Once you know baby is comfortable with water in public places as well as contact with water around his/her legs and belly (as in the bath), venture to a clean pool with a family area or little current.
Swim Trunks? Pools have varying policies for baby wear, but all policies address keeping baby feces and urine out of the pool. Baby diapers are made of rubber, plastic, and fabric, and can be worn in lieu of a normal diaper. They can often be machine washed. Some baby diapers are directly sewn into swimsuits. Diaper covers are typically plastic or rubber and fit over regular diapers, but if these don’t fit snugly, you’ll get a real sense of how much water a diaper can hold (amazing!). Disposable swim diapers are available from major diaper manufacturers (usually only at baby stores like BabysRUs), but do not come in very small sizes and may also soak up pool water.
- “Rash Guards” are shirts often worn by surfers to protect the torso from abrasion of sand on the surfboard, when the surfer is paddling out to sea or pulling him/herself to standing. These are made for babies and toddlers as brightly colored synthetic T-Shirts or bodysuits that are thin and offer UV Protection. They are a great idea if baby decides to pull him/herself up over the rough edge of the pool or will be playing on rough pool stairs (under your watchful eye).
- Don’t forget the sunscreen – use a high SPF, water-repellant variety. Check with a pediatrician before using sunscreen on your baby.
- Water shoes are synthetic shoes with grippy rubber bottoms that are flexible and hold tight to the feet when they get wet. These are a great idea for babies who crawl in shallow pools or on pool stairs, as the rough pool floor will scratch the feet, otherwise.
- Bring a hat with a big brim, to keep those eyes shaded and the face and scalp protected from the sun. Pick a lightweight, synthetic hat with a chin strap, so it stays on, dries quickly, and floats well(in case it breaks free).
- For babies with a high risk of ear infections, use foam ear protection and an “ear band” (like a headband, but lightweight and fitting around the ears) to keep the foam in place. This is not recommended for older children, as hearing is needed in order to follow caregiver instructions.
- Goggles come in all sizes, most with adjustable rubber bands. These are probably not useful for babies, as babies do not (and should not) submerge their heads for long periods of time.
Before You Get to the Pool:
Avoid stress by preparing before your pool visit.
- Bathe thoroughly. No need to cloud the water with dirty hands and feet, but you don’t want to contribute to a Recreational Water Illness by contributing residual feces. For more tips to prevent Recreational Water Illness, see Center for Disease Control 6 Steps to Healthy Swimming.
- Change the baby’s diaper.
- Suit up! Put on your swimsuit and baby’s swim gear (except flotation devices).
- Pack a bag with at least one big towel, dry clothes for you and baby, sunscreen, and a lock (if you can’t borrow one at the pool).
- Slather on the sunscreen.
- Check the pool schedule to be sure there is a place for you and baby to be in the pool.
- Drink some water. Playing in the pool is a good workout, so hydration is good. Plus, nothing is less refreshing than chlorinated pool water, and drinking it could lead to a Recreational Water Illness.
- DO NOT VISIT THE POOL IF YOU OR BABY HAS DIARRHEA! You could contribute to a Recreational Water Illness.
Pool Features to Look For:
- Treated water and clean facilities. For information about healthy swimming & clean pools, see The Center for Disease Control Healthy Swimming Webpage.
- Easy access with stairs or a very gradual decline.
- Shallow enough for you to stand comfortably with water at your breastline or lower.
- Babies acclimate better to warm water, and you won’t have to worry about baby catching cold. Find a heated pool.
- A pool dedicated to families or low-current swimming activity. Some pools put floating plastic lanes in place with baffling that lowers waves other swimmers might create, if the pool is meant to be shared for many kinds of use.
- Ample open-swim or family-swim time in the schedule. Be sure there’s enough time for you to work with naps, feeding, and other duties, but still allows you to make full use of a pool membership.
- Free trials: A lot of pools offer free trials so that you can try the pool experience with your child without financial obligation.
- Baby-friendly locker room. Not only will you need a big locker for that oversized diaper bag (ask to borrow a lock when you get to the pool), but you need to know that baby will be safe when you’re trying to change, manage the locker and lock, and slather on the sunscreen (though you can do some of this before you arrive at the pool). The free trial (mentioned above) is super for checking out how baby-friendly the facilities are. Is there a changing table with a workable strap for the post-swim diaper change? Are the pre-pool showers (usually mandatory) easy to operate if you’re holding your baby?
- Check to see if the pool is open to you bringing supplies to the pool’s edge. Some caregivers would prefer to roll baby out in an umbrella stroller or carry baby in a carrier to the pool (though you shouldn’t use either in the pool). Can you bring a towel to wrap baby in, so (s)he stays warm for the walk back to the lockers? Can you bring waterwings or other floatation goodies with you for use in the pool?
- Want some help transitioning baby to the pool? Many pools offer classes. Caregivers must attend with babies, and curriculum usually involves singing and dancing in the water, splashing and kicking games, and tips for making the pool experience positive.
- No electrical devices should be anywhere near the pool, where they could fall in and cause electrocution.
- Rules to prevent drowning and injury are enforced. For some drowning prevention tips, see The CDC’s Drowning Prevention PDF.
- Good air quality with ventilation. For a description of Chloramines (Chlorine byproducts) and air quality issues, see Center for Disease Control Webpage.
Artificial flotation comes in all shapes and sizes. It is a perk for caregivers wanting to give very young kids positive experiences in the pool without having to support their bodies constantly (though the caregiver should be no more than an arm’s reach away from baby during flotation use). It can also be very useful when helping the child build confidence (like the hand supporting your lower back when you first learned how to float on your back). However, some swimming professionals feel that artificial flotation can be misused, when it provides a crutch so a new swimmer does not develop adequate strength to support the body in a natural and safe position. Popular flotation devices are listed below.
- Inflatable Baby Seats are inner tubes usually with backs or high walls and leg holes. You can push the baby around the pool in this, but be sure the baby is sitting in it in a controlled fashion and the pool is shallow enough for you to stand, if you need to adjust baby when you’re in the middle of the pool.
- Baby Rafts are deep plastic rafts that are water-tight and meant for flotation. Babies can be strapped in or ride “loose.” Push baby around in this with extreme caution – these can tip and it is often difficult to keep baby securely seated.
- Life Vests or Swim Vests are snug-fitting, adjustable vests with buoyant foam inside. They are often made for toddler size 2 or more, so aren’t a good option for small, young babies. They help build confidence by keeping the upper body afloat, but arm movement is often restricted when the torso of the vest is stiff and wider than the torso of the body. Awesome to use in areas with current like lakes, and a brilliant safety feature on boats.
- Flotation Suits look like wetsuits or one-piece swimsuits with an inflatable torso. It’s like wearing a small inner tube under your suit! These can be a crutch and make it difficult to learn good form when trying to swim or float on the side, tummy, or back.
- Kick Boards come in foam or inflatable rubber, and are a classis tool for providing lift to the arms and torso, when the goal is to practice face-down movement with kicks. Helps teach good form while building confidence.
- Water Wings or Roll Up Bands can be used on the arms and legs. They are filled with air sufficient to make them snug on their appendages. These can be reassuring when used on the arms. They are a crutch when the goal is to float on the back.
- Noodles are foam cylinders that have become extremely popular at pool parties. They float, so laced under the armpits and across the torso, make good float support with treading water. In this manner, however, they don’t do much to teach good swim form.