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Posted on 13th April 2016

HELP! My baby hates swimming

Trawling through baby forums is a regular pastime for me as I try and keep myself up to date with what’s happening in the maternity and baby world. I always make sure that I carefully read the problem sections because, well you never know, I may be able to add a few words of experience here and there. After three of my own children and a host of nieces and nephews to draw experience from, there isn’t much that would surprise me.

Lately I have noticed an increase in mothers posting worries about their babies hating swimming sessions. Many babies seem to hate it from the start and others appear to develop Water Wobbles after seeming to enjoy lessons for months. Reluctant swimmers can present themselves when you least expect it and for parents who have paid £120 or more for a terms worth of lessons it can be extremely frustrating financially and upsetting emotionally. After all you were just trying to do the right thing and all the advice says start earlier rather than later.

Formal baby swimming lessons are available from birth to 4 years old across the UK, in fact we lead the world in this sector believing that the early skin to skin bonding and getting babies familiar with the water is an essential part of babies early years. And I agree, I really do. But I also understand how hard it can be practically. There is so much advice being thrown at new parents from all sides about weaning, the colour of stools, teething, baby yoga, you name it and there is an abundance of advice for it. Baby swimming can feel like another activity on the list of endless activities you need to be enrolled in to be a better parent and if your baby screams at the mere sight of a swimming pool it’s enough to make even the most patient new mum or dad give up.

So the team at Splash About have put together a list of the most common types of reluctant swimmers and lots of helpful advise tailored just for them. Which type do you have?

First time screamers:

First swimming experiences can be a shock and many babies and toddlers will cry and fuss for the first few lessons, maybe even the first 5 or 6. This is a case of persevering and talking to your swim teacher. They have seen it all before and will have lots of tricks to cheer up miserable babes. There are also things you can do before you even get to your lesson to make it as successful as possible.

-Get a baby wetsuit – 9 out of 10 babies cry in the water because they are cold. You can even get baby wetsuits with the Happy Nappy™ inside, so you don’t need anything else. Baby wetsuits are made from super soft neoprene and keep baby much warmer for much longer. A warm baby is a happy baby.

-Make sure your baby doesn’t have a cold or temperature

-If at all possible, try to feed your baby half an hour before your class. Any earlier and baby may get hungry before you finish and any later and you risk them being sick in the pool.

-Talk to the teacher before the lesson so you are prepared for the activities and can be enthusiastic for your baby. If you are anxious they will pick up on it and be anxious themselves.

Occasional screamers:

Sometimes babies cry for no reason and if they are warm in the water and familiar with the lessons it can be a shock if they suddenly seem to hate parts of the class. That’s ok, babies are all different and what one likes, another may not. The trick here is to go with your heart and your head. You do not need to persevere regardless, just take your time.

-If baby hates singing or splashing, just revert to cradling them in your arms and making eye contact, singing along with the teacher but focused on baby’s face, instead of holding them face frontward to the group.

-A baby should never be forcibly submerged, there are new guidelines about this in the UK and it is important that you ensure your teacher is qualified to submerge / dip a baby. No teacher should submerge a crying, distressed or unhappy baby. The experience should be a positive one not a negative one. You are within your rights to ask the teacher for their qualification to submerge and of course you can simply refuse to be involved in that part of the class should you or your baby not be happy. Many babies are, but they are all different and that’s is perfectly fine.

-Babies can sometimes hate the loud noises in various parts of the lesson, simply move to the other side of the pool and wait until the activity is over, as you both progress these more boisterous parts of the session will seem less scary and they will be happy to join in.

-Get a few great CE marked swim toys (be careful about non CE marked toys because the paint tends to flake off after exposure to chlorine and this can be dangerous when mouthed by teething babies). Toys such as our Pufferfish Sensory Pool Toys or our Pool & Bath Mirror are especially useful for distracting tearful babies. Distraction techniques can be very helpful for these reluctant swimmers. Our neoprene Pufferfish Splash Balls are particularly good for older babies who like comforters, as they can be taken into the pool as a cuddly toy for them to snuggle up to whilst in the water.

Progressive screamers:

Some babies and toddlers enjoy their first few lessons and some even enjoy the first few months and then all of a sudden they hate the classes and cry and scream through the entire session progressively getting worse at each class. This can be extremely upsetting especially and embarrassing if swimming has been an activity you have both enjoyed for a number of months. It can leave you confused and make you feel like giving up.

-Check if your baby is distressed at a certain part of the class and sit it out, do something else such as play with a swim toy or just watch. Within a couple of lessons you will have identified the problem activity and then you can start to reintroduce it slowly. You should not be forced to participate in things you do not enjoy.

-Has something happened? Are there new faces in the pool? A new teacher? This is where perseverance is required. They will settle down again as they become more familiar with these new faces, some babies just don’t like change and strangers in the group can be a problem.

-If your child is distressed before getting into the pool, check the environment, is the changing room cold or uncomfortable? Make sure your Changing Mat is heat retaining so that they don’t get cold on the damp floor when you get them changed before and after. Anticipation of something a baby doesn’t like can cause them to cry before the problem has even arisen.

-You don’t need to persevere, it should be enjoyable. If you think your child needs a break from the formal classes discuss with the teacher and take your baby to the pool outside of a class just to play and relax. A break of up to 6 months is sometimes the right solution. Only you know what’s right for your baby. You should not feel pressured into carrying on. This is your decision.

No matter what sort of screamer you have it’s important that you listen to your own instincts. You are the customer and if you are unhappy with any aspect of the class have a chat with the teacher, you will find that they have a pool load of stories about crying babies!


1. Make sure you only book lessons with a qualified baby swim instructor.

2. Keep baby warm in the water.

3. You do not need to submerge your baby; this is a choice when you and they are ready.

4. Be prepared for uncomfortable changing rooms.

5. Take swim toys but check they are CE marked for safety. (All Splash About Toys are CE tested and marked)

6. Be patient, sometime having fun takes a bit of practice.

Whenever way you choose to introduce your baby to the joys of swimming, remember sooner rather than later is always best, be patient, sometimes having fun takes a bit of practice!