It’s long been considered a wonderful form of exercise as well as being a lot of fun, but there’s increasing evidence to show that getting your baby swimming at an early age has numerous benefits.
1. Physical Benefits
“Swimming is the only form of exercise that babies can literally do from birth,” explains Carol McNally of Water Babies, a company that offers parent and baby swimming classes.
Just half-an-hour in the water, she says, is equivalent to a two-hour workout for a young baby. “It provides a complete work-out for the child and the parent. It’s also excellent for stimulating a baby’s eating and sleeping patterns.”
2. Mental Benefits
But it’s not just physical benefits that swimming provides. There are numerous mental benefits too.
Baby swimming originally evolved out of a desire to ensure that babies were safe and confident in the water. However, the exercises used to teach this confidence – gentle rocking, reaching for objects, kicking movements and learning to respond to commands – are all great for a baby’s mental development – and at time when their brain is developing faster than any other.
3. Development of Motor Skills
Swimming can help the development of a child’s motor skills. A study carried out by Lancaster University in 2010 found that swimming from birth helps to improve a baby’s balance and co-ordination.
“Babies love the repetitive movement of bouncing up and down and splashing in a pool, and this movement provides fantastic stimulation for the vestibular system – the part of the inner ear used to sense motion and to balance,” says Carol. “As a child’s vestibular system matures, swimming helps to keep their head upright, pull themselves up onto their feet, balance, and eventually walk.”
The action of chasing after toys in a swimming pool also helps a baby with hand to eye coordination because the cross lateral movement of reaching out is the same as the 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,” says Carol. “This helps the brain to store and retrieve information more effectively."
4. Emotional Development
There are also emotional benefits for a baby learning to swim. Not only will it improve a child’s self-confidence, it will also make them more independent.
“After a few months of lessons, a baby can typically swim a short distance between the parent and their instructor, or swim to the side of the pool by themselves,” says Carol. “The sense of achievement that this gives them, and their improved confidence will stand to them later in life when it comes to trying new things.”
5. Child/Parent Bonding
Swimming is also the perfect way for a parent and child to bond, giving the child time to play in a fun, relaxing and safe environment and creating lifelong memories for a parent.
“It’s also gives a parent the opportunity to meet other parents,” adds Carol. “It often leads to friendships and even helps some mothers to overcome their postnatal depression. It really is a win-win activity for both parent and baby.”
Water Babies, Ireland run classes across Ireland. To find your nearest location, visit https://www.waterbabies.ie/