Victorian author Charles Kingsley got his feet wet with The Water Babies, a children’s novel which many of us oldies read as youngsters or watched the Disney film in the seventies which offered a liberal interpretation of the novel. Whether the idea came from the eccentric writer’s friendship with a wasp he once saved from drowning or whether it triggered the vision of a softer, enveloping underwater sanctuary is anyone’s guess. Interestingly Kingsley created and used the word “cuddly” in the novel – a word we frequently use to describe babies but the marrying of water and babies still holds a fascination for us.
From a birthing pool to introducing your baby to swimming early on it is a well-worn topic of conversation among pregnant women and mums who are anxious to know the rights and wrongs of taking baby to a pool.
More and more women today are considering using water for labour pain relief with birthing pools top of the request list with midwives during the antenatal period. Advantages of using water for delivery include less painful contractions, reduced need for pain relief, a shorter labour and an increased chance of having a natural delivery and a calm and more enjoyable birth. The calming effect of warm water helps the production of endorphins, and the water supports the body weight creating a more comfortable experience. Healthy women at low risk in labour over 37 weeks carrying only one baby in a head-down position are often offered the choice of using a birthing pool for labour and birth but it is very much a postcode lottery depending on the NHS region and their individual protocols.
When it comes to taking your baby swimming it’s the age-old question – how young can a baby be? Babies can go swimming any time from birth as there is no need for the baby to be immunised although organised swim classes for babies tend to start at 6 weeks. It’s a great fun activity for kids but also teaches important safety skills including how to float. Babies have two reflexes which simulate swimming which make it appear that the baby is swimming – the diving reflex involves a natural reflex for the baby to hold its breath when the head is underwater and also slows the heart rate under the water.
Before taking your baby to a warm baby pool – babies will need a temperature of 32 degrees - get him or her used to the water at bath time so that they feel comfortable and familiar in water. As soon as your baby starts to shiver take him out as babies lose body heat much quicker than adults, wrap him in a warm towel and a snuggly hat to prevent losing too much heat through the head. Choose a time when your baby is alert and not hungry and visit a pool when it’s not too busy particularly for the first visit. Start with 10 minutes and then build up to 20 minutes as you see your baby growing in confidence in the water. Whatever you do enjoy the experience of bonding with you water baby - oh and most importantly don’t forget those swim nappies as accidents can and do happen!
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