If you love being in the water, then taking your baby swimming is probably something you really look forward to—but that first time out can be a little unnerving. So many questions come up between wanting to stay safe and making sure baby enjoys the experience. We love swimming and water play with our littles and want to help you have a great time with yours too, so we’ve put together this guide to help you get off to a good start.
When Can We Start Taking the Baby Swimming?
Babies naturally love water, and you can take them in the pool with you at any time, but right after birth, the concern is mainly for mom. After giving birth, it is recommended that you wait from two to six weeks because you risk postpartum infection. Put off going swimming until your cervix has completely closed up and any bleeding or discharge has stopped.
You should also be aware that even well-maintained public pools have more germs than private pools and higher levels of chlorine. Chlorine can irritate delicate skin and baby’s upper respiratory tract. It builds up in the air at indoor pools, so make sure the pool area is well ventilated.
What to Take to Be Prepared for a Great First Swim
Packing the right gear makes the experience much less stressful. It may not be too big a deal if the pool is in your own back yard, but if you are anywhere else, it’s really annoying to have to schlep back home because you forgot something. (It’s a good idea to make a checklist and keep it on your phone if you can, so you always have it handy for one final check before you walk out the door!)
Here’s the basic gear you need:
- Swim diapers—We’re such big believers in these things, we committed to perfecting the design and built a home business around providing them! (More details below!)
- UV-protective clothing—It’s a really good idea to have at least a onesie or rash guard that provides UV protection to keep that new little from getting sunburned. If you’ll be in direct sunlight while in the water, you might also want to look into something with long sleeves and a covered baby float to shade your little one.
- Sunscreen (for babies over six months old). It isn’t recommended for younger infants, but sunscreen can be applied to protect older babies from sunburn.
- Towels—Take a towel for yourself and one that fully wraps around the baby. It’s also a really good idea to take a spare towel in case of any potty surprises while you are changing!
- Changing pad—We recommend changing baby into swimwear at the pool so they start their swim clean and comfortable. You’ll also need the changing pad for changing baby into a dry diaper when you’re done.
- Feeding accoutrements—What you need depends on whether you are bottle feeding or breastfeeding, but making sure baby is comfortable when you start their first swim experience will make it more enjoyable, so plan to feed them before getting in the water. However, if they are likely to poop after eating, it’s best to wait until diaper-change time to put them into their swim diaper.
For an older baby, you can just carry some snacks. If you are breastfeeding, remember to include anything you need for your own comfort (including a light coverup if you are shy about flashing the neighbors!).
- Baby soap—If you are able to wash off the chlorine while you are still at the pool, it’s a good idea to take care of that as soon as you are done swimming, so bring baby soap to help get any chemical and contaminants from the pool off of your little.
- Change of clothes and a spare diaper—Be sure to have clean, dry clothes to put baby in after swimming, and always carry a spare diaper! Babies are notorious for wetting right after you get them changed, and you certainly want to have a clean, dry diaper to put on them after you get all cleaned up and dried off at the end of your swim experience.
- Baby float—You don’t have to use a baby float, but a lot of parents find it easier to enjoy being in the water if they don’t have to hold the baby the whole time. It gives more independent babies some space and room to move safely while exploring the water environment, which can help develop the confidence they will need for learning to swim. Always keep the baby in arm’s reach when using a pool float. It’s important to be aware that they are just for fun and convenience but are not the same as a flotation device used for safety.
- Water toy—Again, not required, but a small toy that floats can entertain the baby and teach them to reach out in the water. Getting a sense of moving through the pool is another step towards swimming.
Are Swim Diapers Really Necessary?
Babies already need a lot of “stuff,” so it’s normal for parents to wonder if swim diapers are just a cute accessory or something important. Well, the answer is they are very important for swimming in water with other people. For water play in your back yard, where you don’t have to worry about having to clean up a potty mess, you don’t need to invest in a swim diaper, but for a pool—even your own private pool—swim diapers are a must!
The reason is that swim diapers hold poop (for a limited time—you need to change them like regular diapers when you realize they are soiled!) A good swim diaper will have an adjustable fit so that it seals around baby’s legs well enough to contains solids without cutting into that delicate skin.
Another common question is whether swim diapers hold urine. Unfortunately, they don’t. The only way to keep the urine in would be to have a seal like duct tape against the baby’s skin and nobody wants that! The other approach would be to put an absorbent in there, but it would get full of water as soon as you got in the pool, and then it wouldn’t work anyway. So we have to be able to tolerate a little baby pee in the pool, but you absolutely do not want to be the parent responsible for floaters, so always use swim diapers when taking your littles in the pool until they are completely potty trained!
How Long Should We Plan to Swim with a Baby?
The length of time you can stay at the swimming pool with a baby depends on several factors. The environment makes a big difference, and you have to consider the temperature of the water and air as well as whether you will be in direct sunlight. It also makes a difference whether you will be outdoors or indoors.
In addition to planning the length of time for your outing, there is the more specific question of how long can a baby be in the pool? The answer depends largely on the temperature of the water and the air. The recommended temperature is 85-87°F, but on a cold day, you need to be careful even in a warm pool.
If the baby starts shivering, you need to get them out of the water and wrapped up, and preferably dried off right away, since we stay colder when we are wet. Be sure to get a dry diaper on them too, because a swim diaper will stay wet inside.
The age of the baby will also affect how long you can stay. Tiny babies get tired quickly and sunburn very easily, so shorter stays will be required at sunny pools.
If the weather is mild and you aren’t getting too much sun, you may be able to enjoy more time at the swimming pool, but be sure to take breaks from swimming and water play. Get the baby out of the water and into dry clothes and a regular diaper for some rest time in between water sessions. Baby may even be able to nap while you relax poolside
What You Can Do with a Baby at the Pool
The most important thing to do when you take a baby to the swimming pool is to have fun! You want it to be a pleasant experience so that going to the pool is something your child can enjoy throughout childhood. It is also important for the baby to be happy in the water so they won’t have problems learning to swim later on.
Children who are comfortable in the water have much less to contend with when they are learning how to float and swim. Being at the pool should be a good time for everyone. A few of the things you can start to do with a baby are:
- Blow bubbles—Bubbles are funny and when the baby imitates you by putting their mouth in the water, they learn not to be afraid of putting their face under and they get a head start on swimming skills.
- Reach for floating toys—Another fun game to start developing skills that will lead to swimming is to put something the baby likes in the water in front of them and have them “get it.” It gets them moving and focused on the goal, so they won’t be worried about the water or clinging onto you. If baby is hanging on to you too tightly to enjoy the pool, an enticing toy might be just be the distraction you need to help them loosen up a little and have fun in the water.
- Splash the water—Anybody can splash, so just playing with the water itself is an easy thing to do and doesn’t even require managing any equipment. Littles often dislike it when water splashes in their faces, which happens pretty often in a swimming pool, but if they can make splashes themselves, it can become fun instead of being offensive.
- Bounce around—Bouncing up and down in the water is good exercise for you, but much easier than jumping up and down on dry land! Babies love bouncing with you and it can be a great way to get a workout and have fun with your baby at the same time.
Should I Get My Baby in Swimming Lessons?
Having littles learn water survival and how to swim has greatly reduced the number of drownings, so it’s a great idea to have yours learn these potentially life-saving skills. You can usually find swim classes that start babies at six months, but the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends one year.
When to start swim lessons is a decision that each parent needs to make, based on their circumstances. If you have a pool or are around water regularly, you have more reason to consider early lessons than someone whose child will rarely be near water.
Private swim lessons can start as early as six weeks of age. Babies this young have very sensitive skin and respiratory tissues, so be sure to check out the conditions of the pool before starting, as well as understanding the teaching process.
Swimming is fairly complex, and babies won’t learn any proper technique, but they can learn to keep themselves from drowning, usually by getting to the surface and floating on their backs. They also develop confidence in the water and build a foundation for learning the combination of skills involved in actual swimming later on.
Water survival classes aren’t only for families with pools. While having a pool or frequenting places where there are ponds or pools creates more opportunity for an accident to occur, resulting in a child falling in the water, it also causes more awareness and “teaching opportunities” to train children to stay back when they aren’t with an adult. On the other hand, children who are unfamiliar with “the rules” about pools may be too adventurous in a new environment, so water survival classes may be a good idea even if it seems unlikely that those skills would be necessary.
Make Swimming With Baby Part of Your Routine
Taking your little to the swimming pool for the first time can be quite an experience, but it gets easier with practice. After a few times, you’ll know just what to pack and have a feel for how long your baby will enjoy being in the water.
The pool provides great exercise for you as well as your littles. It’s fun for babies and toddlers alike so is a great outing for the whole family (as long as you have enough adult arms to keep everyone close enough!). We highly recommend making swimming part of your regular routine whenever possible, and hope this guide gets you off to a wonderful start!