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We have a 6 week old baby and are thinking about when it would be OK to take them swimming. This is something I'm keen on doing as I think swimming is a great skill to learn however I'm unsure if there are any reasons not to take them so young. I appreciate at 6 weeks learning to swim isn't the priority, it's something I'm thinking long term and wanted to start as soon as really.

I've had a look around and I can see classes that offer this sort of thing however like anything I do I look to the Internet to find the pros and cons. Has anyone got any information or experience in this area?

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    I think it differs throughout cultures, around here all baby swim courses I know of have an age limit of at least 12 weeks. – PlasmaHH Jan 13 '17 at 13:43
  • @PlasmaHH I think there are places here dedicated to newborns that offer the support. Looking at one place (which I've heard good reviews about) they say on their site birth to 6 months for one of their groups. – Bugs Jan 13 '17 at 14:09

10 Answers 10

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Most sources will state no sooner than 6 months, but it kind of depends on the baby's size.

Infants are notoriously poor at regulating body temperature when it comes to environment. They can't dissipate heat as well as older babies, and worse yet, they can't generate heat when cold. Most public pools will be too cold for an infant; there is a very real risk of hypothermia.

Interestingly, your baby can already swim right now; it's a reflex (not unlike the Moro response) that will be lost as the baby ages.

If you can find a pool heated for your purpose, I can't think of a good reason to wait, with two caveats: you will find the water too warm to be comfortable, and the baby risks ear infections. Probably the best option right now is a clean bathtub.

Swimming Programs for Infants and Toddlers
Infant and Toddler Swimming Programs: Are They Safe and Effective?
How soon can I take my new baby swimming?

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    Most sources will state no sooner than 6 months. Have you any links to sources as I am struggling to find some. I Google and all I seem to get is classes and pools in my local area. Infants are notoriously poor at regulating body temperature. That's a good point. ..baby risks ear infections That is a worry and last thing I want is for them to have an ear infection. Probably the best option right now is a clean bathtub.. Would you say there is a limit on depth? Without sound stupid, I mean I'd like to give them the feeling of being in a pool. Thank you for your answer. – Bugs Jan 12 '17 at 16:39
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    No, no limits on depth as long as you stay with the infant at all times! :) – anongoodnurse Jan 12 '17 at 17:52
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    Just had a deeper than normal bath and he loved it. Even got a cheeky smile. Mother was on edge the entire time but looks like a deeper bath will be the norm now :) thank you. – Bugs Jan 12 '17 at 20:56
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    I have two children, a boy (7) and a girl (10 months). Baby swimming classes were offered at a local place, heated pool with warm ambient air, for children of any age from 6 months up. Assuming no illness or other medical concerns (for example, our girl was born two months premature), it's a case of putting some waterproof diapers on the baby, and you're good to go. Usually the instructor will be helpful and tell you what to do. My boy took to the water like a native, and was already being sent underwater between parents after a few sessions. He's loved water and swimming ever since. – flith Jan 13 '17 at 8:39
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If your child's doctor agrees, then whenever you are ready. I was an infant, 3 months, I think. My parents took me to the YMCA in Montreal in the 1950s. Supposedly, I learned to swim then and there. Not strokes, but dog paddle, kick and taking my face out of the water. My mum was with me the entire time, inches away. The one in my city suggests six months and the pool is 'therapeutic', warmer than a regular pool.

You need the proper diapers and diaper covers. You need to know the pool accepts infants and children in diapers. The pool and area needs to be clean. Personally, I would not allow anyone else to take my infant into a pool excepting the father and me. Doing under the direction of a swim instructor is a good answer.

If this is your own pool, then make sure it's clean and that the diapers are not soiled, are tight and covered. I would be careful if you have no experience, but simply holding a baby in clean water that is warm enough, should be fine.

  • If your child's doctor agrees. Good point. Vaccinations are being done very soon so would be wise to wait until after then and at that point I can ask for their advice too. You need the proper diapers and diaper covers. Noted, thank you. Both the Mother and I will be taking them to a swim class (together) which has an instructor. I'm a strong swimmer myself but that's not the worry. I want the instructor for their skills in this area and to me it makes sense until they are older. Thank you for your answer. – Bugs Jan 12 '17 at 16:27
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    Vaccinations/colds/other children with colds or illnesses -- all are factors in any group activity -- but especially swimming. I am not a doctor, but I would be very hesitant if I knew anyone was in or around the pool with a cold or tummy troubles. LINK I'd much prefer to use my family pool if I could/had one. – WRX Jan 12 '17 at 16:33
  • I wouldn't want to go swimming if I knew that too. Last thing I want to do is subject our newborn to that. Thank you for the link, it makes an interesting read. I'll be showing the Mother later to get her thoughts on it. – Bugs Jan 12 '17 at 16:42
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    There are deeper pools available -- weather would matter of course. I do not know where you are but this is what I mean -- and you could be in control of temperature and health conditions: LINK Here in USA it's $100. – WRX Jan 12 '17 at 16:48
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    Could you tent it in summer? Then you would not need to worry about rain or bugs or too much sun. Hey, I am getting good at spending your money! ;) – WRX Jan 12 '17 at 16:56
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Most of the baby-swimming classes in the UK will take them from birth (or sometimes as soon as they've had their first round of vaccinations). We started at 8 weeks, a few babies in the class were a couple of week younger. At this stage, it's really important to do things that are suitable for their development, so going to an organised class is by far the best way (simple things like supporting their head and keeping them warm are just the start). The local authority classes often start older and/or are less ambitious (e.g. you don't let go of the baby until much later, they don't swim underwater until much later). All the baby classes I've heard of have the singing etc. that babies love.

Water safety starts very early in all programs I know of -- as soon as they're capable of holding on to the side -- so the benefits start early. A baby can also propel themself through the water at a surprisingly young age. But as you note in the question, it will be a little while before proper strokes start to be taught (at the toddler stage).

Starting as early as possible is often recommended as a newborn has no fear of water and can avoid developing such a fear (mine has perhaps gone the other way).

The classes have rules (swim nappy+neoprene cover, time off after illness) to minimise ther chances of pool contamination and have procedures in place if an accident does happen including the pool owners' involvment in cleaning the water. It happens. They usually are the only people in the pool even if they're only using the shallow end of a school pool.

The link is to the people we've just grown out of. While I would definitely recommend them that's not why I chose to link to them -- I just found the page with the age quickly.

  • Thank you for the answer. There is some reassurance in this that starting as young as 8 weeks (which is what I think we will be doing) is beneficial. Water safety starts very early. This is my aim. Thank you for the link, I'll definitively take a look at that. Did you have any issues when it came to pool contamination. Mother is concerned of ear infections but I'm not sure why, think it's just a fear she has. – Bugs Jan 13 '17 at 10:07
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    I don't have the science behind the varying prevalence but some kids are more prone to ear infections (btw there's research suggesting that antibiotics should be used with care for infant ear infections). Ours has had very few sickness etc. illnesses and we haven't traced any to a particular cause. We've never even suspected swimming as a cause. Neither have we witnessed contamination, though we have had a few (single figures in 3 years) lessons called off because of it. Recognising poo-face and getting out before it starts is possible after a few weeks/months, at least in a small pool. – Chris H Jan 13 '17 at 11:01
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    Ours were prescribed by the children's doctors. We'd be in big trouble if we took stuff like that on as teachers. (Parents and) doctors make those decisions. – WRX Jan 13 '17 at 15:32
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    @WillowRex I could see our teachers making a suggestion in repsonse to "the doctor says block their ears" but otherwise I agree, and didn't mean to suggest otherwise (I was thinking from a parent's point of view) – Chris H Jan 13 '17 at 15:35
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    Common ear infectious come in two varieties: outer ("swimmer's ear") and the more serious middle ear infection. The latter can't be prevented by earplugs; it happens when the child takes in pool water by mouth and it gets to the back of the pharynx, where it can go into the eustacian tubes into the middle ear. Your wife has valid concerns though the reason might not be known by all. – anongoodnurse Jan 17 '17 at 15:23
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Another point not addressed in existing answers:

There is some indication that exposure to chlorinated water may increase the risk of asthma. German authories recommend avoiding chlorinated water for children under two years of age as a precaution, if there is a history of allergies in the family.

If water is chlorinated, which is the case in virtually all public pools, some amount of nitrogen trichloride is present in the air. Nitrogen trichloride irritates mucous membranes, and is what causes the "chlorine smell" of swimming pools. It is usually harmless in the concentrations typical in swimming pools, but there is some concern that it may damage children's lungs and thereby promote asthma.

In this article, the German Umweltbundesamt (German Federal Office for the Environment) recommends:

Besorgten Eltern von Kindern unter zwei Jahren, in deren Familien gehäuft Allergien auftreten, empfiehlt das Umweltbundesamt (UBA), aus Vorsorgegründen vom Babyschwimmen abzusehen, bis geklärt ist, ob sich der Verdacht bestätigt. Alle anderen Kinder und Erwachsene können Schwimmbäder mit einer Wasseraufbereitung nach den allgemein anerkannten Regeln der Technik weiter ohne Bedenken nutzen.

Translation (no guarantees):

Worried parents of children under two years of age, and where multiple cases of allergies have occured in the family, are advised by the Umweltbundesamt to not take their babies to a swimming pool as a precaution, until it is clear whether the suspicions are confirmed. All other children and adults can use swimming pools with a state-of-the-art water treatment system without worries.

Note that the risk is much lower with open-air swimming pools, as nitrogen trichloride will dissipate more quickly there. Also, a lot depends on the water treatment and air purification system used. If air is filtered appropriately, the level of nitrogen trichloride can be lowered significantly.

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    Good point well made. From what I know none of us have any history of allergies to anything as it stands so I guess the risk is lower however I will look at bringing this up with our doctor and asking them for their thoughts. Thank you for your answer and appreciate the translation. – Bugs Jan 13 '17 at 10:19
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    I am all for swimming babies but know the risks. All our kids swam younger than 3 months. There is more to the chlorination than allergies and asthma. There can be wide variance at a single pool in the amount of free chlorine and total chlorine. If an outdoor pool is not a choice, check on all the other methods used to keep a pool sanitary - "salt water", "bromine", and others. Further, much older kids have been known to "drown" 24 hours after leaving the pool, otherwise known as secondary drowning. – rjt Jan 14 '17 at 1:26
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Here's some other tips not mentioned above.

Here in Denmark we also have baby-swimming from 2 months of age, in specially heated pools, both in separate facilities and in public pools. I have had both my kids both places and I can highly recommend it.

Just remember that very young babies use a lot of energy when in the water, so its recomended here to limit time in the water to 20-25 minutes. After that they will be both a little tired and very hungry!

Also you spend all of the time as a parent holding on to your baby and playing with them, so a very shallow pool can be straining to your back when bending down and holding your baby. It's actually better to be in a chest-deep pool where you can stand upright on your feet and play with your baby without bending down.

  • The limit is definitely thought for process. At the moment our child through the day doesn't stay awake much so I can imagine 20 minutes being a max, then a feed and then him probably being flat out. It's tiring for adults so can imagine it's much more exhausting for a baby. The chest-deep comment is something I was thinking about as you're right, it will be straining. Looking at the images most parents are sat but I'll speak with the instructors about that :) thank you for your answer. – Bugs Jan 14 '17 at 21:12
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I think in a lot of countries it's pretty normal to do it very early, unlike in the US. A co-worker of mine from Europe said they swim early, even dunking their kids at just a couple of weeks. In Asia, it's apparently very early too. This Baby Spa in Singapore says 1 month old is when you should start: http://www.littlepods.com.sg/benefits/baby-swimming/

The Otteroo company (a US company) which make swimming aids for infants says 2 months: https://otteroo.com/faq/ . We tried the Otteroo in our bathtub with ours at a few months old and our baby loved it and continues to absolutely love being in the water.

  • It does seem that here in the UK babies are seen from as early as 6 weeks, some earlier. We have his injections next week and waiting till then just to be safe but I'm looking in next few weeks to get him into swimming. He'll be 10 weeks by then so should be more than ready. Thanks for your answer and the links. – Bugs Jan 18 '17 at 21:17
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If you're talking about a public swimming pool, then there is a significant health threat from your baby to other people. Roughly a third of diaper-age children in the US have a protozoan called Giardia in their gut, as opposed to only about 3-7% of the adult population, and unlike adults, babies don't have control of their sphincters. People who have Giardia permanently living in their intestines are resistant to it and have no symptoms (which is why we don't see a third of toddlers being sick), but when a person who doesn't have tolerance is exposed to it, the result is sometimes a very unpleasant illness. Giardia is not easily killed by chlorine, because transmission of the disease is through the cyst life stage, which has a hard shell. Even in a properly maintained pool, they will live for roughly an hour after being released into the water. Infection can occur through extremely small, invisible quantities of cysts.

The question is:

When is it OK to take a newborn swimming?

So my answer is that it's not OK at all, in a public swimming pool. It will only be OK when the child is old enough to have sphincter control.

References:

https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/pdf/swimming/resources/giardia-factsheet.pdf

Ish-Horowicz et al., "Asymptomatic giardiasis in children," Pediatr Infect Dis J. 1989 Nov;8(11):773-9.

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    While interesting, unfortunately this doesn't answer the question asked (but rather a question not asked.) As this is a question and answer site, unless you edit this to answer the actual question, it risks deletion. Thanks. – anongoodnurse Jan 12 '17 at 20:20
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    That is interesting. We wouldn't be going to public swimming pools as that's too much and we have very little control of the environment. We would be looking at controlled classes which are dedicated to newborns/infants :) – Bugs Jan 12 '17 at 20:58
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    @Jinx88909 my concern would be so many added chemicals to assure the health of other swimmers. Infant skin is so sensitive. With a home pool, you can empty the water. – WRX Jan 12 '17 at 23:12
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    @anongoodnurse: I suppose your objection is that the question is a "when" question, but my answer doesn't give a "when" answer? OK, I'll edit it. – Ben Crowell Jan 13 '17 at 2:03
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    @BenCrowell: I totally disagree, the source you are citing is just a fact sheet justifying that you have to shower properly, use a chlorinated pool and check the diapers often. When using swimming-diapers specially for this purpose, the risk of giardiasis is small. Don't feed the baby right before going into the water, don't stay long, then everybody's safe. – hlynbech Jan 15 '17 at 22:39
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We took our daughter from 3 months. I would say after your baby's 6 week check with the doctor. We went to special swimming lessons for young babies in a specially heated pool (private). The pool is normally used for hydrotherapy (physiotherapy under water) and is kept to 31-32 degrees.

To keep your baby from going cold you will need to get a baby wetsuit (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Konfidence-Babywarma-NeoNappy-Polka-Small/dp/B00KAXX9X2/ref=sr_1_2_a_it?ie=UTF8&qid=1484301841&sr=8-2&keywords=swim+neoprene+suit+6month+old) this also keeps them warm when you are walking from the pool to changing room. You will also need swim nappies.

I would strongly encourage you go to swimming lessons with any baby, as you'll learn how to handle them safely and learn what babies can and can't do in the pool.

Swimming with my daughter was really great. Hope you enjoy.

  • To keep your baby from going cold you will need to get a baby wetsuit. I like this idea, I'll look into that. Thank you. I would strongly encourage you got to swimming lessons with any baby, as you'll learn how to handle them safely This is exactly our thoughts along with wanting them to feel safe and not develop a fear. Thank you for your answer. – Bugs Jan 13 '17 at 11:00
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Finnish Swimming Teaching and Lifesaving Federation writes that 3 months and at least 5kg of bodyweight is their requirement. The weight limit is said to be set so that baby can keep the body temperature warm enough in pool that is 32°C warm. In addition they mention that baby at that age (3-5months) starts to have longer periods of activity (they stay awake longer during the day and are stronger, thus can be mobile longer).

Finnish Swimming Teaching adn Lifesaving Federation, about baby and family swimming

  • that 3 months and at least 5kg of bodyweight is their requirement. That's a good guideline to go off. He will be under 3 months when we think about going (but only just) and he's just hit 5KG so I would think he will be more when we look at going. In addition they mention that baby at that age (3-5months) starts to have longer periods of activity. That's a good point, he's a big sleeper through the day and wide awake at night at the moment so that would play a role in when we look at going. Thank you for your answer. – Bugs Jan 13 '17 at 17:06
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I taught swimming lessons for 16 years. Babies can go swimming as soon as they have the head control to hold up their own heads. It can be great fun, for both babies and parents. Enjoy!!

  • Reassuring coming from someone who has been teaching for 16 years :) Our son does have some head control. He's actually pretty strong and has been from birth so I think by the time we do go swimming we should be more than OK. Thank you for your answer. – Bugs Jan 13 '17 at 17:03
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    Hi whatshername - you'll see from the other answers that your post is misleading and not necessarily recommended. It's not just about keeping the head up far enough so they can breathe. – Rory Alsop Jan 13 '17 at 18:35
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    @RoryAlsop, How is "as soon as they have the head control" not an answer to when? She is not implying that the baby swim without parents. – rjt Jan 14 '17 at 1:09
  • Because there are other considerations. Both for their own health (eg temp control) and others' health (eg giardia) – Rory Alsop Jan 14 '17 at 9:25

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