My own daughter inspired me to write this article. As a mother i want to give my daughter all the best. At the same time, i also think about how to improve the small mistakes in her musculoskeletal system, which i see thanks to being a physiotherapist. I want to give all the informations i gained to all parents who have a genuine interest about their baby and who are thinking about swimming, searching out informations about swimming of the infants, or they just look for the best swimming pools.
If we talk about toddlers or infants swimming, it is not about learning how to swim in the true meaning of the word. Babies are not able to controllably swim a crawl stroke, breaststroke or butterfly stroke, and some parents are after this discovery disappointed or even surprised. Children will be able to kick with their legs in a correct crawl stroke around 2 and 3 year, but most usually during 4 and 5 year. Children in age 6 to 7 years are learning breaststroke.
EFFECTS OF SWIMMING ON A HEALTHY MUSCULOSKELETAL DEVELOPMENT OF THE BABY
Toddler and small children are first taught to get used to the water and water environment, temperature of the water, its resistance, pressure etc… From a physiotherapeutic point of view are physical forces of the water environment very beneficial. For example insufficiently activated abdominal muscles are not overloaded, on the other hand, they are slightly strengthened, which also leads to improved position of the pelvis in the retroversion direction (tilting of the pelvis backwards), which is important for further physiological straightening of the child.
Swimming for toddlers and infants can be also recommended to healthy children, since it will positively affect their psychomotor development and strengthen the relationship with the parent, and it is also a form of physiotherapy for children who are in some way handicapped. For example „hyperactive” children are very often calming down in a pleasantly warm water.
Swimming enables them to improve their ability to concentrate and also ability of the motor coordination. Hypotonia (lowered muscle tension) or on the other hand hypertonia (increased muscle tension) of the musculoskeletal system can be affected by correctly chosen way of holding the baby and ideal temperature of the water in the swimming pool. Stomach pains can be easily lowered in a warmer water. It also increases the immunity resistance of the baby against the infectious diseases, respiratory problems are also being improved.
Thanks to the moist air in the area of the swimming pool can children with bronchial asthma breathe better. Children that are learning swimming and diving, can exhale air from their lungs under water which will increase the tension of the muscles that are responsible for movement of the chest and breathing. It also improves dynamic breathing volume: vital capacity of the lungs (volume of the exhaled air in liters after natural inhale), modified vital capacity (maximal exhaled volume after maximal inhale), FEV 1,2 (maximal exhaling speed in 1 and 2 second) and breathing frequency comes close to physiological norm.
WHEN TO START?
Some clubs are organizing swimming lessons for infants and toddlers, they recommend to start after the baby has head from the scar after the umbilical cord (2 - 3 weeks). Swimming instructors may visit such babies at home, or the babies can come to the clubs. Children in age of six months swim in a small pool, or bathtub intended only for one baby, in the small swimming pool it can be with mother. The reasons are hygienic criteria, because children in age of 6 months don’t have very well developed immunity system. From this reason, infants should not bathe in publicly used swimming pools!
In some swimming clubs for toddlers and infants the swimming instructor should drain the water after each baby, and fill it with new water. The swimming pool or bathtub should be chemically cleaned every day after the swimming sessions ends. Infants older 6 months are usually able to swim in groups of 3 - 4 babies with mothers in a swimming pool cured with chlorine or ionization. This depends on the decision of the swimming club, however this information should be always posted on the web page of the club.
LENGTH OF THE SWIMMING LECTURE
Very small babies or even older toddlers, who just start with swimming and they are not used to the water environment, are in the water for shorter period of time that is 5 - 10 minutes, gradually their stay in water gets longer up to 30 minutes. Children older six months usually have to use during swimming special diaper pants designed for swimming in water.
IDEAL TEMPERATURE OF WATER
Optimal temperature of the water for small children is around 37 degrees Celsius. Although each time should the instructor fill the pool or bathtub with sufficiently warm water, to which is the baby adapted to at home. That is also regarded in actual condition and diagnosis of the baby.
- For children from 6 months the water temperature is ideal between 35 and 36 degrees Celsius.
- For children older 1 year is ideal water around 30 degrees Celsius.
In public swimming pools is water temperature even colder due to the hygiene, small children can thanks to undeveloped thermoregulation get cold very quickly. Therefore it is necessary to keep the temperature of the water warm close to the temperature of the body, and adapt the children gradually to colder environment.
WHAT ARE PRESCHOOL CHILDREN AND SCHOOL CHILDREN LEARNING
Unfortunately children often end up with swimming in a preschool age. Usually it is caused by starting to go to kindergarten and therefore they don’t have any free mornings. Although some swimming clubs organize swimming lectures also in afternoon and evening hours, and many clubs also organize it during weekend. Children learn in these clubs the basic elements of swimmings, such as floating, diving, gathering objects from the bottom of the pool. Children learn also how to jump into the water, how to swim up to the surface of the water and they will catch a board, with which they will swim towards the “shore”.
According to the organizers, swimming becomes less popular due to the combination of physical, psychological and financial difficulty of several years of going to swimming. At the same time swimming for older children is organized by professional clubs, who teach children the classical swim strokes and styles. But preschool children can’t deal with these swimming styles due to their motor skills. Their movement coordination is still being developed for the time being.
In a following article you can read about which exercises are ideal, how to perform them and what kind of effect it can have on your child.
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Author: Mgr. Iva Bílková, FYZIOklinika fyzioterapie Ltd, Prague, Czech Republic