Many parents are understandably hesitant about taking their baby or toddler swimming. What those parents don’t know is that swimming is easier for younger children to learn early and it can have a variety of lasting benefits. Let’s dispel some scary myths that hold kids back from the water.
MYTH: Kids can’t swim for at least an hour after they eat.
TRUTH: The classic warning that parents give their children in the summer. When you think swimming at the pool or beach, you probably think of snacks hauled along or cookouts, too. Especially in the summer, 90% of American homes regularly have sweet, cold treats like popsicles and ice cream. If you or your little one indulge in an ice cream bar between swims, don’t worry — you will, very likely, NOT cramp up and drown.
MYTH: Babies too young to be immunized shouldn’t go swimming.
TRUTH: Leading health educators such as England’s National Health Service confirm that it is not inherently dangerous to bring a baby who has not yet been immunized swimming. Naturally, you still may want to avoid very germy places such as a community swimming pool, and stay away from hot tubs and very cold water. Children this young are most comfortable in special warm baby pools, like those in private baby swimming classes.
MYTH: Babies’ motor functions aren’t developed enough to swim.
TRUTH: There’s an interesting phenomenon called “infant swimming” where babies and toddlers have a distinct reflex that is lost in early childhood. When a baby is submerged, their bodies heart and respiration rates, and they reflexively move themselves through the water. That’s not to say that you can just pop your newborn in the pool, but helping babies paddle around in clean water is perfectly fine and amazing to watch.
MYTH: Children should only start swimming lessons around age four.
TRUTH: While age four was the standard age to start swimming lessons up until about 2010, the American Association of Pediatrics agreed that swimming lessons could be beneficial starting at age one when research reported a reduced risk of drowning in preschoolers who had taken swimming lessons earlier.
MYTH: A child who knows how to swim needs less supervision.
TRUTH: Even experienced adult swimmers drown, and it’s especially dangerous to overestimate the swimming ability of young children who are easily overwhelmed and lack the ability to consistently make logical choices. For children under the age of five, the second leading cause of death is drowning. Many of these children unfortunately drowned in plain view of an adult or in their own backyard.
MYTH: Swimming is bad for a baby’s developing muscles and body.
TRUTH: Swimming for a young baby is an incredible sensory experience. The new sensations and movements build new and complex neuron connections in their brains that can help babies develop better coordination and muscle movement. The stimulation and social interaction of swimming can even help babies build confidence and communication as they grow, thanks to those handy new neuron connections.
If all that hasn’t convinced you that babies should have a little water play, do your own research. Swimming is not right for every baby, so make sure you ask your doctor first about any complications your baby may have that would affect their swimming. But fair warning, their pediatrician will probably further encourage you to pick up some swim diapers!