Babes in water
TEACHING your baby to swim underwater before their first birthday for some parents might not go hand in hand with teaching them to eat, walk and utter their first words. But plenty of Havering parents are realising the benefit of helping their baby feel a
TEACHING your baby to swim underwater before their first birthday for some parents might not go hand in hand with teaching them to eat, walk and utter their first words.
But plenty of Havering parents are realising the benefit of helping their baby feel at home in the water from an early age - because it can teach them a potentially life-saving skill.
Jill Rackham and Sarah Smith, from Hornchurch, who both took their own children to a baby swim class, decided to set up an Essex-based branch of national group Waterbabies to pass on their experience to other mums.
Now four months in, they teach more than 100 babies a week, with a maximum of ten per class, in Dagenham, Brentwood, South Ockendon, Benfleet, Rochford, Southend and Bishop Stortford. Jill and Sarah are still looking to introduce a class in Havering but have so far struggled to find availability at a local pool.
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Jill, whose son Max, aged 20 months, goes swimming each week, said: "We've been delighted by the enthusiastic response we've had. Parents seem to be really enjoying the classes and many say they're the highlight of their week.
"There's little that beats sitting underwater, watching your tiny child serenely glide towards you."
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The recommended 40-week programme, which is split into four ten-week sessions with parents getting an underwater photo as a memento of their experience after the first ten weeks, aims to help babies build up their confidence in the water floating on their tummies and backs, become familiar with going underwater and eventually learning how to find the water's edge and hold on if they ever find themselves in danger.
Jill said: "We sit them on the side and sing Humpty Dumpty. When they fall in we get them holding on to the side so that if they ever fell into water when someone's not around to help they know to hold on until someone gets to them."
Julie Hobley, from Hornchurch, whose eight-month old son, Oliver, has attended classes since just 14 weeks, said: "I think his photos are incredible. I was pretty speechless when I saw them. He just looks so peaceful and serene.
"Swimming is something we absolutely love doing, and it teaches a life skill at the same time. Just to see Oliver's little face when he goes into water is brilliant.
"The lessons are so carefully structured that he's learnt masses in a really short space of time. And it means that he'll be so much safer, should he ever fall in."
Mum Leanne Angel, 24, of Rainham Road, Rainham, said her one-year-old daughter Olivia-Lilly had become "like a little mermaid" since joining waterbabies.
Since joining six months ago Olivia is comfortable swimming underwater and holding onto the side for up to ten minutes.
Leanne said: "She went to a friend's party the other day. He's five. She was the youngest baby there. Some kids that were about three or four wouldn't even get in the water, but Olivia was in there the whole time."
Three children, from Waterbabies classes across the UK, have been saved from drowning thanks to the water skills they learnt at a young age.
Jill said: "Most people wouldn't think it, but drowning is still unfortunately the third largest cause of accidental death for children in the UK.
"Although babies lack the strength to swim on the surface until three or four with careful supervision they can enjoy the sensation of moving underwater within days of birth."
Mum Kirsty Yeardley, from Rainham, whose daughter Charity joined Waterbabies four months ago aged ten months, said: "She absolutely loves the water. It's the most amazing thing watching her hold on when she gets in the water so if she fell she'd be able to know what to do. It gives you so much comfort to know they can be taught at that young age."
For more information call Jill or Sarah on 01708 444345 or visit the website www.waterbabies.co.uk.