May 2018: Fishponds Mum

May 01 2018

At home in the water ...

IT was quite a moment when I decided to take my baby swimming. She was four months old. After hearing so many parents harp on about how their children were at ‘home in the water’, or could ‘virtually swim at three months,’ I somehow felt I was depriving her of one of life’s gifts because, frankly, I was dreading it.  I gave in. 

I packed my giant swimming rucksack (much like the one I took around Europe for a couple of weeks as a teen) packed with nappies, bags, swim nappies to go over the top of swim nappies, spare clothes, wipes, formula, bottle. Then I started on my swimming stuff: giant towel, hair towel, clothes I can pull on at speed. Do I wear my costume under my clothes like I did as a child? Where will I put my baby as I get my clothes off to reveal said costume? How long has it been since I wore this costume - in Greece circa. 2012? How will I manage if she poops and hurls up in the pool? How much cash do I need for a locker? Will my stuff fit in those poky lockers? I was exhausted before I even started. 

Turns out, as I approached Longwell Green Big Bath Time, it was full. “Full?” I said, breathless from carrying a baby and a giant rucksack from the very full car park, “what do you mean it’s full? I didn’t know baby swimming pools could be full?” 

The first rule of baby swimming: don’t get your hopes up. Quite often all people looking after children have the same idea at the same hour on the same day and you might have to wait a while at your local pool.  Best to go somewhere where there are emergency-plan B activities. Active Leisure in Bradley Stoke is very good for a plan-B/freakin’-wasted-visit/a-might-meltdown-any-minute type of situation.

At Bradley Stoke one can spend Plan B at an onsite soft play place, with a toddler section for under twos and a giant slide(r) for older ones. There is a café, complete with toddler lunch pots, coffee and cake, and an outdoor playground. It even has a fully stocked library.

If you do ever get into the pool, it is warm and big, with floats, and toddlers can stand up in it. It even has a small circular pool for teeny tinies.

After various failed attempts with a child who loves to swim, when she reached one I signed up to Water Babies, which are classes for 0-4 year olds and work in staged ‘chapters.’ 

Using repetition and word association, Water Babies teaches you to teach your baby to swim. People (and by this I mean other parents whose children can now swim) say that babies can already swim under water… ahem… as a natural throw back to our evolutionary amphibious stage… and it seems true, they do seem to move like little creatures back up to the surface. Apparently they can’t really swim on the surface until they are three because of the distribution of their body mass so parents need to learn how to support them. Luminous arm bands, as in my day, are not even discussed at Water Babies. 

Water Babies use warm, private pools across Bristol and Bath. It works out about £15 a lesson. A lesson is a strict, pacey half an hour and there are about eight babies and their carers in the class. The teacher is in the water with you all and through song, routine and practising techniques, they teach you to support your child to swim. They build in under water swimming for a few seconds each session, which is amazing for some babies and shockingly abhorrent for other babies. Surprisingly they get used to it quite quickly. I think the younger a child is the better they manage this; apparently, it is like home from home having been in a water filled womb recently. 

Occasionally the whole thing is called off and everyone leaps out when a child’s nappy ruptures or a baby hurls up all over the place. I once saw a baby throw up in its mother’s face. These are the realities of swimming with a baby, my friends. Like an amazon, she simply wiped her face down, comforted her child and went to the changing room. What a heroine. 

One day when she was one my child decided she was sick of waiting her turn (of the eight children in the class, we were number three in the queue), so she bit my finger so hard it bled. I had to hold my hand aloft to avoid getting spilling my own blood in the swimming pool. It all happens at baby swimming. Expect the unexpected and go with it.

Water Babies is a great way to teach your child to swim. I have heard it described as ‘eye-wateringly’ expensive, which it is (local pools are much cheaper) but it has enabled lots of children to learn the basics of swimming under a year. I highly recommend it (shhh…it has taught me how to swim properly too.)


Local Swimming Pools (check timetables before you go)


Active Leisure: Bradley Stoke Big Bath Time – generally Daily 9-11.30am

Active Leisure: Longwell Green Big Bath Time:

Easton Leisure Centre Pool -

Kingwood Leisure Centre Pool –

Water Babies

Claire Stewart-Hall