Last June when Maggie was just two days old, a two year old girl called Isabelle Byrne fell into a dirty canal when she was out feeding the ducks with her family in Manchester. She didn’t panic as many of us would; instead she calmly paddled to the edge and waited to be lifted out of the water. She had been taking water babies swimming lessons ever since she was eight weeks old and her mother is convinced that this is what saved her. Little Isabelle’s natural instinct – learnt and reinforced at Water Babies – was to roll herself over onto her front and kick her legs.
Little Water Baby Isabelle
At Water Babies lessons, babies are submerged in water at a very young age with the safe knowledge that their natural instincts will kick in – known as the ‘diving reflex’ and the ‘swimming reflex’. The diving reflex causes babies to hold their breath and open their eyes when submerged. Until around 6 months, the swimming reflex means that babies placed in water tummy-side down will move their arms and legs in a swimming motion.
Isabelle’s mum concluded that teaching your child to swim is essential in life.
The story of Isabelle was in the national newspapers and one of the girls from our NCT class had heard about it. Her mum had read the article and phoned her straight away. ‘Get your baba to swimming lessons…now!’. Having a newborn is traumatic enough, never mind when it is coupled with the acute anxiety that something awful could happen to your precious bundle. We knew what we had to do. We enrolled immediately in the first term of London Baby Swim.
London Baby Swim based in Osterley only use private purpose built swimming facilities located rather bizarrely in the gardens of a semi-detached house. The pool is used only for babies and toddlers, the water temperature is a constant 33°C and the water chlorine levels are very low. All these make it perfect for newborn babies. All you need is a willing baby and double-nappy system: a regular swim nappy and then a Happy Nappy on top. The Happy Nappy from ‘Splash About’ is like the bottom half of a wetsuit; it looks and feels very secure and is the only nappy which is compulsory in UK baby swim schools. One of my friends did complain about the fact that the nappy gets quite heavy when wet, but I must say I didn’t think the nappy inhibited Maggie’s movements at all, neither in nor out of the water. It also offers SPF 50+ sun protection, which is an added bonus if the balmy weather continues in the UK or if you are planning a sunny holiday. You can choose from dozens of styles, or if you are feeling patriotic in this Jubilee and Olympics year you can choose the new Union Jack version!
As we all know swimming makes you ravenous so, along with your baby and a Happy Nappy, don’t forget to pack a warm bottle for after the swim if you are bottle feeding and a little snack if your duckling has started solids.
Of course the other piece of clothing required for baby swimming is a fabulous swimsuit. We were lucky enough to receive two swimsuits as presents and had great fun modelling them prior to our first swimming lesson. But the truth is, you don’t really need them at lessons and after a week or so Maggie stopped wearing hers. It was difficult enough to get Maggie dried and dressed while standing in a wet swimsuit dripping wet without any extra complications or layers.
Maggie attended swimming lessons from the age of 3 months but babies can go swimming any time from the age of six weeks old. Now to all those regular readers of BLP you will know that Maggie is generally a very happy, very contented, very smiley little girl. But I can honestly say that she has never been happier than when in the water, splashing about and squealing at the top of her voice. For babies water is such a familiar environment and you can just see Mother nature in action when you observe how calm and comfortable little tots seem in it; water was their very first home after all. They have a natural affinity with it and the ‘diving reflex’ which allows them to hold their breath under water without even thinking about it means they are born natural little mermaids and mermen. I watched with horror from the viewing gallery the first time John ducked Maggie under the water, but it was incredible how easy and comfortable she was swimming underwater.
Getting our little ducks used to water early in life makes sense from a safety point of view as little Isabelle’s story illustrates. But swimming is also great fun and good exercise too for mums and dads. Next step on our baby swim journey is to get an underwater photo of our little water baby. Too cute!