More and more of us are joining structured swimming classes like Water Babies or heading to the local pool with our babies and toddlers. Our little ones love being in water and the sense of freedom it gives them. As well as, just as importantly, learning the potentially life-saving skill of swimming from a young age. But are these the only reasons for swimming with your baby?
Baby swimming originally evolved out of a desire to ensure that babies are safe and confident in water. However, the exercises used to teach this confidence – gentle rocking, reaching for objects, kicking movements and learning to respond to commands – are all excellent for your baby’s mental development. And the first year of life is one of the most important, a time when the brain develops more rapidly than at any other. So the more you can do to help boost your baby’s mental development during this crucial stage, the better.
Development of motor skills
Research published recently by Lancaster University has once again shown that exercising from birth helps improve babies’ balance and co-ordination. Even by the age of five, babies who swam regularly outperformed others in their ability to reach for things. And balance is vital in terms of babies’ overall brain development.
Babies love the repetitive movement of bouncing and splishing and splashing in the pool, and this movement provides fantastic stimulation for the vestibular system – which allows us to sense motion and to balance. As this system matures it will help a baby to keep their head upright, pull themselves up onto their feet, balance, and eventually walk.
Chasing after bright and colourful swim toys in a Water Babies class and grasping hold of them to bring them in for a good old chew, is a great exercise for enhancing hand-eye coordination. The cross lateral movement of reaching out is the same one used in crawling. This exercise teaches both sides of the brain to work together, not only helping to coordinate physical movements but also strengthening nerve pathways between the two sides. Helping the brain store and retrieve information more effectively – all great for learning!
It‘s not only motor skills which are benefited by swimming. With obesity rates doubling over the last ten years, weekly exercise is great for babies physically, too – especially as healthy children are much more likely to grow into healthy adults. And swimming is the only form of exercise they can do literally from birth. Just half an hour in the pool can provide a complete work-out for them (and you!), and is excellent for stimulating your baby’s eating and sleeping patterns.
Babies can exercise many more muscles in the water than they can on land, and amazingly can swim short distances unaided from when they are tiny. Sessions in the pool are great for strengthening arm, leg and neck muscles, as well as being superb for tiny lungs and cardiovascular fitness.
Swimming at a class like Water Babies will not only make your baby fitter and stronger, you will also notice the difference in their physical ability on land – where regular swimmers have often been shown to crawl and walk earlier than their peers.
As babies learn how to manoeuvre in the water on their own, their independence and self-confidence blossoms, and they enjoy being in the pool more and more. Where they are very dependent on you in the early days, a few months on, a baby will happily swim a short distance between you and their instructor, or splash off the poolside and into the water all by themselves.
The confidence and self-esteem involved in learning to swim will often then be transferred into other aspects of their life. For a toddler, the thrill of grasping a new skill in their lesson, or achieving something they have been working up to for a while, will be evident in their ear-to-ear grins but may also give them the confidence to try new things and increase their interest in learning in general.
Last, but certainly not least, swimming with your baby is a great way to play and is fantastic for strengthening the bond between the two of you – your baby will love that special one-to-one time with you.
Swimming from birth is fantastic for your baby – and you – in so many different ways. It’s one of the most complete and beneficial activities, as well as being one of the few things you can do with your baby from birth. Try and start them as early as possible – when being in warm water still seems entirely natural – and you’ll soon experience the thrill of watching your toddler confidently dipping above and below the surface, barely seeming to differentiate between the two.
Enjoying a swim, with all these added benefits, is surely conducive to a dip!
Water Babies, Ireland’s leading baby swim school run classes in Dublin, Cork, Kerry, Galway, Sligo, Louth, Meath, Kildare, Wicklow, Wexford, Waterford, Tipperary and Kilkenny. For more info check out www.waterbabies.ie