Swim, Baby, Swim!

Should your baby swim? In a word, yes. But, when, where and how are all questions with more than one answer. Learning to swim at a young age gives a child the confidence to be around water and the ability to be safe. Plus, it’s fun. Most babies and love splashing around in the water, playing with pool toys and frolicking with friends or parents.

Besides being fun, learning to swim just might save a child’s life. Most drownings occur from a sudden, and unexpected immersion, not when a child is purposefully swimming. If a child does fall out of the canoe or get pushed into the swimming pool, it’s important for them to know how to get back to the boat or to the edge of the pool. Babies who learn to feel comfortable in the water often become children who can swim.

Lucy started swimming with her mom Shelly Wunsch, when she was six months old. Now, at three years old, Lucy loves being in the water, which is exactly what Wunsch hoped would happen.

“I wanted Lucy to be comfortable in the water as soon as possible and to have a positive experience,” says Wunsch. Not only did she want Lucy to be safe in Bozeman swimming pools, Wunch wanted her daughter to be comfortable in the ocean. “I want Lucy to grow up with lots of experiences in the ocean environment,” Wunsch remarks, and she hopes that gaining respect for water early will lead to safety in big water later.

Of course, baby Lucy couldn’t swim, but she did get to spend time with mom discovering and exploring. “It’s a special time Lucy and I shared in a unique environment,” Wunsch says with a smile. Plus, Lucy got too see other babies having fun and playing in the water. “I wanted her to be aware that other kids loved the water, too,” she adds.

Swimming is not only fun, is a great way to get exercise. In a country with an increasing rate of obesity among its youth, swimming can provide an entertaining way to be active. When kids are playing, they don’t even notice all the exercise they are getting.

On an elementary school early release day at the Bozeman Swim Center mother and calf Orcas porpoise along the back wall. Sun streaks in through the floor-to-ceiling windows and many, many kids are splashing in the pool, unwittingly fighting off childhood obesity.

City of Bozeman Recreation Director, Sue Harkin stands on deck, lifeguarding along with her staff. When asked when babies should take the plunge and start swimming, Harkin says, “the earlier the better because you want them to be comfortable in the water.”

“Can they swim before two (years old)?” asks Harkin. “Not really, but they can learn to turn over and float on their back if they don’t panic.” Babies aren’t expected to do the butterfly or a triple gainer off the high-dive, but they can get the feel of the water.
The Bozeman Swim Center offers a parent-tot class for babies as young as three months and their parents. Moms, dads, grandmas and grandpas learn how to safely take their babies in the water. Wunsch feels like she got as much out of the class as Lucy.

“I learned different skills and tools like how to hold Lucy in the water, how to turn her from her tummy to her back and how to guide her in swimming as she got older,” Wunsch recalls. Wunsch takes the games she learned in parent-tot class and plays them when she and Lucy are swimming on their own.

Lucy now takes swim lessons at The Ridge and Shelly and her husband Andy switch off participating with Lucy and swimming laps themselves. Swimming has become a way for the Wunschs to exercise together, develop skills and have fun. Wunsch notes, “I’m so glad we exposed Lucy to the water early on.”

Not everyone agrees that babies need to get in the water. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) believes kids should learn to swim at five years old. This is when the size of their body starts to catch up with the size of their head, making swimming—and anything requiring coordination—a little easier.

Regardless of when baby starts to swim, everyone agrees that the most important thing is that a baby, or small child, should never swim alone. The AAP notes that a child can drown in just two inches of water. Babies—who may be challenged rolling themselves over on land—may not be strong enough to turn over when it’s wet and slippery.

As Harkin scans the pool, she says children need to be watched carefully by a parent until they are water safe. “‘Water safe’ means being able to jump into the water, right yourself and swim back to the edge,” Harkin explains. That usually can happen around five or six years old. Then they can be released into the aqua blue pool on their own—under the watchful eyes of a lifeguard.

So, should your baby swim? Yes. And in Gallatin and Park counties there are many options for lessons or teaching them to swim on your own. So, whether it’s parent-tot swim class at the Swim Center or Bogert Pool, lessons at the Ridge, Bozeman Hot Springs or Lone Mountain Swim School, or perhaps floating with your baby at Chico Hot Springs, the important thing is to get them wet, have fun and instill a skill that will last a lifetime.

Montana Parent

May 07, 2007

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