How to Teach Baby to Swim: Back Floating

In my last post (on kicking), I talked about how to build on baby’s natural knack for certain motions that connect to swimming. Today, I’m talking about back floating, which is another basic swim skill to teach in the bath within your baby’s first year of life (or as soon as possible.)

To teach your baby to swim, you need to know what to look for and hold the belief that playing in the water can be safe as long as parents stay within arm’s reach of baby at all times, focus their attention (putting away phones, etc.), and help her gently experience the water.

Talk About Back Floating
In my last post on kicking, I wrote, “I gave the movement a “name,” talked to her about it pretty much each time she repeated it, and in that way, assigned value to it.” Do the same for back floating, like when she’s lying on her back on the changing table or on the floor. Back floating is a much greater whole-body experience than kicking, though.

When done correctly, back floating is a restful recovery pose in the water. Typically the floater lies on her back, floating at the surface of the water while stretching her arms straight out to the side like an airplane (some bodies float better with arms stretched overhead instead), palms upward. Her mouth and nose will be above water.

Back Floating Baby
Practice back floats with your baby in a full-size bath tub; it’s one of the main reasons I love co-bathing so much. Buoyancy is sensory; getting comfortable in the water requires swimmers to relax enough to feel their buoyancy… one of the sayings I tell my swimmers is, “the water will hold you up.” Then it’s a matter of finding each person’s right shape for floating.

Introduce back floating early, and your baby will quickly get used to the feeling of buoyancy and water in her ears. Both these sensory experiences need to occur regularly over the years anyway as key players in swimming, and become more difficult as bath tubs shrink. 😉 The earlier, the better. As children age, they develop a reflex to sit up when water enters their ears if their bodies haven’t learned it’s harmless.

Technique
Hold your infant at the base of her head with one hand. Help her keep her face above water. Place your other hand under her lower back, and “float” her gently back and forth. The water line ought to cover her ears. It’s important to allow her to feel the buoyancy when her mood is relaxed; this might mean dropping your lower hand occasionally, but only if she seems open to it.

With toddlers, tubs usually aren’t wide enough for outstretched arms ; even so, continue “back floating” with your support simply to have water enter her ears.

In the pool, stand behind your child and support her head with one hand and lower back or under her chin with your other hand. This should be a gentle touch, not a grip.

Talk to your pediatrician if your baby has tubes or what is safe in the case of an ear infection.

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