mother and baby, swimming with baby

Safe swimming with your baby

Swimming with your baby can be a lot of fun and can help your baby to develop confidence, both in and out of the water. Being able to swim is also a vital and potentially life-saving skill. However, being in or near water can be dangerous, so the priority must always be to keep your baby safe.

At what age can you take your baby swimming?

Early exposure to swimming means your baby is likely to be comfortable and confident at an early age, but this doesn’t mean you should be whisking your child straight from the maternity ward to the swimming pool.

The NHS advises that parents take their baby swimming at any age, but says that mothers should avoid swimming until six or seven days after the end of vaginal bleeding after birth(1). However, there are reasons why some parents might be more cautious than others. For example, The Amateur Swimming Association recommends that parents only take a baby swimming from the age of six months and that until this point “preliminary swimming skills and familiarisation with water” can be taught in the bath at home(2). Reasons for possible concern include the following:

  • Younger babies are not as good at regulating their body temperatures as adults and older children so they may lose heat quickly. As such, you should ensure that the pool temperature is not too cold and that your baby does not spend too long in the water.
  • Swimming pool sterilisation chemicals may irritate a baby’s sensitive skin.
  • Babies can drown in just a few seconds so if you are tired and in any way less alert than you would like to be, you should not take a baby into the water.
  • Fears of exposure to illnesses.
  • You may, for entirely personal reasons, not feel comfortable taking your child until they are a little older.

First aid

You do not have to have had first aid training to take your child swimming. However, there is enormous benefit in taking a first aid course that includes resuscitation techniques. Two of the most recognisable organisations offering such courses are St John’s Ambulance and the Red Cross.

Baby vaccinations and swimming

Some parents may have concerns about taking their non-immunised children swimming, but the levels of chlorine or ozone used to sterilise pools mean it is unlikely that your child will be exposed to any bacteria or pathogens.

As such, there is no strong scientific reason for delaying the onset of swimming until your baby has received the standard course of injections against diphtheria, hepatitis B, tetanus, whooping cough, Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b) and polio.

Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that the mild side effects of vaccination should stop you from going swimming with your baby, but if your child is irritable or feeling slightly feverish, it may just be kinder to cancel swimming your swimming plans until they feel fully recovered.(3)

Finding a safe and suitable swimming pool

It is always a good idea to familiarise yourself with the swimming pool facilities before taking your baby there for a swim. For example, some swimming pools may be very busy at certain times and this may prove overwhelming for you and/or your baby.

Some pools may also have flumes, slides, rapids and other equipment for older children and adults to enjoy and if these are in use it may not be conducive to a calm and pleasant session for you and your baby. Fortunately, many swimming pools provide “parent and toddler” sessions so that you and your baby can swim without too much noise, confusion or queuing.

Swimming and safe hygiene — a word on nappies, bugs and cleanliness

You not only need to think about your own safety when visiting a swimming pool with your baby, you also need to think about that of others. As such, you should always ensure that your baby is wearing a swimming nappy in order to prevent the possibility of the water becoming contaminated.

Standard nappies quickly become waterlogged and disintegrate – in contrast, specially designed swim nappies are durable and relatively watertight and can be paired with a suitable swimming costume or pair of swimming trunks for added protection. However, even swimming nappies are not completely leak-proof, so if your baby passes urine or stools while swimming, you should change the swim nappy immediately.

Similarly, you should never take your baby swimming if they are suffering from, or have recently suffered, diarrhoea, vomiting, other gastrointestinal symptoms or any form of cold or virus. The risk of passing the bugs to other pool users, especially in changing rooms and communal areas is too great.

Lastly, ensure that your child is clean before stepping into the pool – and most pools will provide warm showers for this purpose.

Supervising your baby’s safe swimming

You should ensure that your child is supervised at all times when swimming. Babies and toddlers are more vulnerable to drowning than any other age group and are entirely reliant on you for their safety when in the pool. Even if there is a pool-side lifeguard present you must be aware of your baby at all times. Lifeguards are there for emergency situations only.

You should also familiarise yourself with all aspects of the swimming pool environment including in the changing rooms and communal areas, as well as any potential pool hazards such as flumes, slides, diving boards or rapids.

If you are visiting the pool alone (without another adult) you should not bring other children with you unless you have confidence in their ability to swim independently. Check with the pool staff before visiting about their rules on child supervision.

What about baby buoyancy aids?

You may wish to use buoyancy aids such as armbands, jackets or floats. However, these are not an alternative to supervision and physical support, so you should remain with your child at all times when using them, just as you would do if they were swimming without one.

Buoyancy aids should be suitably sized for your baby and many are only suitable for older children. Using the wrong size of aid may in fact be dangerous to younger children.

BS EN 13138:2003 is the British standard for buoyancy aids. Any aid you use should carry this standard as well as the following warnings:

  • “Use only under competent supervision”
  • “Will not protect against drowning”
  • “To be worn on upper arm only” (for armbands)(4)

Safety tips for swimming with baby

We recommend that you also consider all of the following safety factors when taking your baby swimming:

  • Never leave your child unsupervised or unattended.
  • Lifeguards are there to support pool users in an emergency. It is your responsibility to watch your baby at all times even when they are present.
  • Only take your child swimming if you have not consumed any alcohol, recreational drugs or prescription drugs that might make you drowsy or less alert.
  • The water and air temperature should be at least 32°C for any baby under 3 months or weighing less than 5.5 kgs. If your child is over 3 months, the temperature should be at least 30°C.(5)
  • If your child appears too cold, take them out of the water, dry them immediately and get them into the warm. If the poolside temperature is too cold, speak to staff at the facility who may be able to take you to a warmer room.
  • Use appropriate baby-safe sunscreen and protective clothing when swimming outside.
  • Rinse/wash your baby immediately as soon as you leave the pool to protect their sensitive skin from any irritating chemicals.

Tips for your first swimming trip with baby

We recommend the following tips and steps for safe swimming excursions with your baby:

  • Pack your bag: including towels (perhaps a hooded towel for your baby); a change of nappies (both swimming and regular); a bag for wet items; buoyancy aids (if any); baby safe body wash; baby safe moisturiser (chlorine can dry and irritate the skin); warm clothes for you and baby to wear post-swimming.
  • Get ready to swim before you go: having swimming costumes on underclothes can make getting into the pool more straightforward.
  • Make sure your baby is ready: pick a time when your baby is not going to be tired or hungry.
  • Take a familiar bath toy: your child is likely to adapt to the swimming pool environment more quickly if they have a recognisable and beloved bath toy to help them make the transition to a large swimming pool.


Swimming is a wonderful, relaxing and beneficial activity for you and your baby. However, it is likely to be more fun, and less stressful, if you know that you have planned properly and taken every reasonable safety precaution.

Find out more about the benefits of swimming with your baby or child.