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When Can I Take Baby Swimming?

I’d really like to do one of those mommy-and-me swim classes. How old should baby be before we sign up?

It’s a good idea to wait until baby’s about six months old to take him in the pool. It’s not unhealthy to expose him to chlorine before then, but baby should be holding his head up properly before you take him in the water. That way, he’ll be sturdier and you can have a firmer, more assured grasp on him. Plus, that’s about the age when baby will start being able to splash and kick and really enjoy being in the pool.

Some parents believe that the earlier you take your child to swimming lessons, the better a swimmer he’ll become. The American Academy of Pediatrics says children ages one to four who’ve had formal swimming lessons may be less likely to drown, and those over age four definitely should learn to swim. But there’s no evidence that swimming classes are beneficial under the age of one.

So go ahead, take the class. Enjoy splashing with baby, meeting other new moms — and definitely learn water safety — but don’t expect baby to be the next Michael Phelps because of it.

As for how baby will act in the water, he might love it, or he might be that screaming baby who has to leave the class, so be mentally prepared for anything. If he likes taking a bath, that’s a good indication he might like swimming too. But a really cold pool or a really large class could be uncomfortable or overwhelming. So consider taking a trial class to see how it goes, and be patient. It might take baby time to get used to it.

To keep tears to a minimum, give him plenty of time to get acclimated to the water. Holding baby securely, start out with slow, gentle motions, like bouncing up and down together or swaying from side to side. Once he’s more comfortable with his surroundings, explain and demonstrate some fun, basic skills, like blowing bubbles and splashing — then ask him to copy you. Be sure to give plenty of praise for even the smallest accomplishment.

Hold off introducing floaties or other floatation devices until baby is at least three or four, and don’t use them at all when you’re teaching him how to swim. (They give kids a false sense of security.) Instead, let your preschooler play with the floaties for 5 to 10 minutes at a time with you next to him; it’s a perfect opportunity to teach floating, kicking and arm strokes.

Alanna Levine, MD, pediatrician at Orangetown Pediatric Associates in Tappan, New York; and Miguel Pagan, director of aquatics at the 14th Street Y in New York City

Plus, more from The Bump:

Summertime Safety for Baby

How to Do Infant CPR

Baby First Aid Essentials