Summer Water Fun
Thinking of signing your little one up for a swim class? Get your feet wet with these tips on what to think about before jumping in the pool.
The Age Factor
Most infant swimming classes are for babies six months old and over, and there is good reason for that, says Cheryl Wu, M.D., a Manhattan-based pediatrician. "By six months of age, a lot of babies have enough truncal (upper body) strength and tone to sit up by themselves briefly. Because most parents hold their babies either upright or flat (in the 'Superman' position) while in the water, babies have to be strong enough to keep their heads lifted for a prolonged period of time without tiring out." Also by this time, a baby's legs have developed the strength to start kicking, an important part of swimming.
But it's important to keep in mind that baby swim classes are more about going over the basic safety rules of swimming -- and having fun with Mom and Dad -- than learning how to swim. "Under the age of four, children aren't developmentally ready to learn to swim," says Rick Weiermiller, M.D., a pediatrician affiliated with Beaumont Hospitals in Michigan. "A child needs to be able to listen to an instructor for the whole lesson and follow directions to truly learn how to swim."
Still, a parent-and-child swim class does have its benefits. A recent study by the National Institutes of Health found that providing very young children with swimming lessons appears to have a protective effect against drowning and does not increase a child's risk of drowning.
Should you consult your doctor?
It's always a good idea to consult with your pediatrician if you're not sure whether an activity is suitable for your child. Parents of children with tubes in their ears should speak to the doctor first about any precautions needed to avoid possible ear infections. "As for the safety of chlorine for babies, unless the child will be in water for a really long time, the length of a class is generally okay for a six-month-old. But some infants may have very sensitive skin that doesn't tolerate chlorine well. In general, just rinse the baby off after class to wash away the residue," says Dr. Wu.
Where to find a class
Your local YMCA is a good place to start; it offers parent-and-child classes, as well as child-only classes for older kids. Some health clubs offer swim classes for members and their kids. And many swimming school chains around the country offer classes for kids of all ages. Ask friends and family members for recommendations, and the Internet for options.
And don't forget to call your town's parks department. Many have after-school and summer classes for families in the area.
   Next