This week we took the plunge and got Archie into the pool for the first time. We were originally planning to do it before now, but wanted to do so as part of an organised class, mostly to make sure we did things safely, and the classes at our pool weren't running over the school summer holidays.
So, on Tuesday morning, Archie and I turned up at our local pool and prepared for our swim. Changing was a bit of a challenge. As I was between nappies, trying to work out if disposible swim nappies had a definite front and back (I'm still not sure), Archie decided to empty the contents of his apparently very full bladder over his changing mat and the surrounding area. Fortunately, I was the only witness, so, after cleaning up in double-quick time, I think we got away with it.
At the pool it turned out there were only two babies in the class, Archie and a 12-month old baby girl called Rosie. Given the class has a top limit of ten, I was quite glad we were getting almost 1-on-1 instruction for our first time. The instructor was a friendly chap who had gone through a similar program with his two kids before taking up the instructor's mantle himself. Each exercise was clearly talked through and we were happily swishing and bouncing across the pool. Archie didn't seem to show much interest in kicking or paddling but was quite happy being pulled along for a ride.
The big question around baby swimming seems to be whether submersion should be part of the process? Not surprisingly, deciding whether to dunk your infant baby under water is a big issue for a lot of parents. I'd had a quick look around baby swimming places and they all seemed to advocate it - in fact it's a large part of what they are offering and promoting, with underwater pictures and videos of cute babies adorning their marketing. I can see where the appeal lies. I'd even got hold of a waterproof camera to create my own 'Nirvana Nevermind' moment.
Before heading out, I'd done some basic research into safety, which was I was surprised to find was not completely cut and dry. The Amateur Swimming Association guidance is clearly against forced submersion of babies in swimming on the basis of risk of Hyponatremia (water intoxication). However the Swimming Teachers' Association's policies seem to counter that, pointing to research suggesting that a small number of submersions in a baby swimming session would not create a risk of hyponatremia. These latter policies seemed fairly detailed and rational so I decided I would at least give it a try.
Archie's class did include a couple of submersions, all within the structure of a clear process. I was happy with the instruction and the step-by-step build up and Archie wasn't in any distress from it. Reading his expression I would say he seemed to be mostly bemused by the whole thing - certainly no upset or tears.
On reflection, though, I think I missed an important question. It is not enough to ask whether it is safe; we should also be asking whether it is beneficial. There is an assumption that there is a benefit to these activities, and many baby swimming organisations state benefits such as increased confidence and reduced fear of the water, but I have yet to see one that actually cites any definitive research. Most offer unsubstantiated claims or anecdotal evidence, which is a warning sign for any critical thinker. Given the popularity of such classes, I would think that some sort of longitudinal study of the benefits should be feasible. I haven't found such a study but would be happy if someone could point me in the right direction.
In the absence of evidence of any clear positive benefit, I think I'll give submersion a miss in future classes. The risks may be negligible but without any clear value, I can't rationalize why I should be dunking my boy under the water. I think I'd rather wait until Archie can understand how to hold his breath and why not to swallow pool water before teaching him how to swim underwater. I'll keep on with the rest of the lessons, though, as I think he'll enjoy the experience.