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Swimming with Baby

The Kiwi lifestyle revolves around water. That’s pretty much accepted nationwide. Whether that be on, in or near the rivers and streams, beaches or lakes. So it’s our responsibility as parents and guardians to make sure our kids are equipped with the skills needed to make sure they are safe on, in and near the water. It all starts with confidence in the water as babies.

The whole baby swimming thing can be a little daunting. Do we actually need to teach our babies to swim? Will they like the water? Are classes necessary? How old should baby be? Before immunisations, or after? And what do babies wear? I’ve rounded up some answers from a variety of expert resources and called on some personal experience to provide some helpful information.

A bath? A private pool? Or a baby swimming class?

All of the above. Skills that a parent learns in a baby swimming class can be repeated and reinforced at home. A class teaches parents how to introduce their baby to water in a safe way that’s also consistent with the baby’s developmental stages. It’s also a fun way to bond with your baby!

Will the pool chemicals hurt my baby’s skin?

In most cases, no. Public pools use carefully measured amounts of chlorine and other chemicals to keep pool water safe to swim in. The chemicals are used in combination with filtration and other cleaning techniques to remove solids, bacteria and other nasties that we, as swimmers, prefer to not know about. However, chlorine can sometimes irritate sensitive skin, so make sure to rinse baby in the warm showers after your swim.

When can I start my baby swimming?

There are no hard and fast rules around when babies can start swimming. Plunket recommends 6 months so that they can hold their own head up, ears can cope with water, and their immune system is a bit stronger. Some swim schools offer classes for babies and parents from 6 weeks of age. Personally, I started my children at around 3 months of age, and have no regrets. It’s completely up to you as to whether you wait until after your baby has had their immunisations or not.

For mums to get in the water, it’s a good idea to be 100% healed post-partum, particularly if you’ve had a caesarean section or any tears. Give it 6-8 weeks. You don’t want to risk infections down there just yet! And don’t worry if you are a bit nervous about getting your post-baby body back into your togs. I’ve been there three times and can tell you it can be hella-nerve-wracking! But when I had to choose between giving in to my insecurities, and having a blast with my baby in the pool, it was an easy choice.

If your baby has any health concerns or issues, I’d recommended discussing swimming with your GP or Plunket nurse before going ahead with it. But if baby is otherwise healthy, then the earlier the better!

What’s involved with a baby swimming class?

Baby swimming lessons are all about water confidence. Before 6 months of age, swimming is about getting them familiar with having water on their face through splashing and playing and starting to be comfortable on their back with water in their ears.

Some swim schools start classes at 6 months of age and this first class lasts till they are around 18 months old. These classes help babies build on their confidence. At around 6 months of age, babies also tend to start moving independently, like rolling and early crawling, so through games and repetition, they’re taught what to do to survive should they fall into the water. In these classes they are learning how to shut their eyes, hold their breath, kick their legs and paddle their arms. They also start to learn to roll from their front to their back, and vice versa. It’s all done through age-appropriate games, like chasing rubber ducks and bath toys, singing nursery rhymes like Humpty Dumpty or Twinkle Twinkle, Fishies in the Water or Row Row Row Your Boat.

To see the result of all this in action, check out this video

From 18 months to 3 years of age, the classes start to have more submersion and independent skills – jumping in from the side of the pool, swimming from instructor to parent and so on.

From 3 years of age, formal lessons begin without a parent in the pool. Children learn to kick with a board, float on their backs, basic freestyle and backstroke movements.

Where do I go for baby swimming lessons?

Council-controlled swimming pools will usually offer swimming lessons for children. Otherwise, a simple Google search will throw up lots of options for swim schools located near to wear you live. You might even be able to find a swim school that offers free classes for 3-6 month old babies!

The class instructor is usually a qualified instructor with experience and a passion for teaching parents and their babies. They often explain what skill each game or activity is encouraging the baby to learn, which isn’t something that most people have knowledge of.

What do babies wear in the pool?

Aqua nappies to keep any solids contained. And often swimwear over the top of the aqua nappy. Don’t put normal disposable or reusable nappies in the pool. They aren’t designed for this purpose, definitely won’t hold solids in, and will swell up with the excess water.

We’ve used Huggies Little Swimmers for our kids with no incidents so far. You can buy Huggies Little Swimmers at most supermarkets in the nappy section, and a lot of pools will sell them separately (usually around $2.50/nappy) so you can buy just one if you are caught short. Important note: Aqua Nappies do not hold in liquids, either wees or runny poos. They only keep the solids in.  We’ve also used swim nappies for our boys from Nature Baby, but I don’t think they’re stocked there anymore. You can buy similar ones here. They are like tiny speedos, with domes on the side which make it super easy to get on and off. They hold solids in, in our experience! There are also swim pants which are longer in the leg and higher in the waist – ideal if you need that extra security.

Most NZ public swimming pools will only let children aged 3 and under swim if they are wearing an aqua nappy, regardless of whether or not your child is toilet-trained.

While babies can definitely swim in just swim nappies, many parents like to layer togs over the nappies for various reasons – to make sure the swim nappy stays on, for extra body warmth (I’d debate this reason, personally), and because they’re cute! Togs for very small children can be tricky to find, especially in the off-season. Your local swimming pool may have a range of togs for sale (often Zoggs, Spank or Speedo brands), or your usual place that sells baby clothes may have togs seasonally. Or you can check out our range at Little Weka.

Our baby daughter is currently wearing these ones and they are a good fit over Little Swimmers.


If you have any questions, please feel free to post them below. I have 6 years’ experience as a swimming parent, 36 years as a swimmer, 5 as a pool lifeguard (and yes, I’ve evacuated pools for Code Browns) and a few seasons as an instructor, including parent/baby classes and 3-5 year olds. I’ll do my best to answer questions, but may refer you to expert resources if I can’t.

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