Swimming with your kids can be a fun way to spend hours with them

Infant swimming has become more and more popular through time as a fun way to spend hours with young children while teaching them important mobility and survival skills. Infant swimming is based on the notion that babies exhibit an innate tendency to move through water imitating swimming motions.

It is, however, also a controversial practice that, according to some, might carry risks. In reality, babies are unable to swim because of their body structure and actual strength; swimming requires coordination between arms, legs, head and breathing that younger children cannot possibly control; however, infants do have reflexes that allow them to dive in like pros. That’s why we decided to bring our daughter Adelaide Jasmine Laura into the pool as we had a chance to do that.

A peculiar “diving reflex”, in fact, has been studied: when children up to 6 months old dive in water, a series of reactions take place in their body: respiration and heart rate slow down, the glottis seals, and any water is rerouted to the stomach through the esophagus, although some infants would even automatically hold their breath. All these mechanisms allow younger children to survive short immersions in water, thanks to the conservation of oxygen for lungs and heart.

A lot of the controversy comes from the age in which children should be exposed to swimming. Many parents believe lessons are key as a precautionary measure to put a stop to drowning. Unintentional drowning is, in fact, a tragic, leading cause of death throughout the world. Many infants and toddlers’ drowning don’t actually occur in larger swimming pools, spas, hot tubs, or body of water, but in bathing buckets or bathtubs with less than 2 inches (5 centimeters) of water; children aged 1 to 4 years are most at risk for drowning in inflatable and portable pools. There are many bathtub varieties and some are designed better for kids. There are actually cases that show like even toilets cannot be overlooked as a drowning hazard, with toddlers falling headfirst into the water if the lid remains open.

Children are often trained in water safety. These courses are designed to train them on how to survive in the event that they accidentally fall into the water while unattended. Although some studies have tried to prove that swimming lessons for children younger than 4 can sensibly reduce the amount of deaths by drowning, in reality, most are inconclusive. However, if before professional societies like the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advised against lessons prior to the age of 4 for a series of risks including unintentional drowning, hypothermia, exposure to pool chemicals and infections, their position has often changed through time. Although they still don’t have sufficient proof of the effectiveness of training programs at such a young age and the effects on drowning statistics, they no longer advise against. The AAP warns parents, however, that “swimming lessons for infants and toddlers do not protect children from drowning. Children are not ready for formal swimming lessons until after their fourth birthday. You can teach your baby or toddler to love the water.”

First times in the swimming pool were just to take confidence in a new environment and the water since we didn’t book any lesson in advance and there were no professionals available. I didn’t try anything particular but staying in the water with her.

Then finally we had chance to have some private lessons where I got fundamentals about how to manage moments with her in water. For example, to sit on the edge with her, to start wetting her arms and legs first, then the body and the head, before entering the pool. Even if it’s warm water: just let your baby get acclimatized.
Another very useful exercise: to let your baby lay on the back and swimming backwards, gently roll him/her right and left. It will help the propaedeutic rolling motion that will then allow the baby to turn around and crawl.
And after that, I try to bring her in the pool at least once per week, so that she can’t forget her confidence with the water. And it’s working! After diving, she never cries.

Whatever your decision as parents is on swimming lessons for your infant, here are some useful tips to make the experience safer.

Closely supervise your child; this is always the best defense against drowning. A child can be in serious trouble in as little as 20 seconds, even in water that is only inches’ deep.

At home, buy and use pool security devices (several are found on the market) to prevent tragedies. For example, there are 4-sided pool fences to enclose the water area and prevent unintended access, as well as “childproof” gates that are completely closed or latched; pool alarms to detect even the smallest body in the area thus preventing children from wandering in the area without an adult or sound a warning if a child falls into the water; pool covers specifically designed for under- or above-ground pools that can be bought and used to block off the outdoor pool, although parents should still be careful as toddlers can get in under the sides or fall through the top, if unsupervised. Shop for swimming floatation devices that are suitable for all ages, including baby floats. Always be mindful, however, that they are not substitutes for supervision as they can flip over or deflate.

Adults should learn CPR and First Aid, as well as get trained in water safety and in swimming, water rescue skills. This could save your child’s life! Being a heli rescue swimmer and trained for all those skills, I feel comfortable in bringing my daughter regularly into a pool, but please don’t try this without a professional supervising you, especially if you are not comfortable in the water. ■

Drowning is not the only risk.

Keep on Swimming!

Words by: Nico de Corato and Daniel Brecht
Photos by: DubaiBlog & Web