As outlined by the STA, swimming is the most beneficial form of exercise. Not only during pregnancy but also in the post-natal period. Regular swimming will help to maintain and improve:
- The cardiovascular system
- Lung capacity and function
- Joint mobility
- Muscles and their function
- Help new mothers to control body weight and recover their pre-pregnancy body weight.
Swimming allows babies and toddlers to move independently long before they are able to crawl or walk. This allows for sound motor development and improves the function of skeletal muscles. Infant aquatics can also be therapeutic, complementing physiotherapy and osteopathy to help babies develop muscles symmetrically on both sides of the body.
It can be particularly beneficial for premature babies as it helps to recapture stages of motor development that they may have missed. Babies who have to wear a hip harness also benefit greatly from unrestricted movement in the water.
Research has shown that early swimmers perform better on tests measuring social, academic, motor skills and personality developments. Children who develop their swimming abilities are often more alert for their age, with a better eating and sleeping pattern. I used to plan a relaxing afternoon for myself after swimming as my baby slept so well. Additionally, swimming improves the cardio-respiratory function of babies and their general health.
Babies can exercise more muscles in the water environment, as they are not restricted by their incapacity to sit or stand up. Their strength at this age is evident in their ability to raise themselves up using their arms and in walking.
Water offers babies a heightened multi sensory experience involving touch, hearing, sight, and to some extent even taste and smell. The intense physical and eye contact with their parents as they play in the water also offers quality stimulation. This can be particularly beneficial to premature or handicapped babies.
Early swimming helps to round out and develop a baby’s personality. Cautious babies learn to accept risk while boisterous babies learn to be more prudent. As babies, discover that they can propel themselves in the water, their independence and self-confidence increases. Water offers them an early opportunity to respond to the unexpected. Toddlers soon delight in their own achievements and quickly develop social and expressive skills as they play in the water.