safe for your child's delicate skin.
When to Start Swim Lessons
Swim lessons aren't really beneficial for babies younger than 1 year old, experts say. Hold off on signing him up for lessons until at least that age, but remember that no amount of swim instruction is a substitute for adult supervision. If your baby seems to really dislike the water, don't rush him into swim lessons at 1. Wait until he's more comfortable. Some kids aren't ready to start swim lessons until they're 4 or older.