Baby Swimming Guide: Lessons and Tips for a Smart Start

Updated September 9, 2021
Mother teaching infant how to float in swimming pool

Baby swimming classes are a great option for parents who want their kids to dive in to learning how to swim at a young age. If you think that infant swim classes might be right up your alley, or swim lane rather, know when and how to start the learning process, and what different types of swim programs can offer your little one.

Water Safety Is Essential

When you welcome a little one into the world, there are suddenly many bases to cover. You are now responsible for teaching them all there is to know as they grow, and for keeping them safe from countless dangers. It's a daunting task for sure, and many parents believe that starting swim lessons in infancy will check at least one scary thing off the list: drowning. Losing a child in that manner is not something any parent wants to think about, and the dangers are very real. The CDC estimates that some 3,536 children drown every year, and one in five of those deaths are attributed to kids under the age of 14. Knowing these unnerving statistics often leads parents to look into baby swimming lessons.

While some parents turn toward infant swim lessons with the hope that kids will stay safer in the event of an aquatic emergency, others take to the water because of the ample benefits that aquatic exposure has on young babies.

The Benefits of Starting Swim Lessons Early

The obvious benefit of starting swim lessons early on is to acclimate tots to the water and teach some safety foundations. That said, there is NO replacement for the ever-watchful eyes of a caregiver when it comes to children and water. Besides teaching little ones a few key skills that might buy them precious moments in an emergency or accident, baby swim lessons provide benefits that extend beyond safety.

Swimming Improves Cognition

When young children engage in activities that encourage them to perform an action with both sides of their body, like swimming, their brains grow! This engagement of both sides of the body is referred to as cross-patterning movement. Cross-patterning movement enhances growth in the corpus callosum, and such mental activity can lead to better reading skills, language development, academic learning, and success down the road.

Swimming Creates Confidence

Raising confident and capable children is one of the primary goals of parents everywhere, and taking swim lessons from a young age might just give your baby a boost of confidence later on in life. Many infant swim classes include music, positive interaction, skin-to-skin contact, and other activities that help infants feel safe, secure, and happy as they learn to be in the water. While they might be developing some swim skills, they also learn to trust and thrive in a group setting. A study looked at young children and their ability to adapt and feel confident in various settings. The study results highlighted the fact that the kids who had taken infant swim classes tended to exhibit adaptability, self-confidence, and awareness more keenly than those who had not previously engaged in swim lessons during the tot years.

Swimming Builds Better and Bigger Muscles

Many parents are aware that they have to lend little ones a hand when it comes to aiding babies in muscle building. Moms and dads encourage babies to strengthen their necks through tummy time and hold their little hands as they toddle about while they learn to walk. Swimming is a great workout for people of all ages, babies included. The motions performed by the body while in the water promote muscle growth as well as joint development. All of those minutes logged in the pool are helping to strengthen your baby's heart, lungs, and blood vessels.

Swim Classes Enhance Bonding Between Parent & Baby

Nine month old baby boy at his first swimming lesson

Many infant swim classes promote one-on-one bonding and happy interactions between babies and the adults in the water with them. Any time that you can focus solely on your child will be a beneficial and worthwhile experience. Use your baby swimming class to make ample eye contact with your child, create moments for skin-to-skin interaction, and introduce speech, smiles, and moments of bonding. Research greatly suggests that babies who bond early on with parents benefit from better mental health outcomes.

When Should Baby Swimming Lessons Begin?

So when exactly do baby swim classes begin? This decision is largely up to the parents. Many experts agree that six months of age is a good time to introduce infants to the water. The reasoning for the early water education is because around eight months of age, babies begin to develop fear. If baby has already been immersed in swim lessons by the time fear becomes an aspect of their being, they will be less likely to be afraid of water-related activities. In short, get ahead of the scared.

Will your baby be swimming like Michael Phelps before they can proficiently crawl across the kitchen floor? No. Probably not. The goal of infant swim classes isn't to get started prepping for the Olympic games. Rather, the goal is to create comfort in the water, and help teach basic water-related skills at an early age.

Six months might sound too early for you to consider taking to the pool. That's okay too. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests that age one is a safe age for babies to begin swim lessons.

Choosing the Best Setting for Swim Lessons

Water is everywhere, and you might think that swim lessons for young children can take place in any environment. This might be an acceptable approach for older children (heck, most of us probably learned how to stay afloat in a lake near home), but when it comes to young babies, you want to hold lessons in an appropriate place.

Only take baby swim lessons at a swimming pool, preferably a pool specializing in lessons and infant safety and instruction. Choose programs with lessons spanning thirty minutes or less. More than that might result in cranky, chilly tots that are turned off from water rather than put at ease in it. Furthermore, water temperature definitely matters. Babies lose heat quite quickly, so any pool you dip your darling in needs to be warm, preferably in the upper eighty-degree range.

Different Approaches to Infant Swimming Lessons

A group of mothers with their young children in a children's swimming class

When it comes to swimming lessons for babies, parents will likely choose from classes based on safety and accident prevention or from fun-based bonding experiences. It is important to remember that any class can combine the two approaches, but be sure to choose a swim class that aligns with the benefits you are seeking.

ISR Swim Lessons

ISR or Infant Swimming Resource Self-Rescue classes aim to teach tots as young as six months of age how to stay afloat should they ever topple into the water. Instead of educating the young on different strokes and breathing techniques, (a common emphasis of swim classes geared for older kids), ISR aims to give tots the skills to stay afloat in the water until help arrives. The lessons are often short in span, are always taught in one-on-one settings, created to mimic real-life emergencies, and build upon development while considering factors like a child's basic ability, age, and learning style. Many parents believe that providing this education to their little one is another means to keep them safe in an emergency. Still, other parents are not so sure. Many think the practice of ISR classes borders on excessive and traumatizing. Whether to choose ISR or not is an entirely personal choice for parents.

Parent and Tot Swim Lessons

Parent and tot swim classes are commonly found at most local health clubs, community pools, and aquatic centers. They are normally led by an instructor and include several children per class. Here, some basic skills are introduced, like immersing a child's body and face into the water, but the emphasis is not on responding to emergencies. Instead, these classes aim to create a connection between the babies and the caregivers who accompany them in the water. Fun games, smiles, and plenty of social interaction are included in typical parent-and-tot classes as kids become used to water and new people and situations.

Tips for Getting Your Baby Ready to Swim

Regardless of when you begin baby swim lessons or which type of lesson you choose to go with, take steps to make the experience as enjoyable and as beneficial as possible for you and your child.

  • Arrive to class early. Prepping a baby for swim class takes more time than you might think.
  • Don't eat and swim. The only floating objects you want in the pool are babies, not the contents of tiny tummies.
  • Never take your eyes off of your child. Even though they are in "class," you are 100 percent responsible for their safety.
  • Create calmness. If you are calm, your infant will probably be calm as well. Foster a space of peace and security.
  • Read your baby's cues. If they are extra cranky, tired or just look "off" to you, consider ending class early or skipping a session.

Understand the Limits of Swim Lessons

Infant swim lessons can make a parent feel more at ease around water because they are armed with the understanding that their baby "might" be able to better stay afloat should an emergency arise. It is important to note that baby swim classes will never guarantee complete safety. There are simply no substitutions for an astute caregiver who has a baby in their arms for the entire duration of water play. Never take your eyes off of a tot if there is any standing water nearby, whether it is an ocean's worth or a few inches of liquid. While baby swim classes are wonderful additions to your tot's aqua knowledge base, always rely on yourself first when it comes to safety.

Baby Swimming Guide: Lessons and Tips for a Smart Start