When your baby isn’t old enough to walk, it may seem silly to take them to the pool. But there are so many benefits to splashing around and gliding through the water — besides the fact that your little one looks super cute in a bathing suit.
Studies demonstrate that spending time in the pool helps babies become more self-confident and intelligent (yes, really!). Being in the water engages your baby’s tiny body in a completely unique way, creating billions of new neurons as your sweetie kicks, glides, and smacks at the water.
While there are tremendous benefits to taking your baby to a public pool on your own, formal group swim lessons are important, too. Many people believe that infant swim time makes young children too comfortable in the water, thereby increasing drowning risks, but this is simply not true. In children aged 1 to 4, lessons can significantly reduce your child’s risk of drowning for multiple reasons.
Due to delicate immune systems, doctors typically recommend that parents keep their babies from chlorinated pools or lakes until they’re about 6 months old.
But you don’t want to wait too long to introduce your baby to the pool — children who don’t get their feet wet until later tend to be more fearful and negative about swimming. Younger children are also usually less resistant to floating on their backs, a key life-saving strategy that even some babies can master!
Here’s the lowdown on the amazing benefits of infant swim time.
Swimming Improves Cognitive Functioning
Bilateral cross-patterning movements, which use both sides of the body to carry out an action, help your baby’s brain grow.
Cross-patterning movements build neurons throughout the brain, but especially in the corpus callosum, which facilitates communication, feedback, and modulation from one side of the brain to another. Down the road, this improves:
- reading skills
- language development
- academic learning
- spatial awareness
When swimming, your baby moves their arms while kicking their legs. And your cutie is doing these actions in water, which means their brain is registering the tactile sensation of water plus its resistance. Swimming is also a unique social experience, which furthers its brain-boosting power.
A four-year study of over 7,000 children by the Griffith University in Australia found that swimming children were more advanced in physical and mental development when compared to their non-swimming peers. Specifically, the 3- to 5-year-olds who swam were 11 months ahead of the normal population in verbal skills, six months ahead in math skills, and two months ahead in literacy skills. They were also 17 months ahead in story recall and 20 months ahead in understanding directions!
Lessons May Reduce the Risk of Drowning
Lessons reduce the risk of drowning in children over 4. They may reduce the risk in children 1 to 4, but the evidence is not strong enough to say for sure. It’s important to note that they don’t reduce risk in children under 1.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), drowning is a leading cause of death among children and toddlers. Most of these drownings occur in home swimming pools, so if you have a pool, early swim lessons are especially important. Even the youngest babies can be taught important safety skills — like floating on their backs — that can save their lives.
A 2009 study, while small in scope, found an 88 percent reduction in drowning risk in children ages 1 to 4 who had taken swim lessons. A similar study conducted in China found that swim lessons reduced drowning risk by 40 percent. Regardless of the exact numbers, the relationship is clear — lessons give small children important life-saving skills and teach them respect for the water.
Lessons may also be helpful in this regard because parents become more aware of drowning. When a parent is proactively involved in teaching their child to swim, they may be more conscious of drowning risks overall.
Swimming Improves Confidence
Most infant classes include elements like water play, songs, and skin-to-skin contact with parents or caregivers. Children interact with one another and the instructor and begin to learn to function in groups. These elements, plus the fun of learning a new skill, boost your baby’s self-esteem.
In one German study, children who had taken swim lessons from the age of 2 months to 4 years were better adapted to new situations, had more self-confidence, and were more independent than non-swimmers. Another German study reinforced these findings, illustrating that early, year-round swimming lesson participants:
- had greater self-control
- had a stronger desire to succeed
- had better self-esteem
- were more comfortable in social situations than non-swimmers
Newborns and infants should never be left alone while in bathtubs or pools. It’s important to keep in mind that a child can drown in even just 1 inch of water. For children under 1 year of age, it’s best to do “touch supervision.” That means that an adult should be close enough to touch them at all times.
The AAP gives clear guidelines on the possible warning signs of potential drowning. Signs that may indicate that a person is in danger of drowning include:
- head is low in the water, and mouth is at water level
- head is tilted back and mouth is open
- eyes are glassy and empty, or closed
- hyperventilating or gasping
- trying to swim or trying to roll over
As long as you’re taking all the necessary precautions and giving your baby your undivided attention, swim time can be perfectly safe. Another benefit to infant swimming is that it’s a wonderful parent-child bonding experience. In our hectic, fast-paced world, slowing down to simply enjoy an experience together is rare.
Swim lessons with our babies brings us into the present moment while teaching them important life skills. So grab your swim diaper and wade in!