Did you know that this week is National Baby Swimming Week? Now in its second year, it's a time to discover (or rediscover!) the joys and benefits of baby swimming for babies and parents alike!
Swimming is one of the few things your baby can do from birth, and feels entirely natural to them - after all, they’ve just spent nine months in the womb!
Because they’re free of the restrictions of gravity, and able to use muscles they’d never even find on land, babies love the sense of freedom it gives them. And whilst the emphasis in lessons is often on strengthening the bond between the two of you, swimming from birth is also excellent for their development.
Great for their brain development
In the first year of life, the brain develops more rapidly than at any other time. When babies are born, their brains are full of lots of higgledy-piggledy neurons (rather like B roads). These need to be thickened into super-fast motorways so that their brain functions more efficiently.
Any kind of movement is great for this, swings and see-saws being perfect examples. And the exercises used in baby swimming lessons to teach water confidence – gentle rocking, reaching for objects, kicking movements, and learning to respond to voice commands – provide the perfect stimulation for your little one’s brain.
Babies love the repetitive movement of bouncing, and splishing & splashing in the pool, and all this movement helps develop their vestibular system – which allows us to sense motion and to balance. As well as helping with a little one’s brain development and their ability to pay attention, as the vestibular system matures it will help a baby to keep their head upright, pull themselves up onto their feet, balance, and eventually walk.
The cross lateral movement of reaching out for bright swim toys in the pool is the same one used in crawling, and teaches both sides of the brain to work together. Not only is this great for enhancing hand-eye coordination, but it also strengthens nerve pathways between the two sides, helping the brain store and retrieve information more effectively – which is all great for learning!
In fact, The Early Years Swimming Project at Griffith University found that by the time they start school, children who swim in the early years are ahead of their non-swimming peers by 6 to 15 months when it comes to solving maths problems, counting, language and following instructions.
Fantastic for their physical development
Swimming is the only form of exercise your baby can do literally from birth, and is wonderful for their physical development. Just half an hour in the pool can provide a complete work-out for them (and you!), and parents often comment that their little ones eat and sleep better on swimming days – definitely a bonus!
Babies can exercise many more muscles in the water than they can on land, and amazingly can swim short distances by themselves from when they are tiny. Sessions in the pool are great for strengthening arm, leg and neck muscles, and superb for tiny lungs and cardiovascular fitness.
You’ll 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.
Helps their emotional development
As babies learn how to move around in the water on their own, their independence and self-confidence blossoms, and they enjoy being in the pool more and more. While they start out very reliant on you in the early days, a few months on you’ll enjoy watching your baby happily swimming a short distance between you and their teacher, or splashing 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 – and may also give them that confidence to try new things and increase their interest in learning in general.
Enjoying a swim, with all these added benefits, is surely enough reason to take to the pool! So if you haven’t tried it before, why not take the plunge today? Just head over to www.nationalbabyswimmingweek.org.uk to discover why baby swimming’s such a smart move - and find a class near you!