We can all agree that swimming is an important skill that all children should learn as early as possible, and we’ve all seen those videos of newborn babies swimming underwater. So when is it considered too early to take a baby to the pool? And when is it safe to dunk a baby under water? With a plethora of swimming lessons offered on the market, whether they are mommy & me swimming lessons with a focus on getting comfortable in the water, or infant swimming lessons that focus on survival by enforcing certain baby swimming techniques, it’s hard to decide the most important aspect: Safety.
So what’s the verdict? Is it safe to dunk a baby under water? Your safest bet is no!
Although infants may naturally hold their breath on some occasions, they’re just as likely to swallow water. That’s why babies are more susceptible to the bacteria and viruses in pool water and lakes that can cause gastroenteritis and diarrhea. Furthermore dunking little ones is an aggressive way to teach water submersion, especially to a baby that won’t understand the purpose behind the action. This might lead to mistrust of the water and fear to put their faces into the water down the line. This doesn’t mean the putting a baby’s face under water is out of the question. It just means that the progression to underwater submersion needs to be slow and gentle.
How to Teach Your Baby to Go Underwater
In order to effectively teach your baby how to go underwater without forcing them you literally need to take baby steps:
- Be patient and child centered. If you are too task-oriented, you will likely make the mistake of pushing too hard for the child to master a skill which can lead to an upset infant. This takes all the fun out of swimming!You want your baby to love their swim lesson experience, so taking your time is the best approach for them to feel happy and secure.
- Condition your Baby on what to Expect: Anytime you are going to pour water over the baby’s head or face, use a signal to let them know you’re going to do this. Counting 1, 2, 3, taking a deep breath, and pouring water over their head is a good way to teach them what to expect. Eventually they will learn that the signal means they are going to get water poured on their head and they will not be startled. A great place to start practicing this is in the bathtub!
- If you’ve both mastered the “water poured on head” activity, go to the next step which can now be done in a swimming pool. Hold your baby out in front of you in a front floating position – horizontal and facing you. (*Note that this skill is best suited for a baby that can already support its own head). Get down to their level and make eye contact. Start off with the same 1, 2, 3, deep breath signal, and then try one little dip into the water. Don’t submerge the whole face yet, but see how your baby reacts to getting their chin wet. Now how about a cheek. They might even voluntarily put their face into the water because they’ve been conditioned to expect it! Work on these simple submersions until you feel that your baby is ready and willing to submerge their whole face in the water.
- Don’t forget to use common sense & listen to your gut feelings: Listen to your instincts. If you baby resists, coughs, or whimpers you probably shouldn’t force them to do the activity. If the baby is relaxed, happy, and even smiling, that’s a good sign that they are ready to put their face into the water.