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Baby swimming in London - a parent review

By Georgina

Baby Swimming in London

Like a lot of new parents we decided that it would be very beneficial to take our son Oscar swimming as soon as we could get ourselves up and organised enough to venture outside. Given that all babies spend the first 9 months of their existence in water, they naturally possess innate swimming reflexes that help to strengthen their muscles, improve their coordination and balance and even regulate their digestive system (not to mention that it completely tires them out and you can get a much needed nap yourself!). That said, you have to be very careful as very young babies have specific safety needs. Among other things, the water will need to be very clean until they have some form of immune system and also warm, usually at least 30 degrees until they are around 3 months old. It’s also nerve-wracking to take your new baby into the pool alone and dunk them under so this is where the various Baby Swimming Schools come into play - and having tried and tested a frankly ridiculous number of them here are some tips on what to look for and how they work.

The Baby Spa – High Street Kensington
Newborn – 6 months

This place is amazing although be warned it is on the pricey side (c. £60 a session for one-off bookings with discounts available for courses). We took our son here when he was just a week old and couldn’t have been happier with the experience. What sets these guys apart is the patented ‘Bubby’ floatation device that is put around the baby’s neck (by trained paediatric specialists) and allows them to independently float in the water from as young as 2 days old. Although this sounds incredibly strange to the casual reader, I promise that any worries you may have about such an odd-sounding contraption will disappear as soon as you see them in action.

Upon arrival we were greeted by a sweet receptionist who opened the door for us, showed us where to park the buggy and took us to the feeding room which is perfectly set up for you to either breast or bottle feed your little one before their ‘spa’ experience. Someone then led us through to the spa room where we changed Oscar and got him weighed. Then depending on your baby’s age they will either get in the private mini tubs or put into the bigger pool. Our son was so young that he was put into one of the little tubs where the temperature varies depending on their exact age and the second that he was lowered into the water it was as if he was back in utero! He curled right up, looked as if he was in a deep trance (in a good way!) and made small jerking movements that I recognised from when he was in my tummy only one week before. It was fairly surreal! After 15 minutes he was visibly tired so he was taken out, wrapped up and given a gentle massage by the owner, Laura Sevenus (this wasn’t special treatment or anything, she is there most days). I don’t think that I’d ever seen him as hungry, despite the fact I’d fed him immediately beforehand, so we dressed him and took him back to the feeding room where he fed himself to sleep and then napped for 3 hours solidly. This was maybe the best part!

We decided that this was definitely an experience that we wanted to repeat so we bought a course of 10 to use approximately once a week and it came to be part of my week that I really looked forward to as weirdly it was almost as relaxing for me as it was for my son. On Tuesday’s they also had a lady that provided Indian Head Massages to the mummies in the feeding room whilst baby napped in the cots provided afterwards – so I obviously made this Oscar’s spa day!

Find out more here

Laura Sevenus Swimming Tuition – Chiswick
Approximately 3 months – 7 years, depending on ability

This is currently the follow-on swimming school from the same lady that runs the Baby Spa. Like the Baby Spa it is perfectly equipped with everything that you may need to help take a little one swimming including; lots of changing mats, a play pen, a softly lit and comfortable feeding area, a cot, some baby cushions, separate mummies’ and daddies’ changing areas, boxes for your things and a big area downstairs to leave your buggy. There is also a small shop behind reception that sells things like towels, swimming nappies, Ella’s Kitchen pouches etc, in case your tired, overrun, new-parent brain fails to remember everything you need!

There is a huge waiting list for this swimming school (only in London!) so it’s best to put your baby’s name down as soon as possible but a little known fact is that they have a priority queue for those that have regularly attended the Baby Spa and we managed to get Oscar onto a weekend course here when he was 3 months. It is structured so that for most of the baby sessions you buy an 8 week course (at about £200, £25 a lesson) then once they are ready to move to a regular slot during the week you pay a monthly membership (£77 per month for 1 lesson per week). They are also fairly strict about not having parents who aren’t swimming around the pool unless it is a ‘Watching Week’ which they have about once a month. I can see how this makes sense when it comes to toddlers who do behave differently when their parents are there but with the babies it seems a tad harsh. They do have cameras that cover the whole pool though and parents can watch the session from the waiting area downstairs but this was something that my husband was a little disappointed about.

We’ve been going for about 6 months now and the lessons are very similar every week. There is a set structure that starts with a song and some splashing in the beginning, then progresses to an underwater swim, a couple of rounds of ‘Humpty Dumpty’ where you sit baby on the edge and splash them into the water before kicking the width of the pool, holding onto the railing and going back again. They then put some armbands or a ring around baby so they can work up their strength and take them off to finish with a couple more underwater swims, a sit-and-play on floating mats and then finally another round of the song that they started with.

Oscar has visibly improved in terms of his strength and his reaction to the underwater swims (he now anticipates them and gets himself ready meaning that there are fewer instances of him coming up spluttering) and I do believe that the repetition is soothing for him. That said I personally find these lessons less enjoyable now than I did at the beginning because we do the same thing week after week.

Find out more here

Water Babies – Charing Cross Hospital Hydrotherapy Pool and Other Venues Across the Country
Newborn – Toddler, not sure of the exact ages

Unlike the Laura Sevenus Swimming School the facilities here leave much to be desired. There are no special baby change areas (you are encouraged to bring your own changing mat although it’s too bulky for me to transport there so I make do), you can’t leave nappies anywhere and there is nowhere to really feed your baby – my friend and I frequent the local greasy spoon afterwards to feed ourselves and babies which you could see as a perk I suppose! There are however elements of this swimming school that I personally prefer to the Sevenus School and despite the facilities I have chosen to continue with Water Babies into winter.

You pay for courses with Water Babies and we paid £205 for 10 weeks at this venue making it approximately £20 a session. They also include a ‘free’ underwater shoot with all first bookings where you can capture your baby in a Nirvana Baby-type full submersion with specialist photographers but you need to bear in mind that the prints of these pictures aren’t free. They start from £69.99 and digital images are £199 for 1 (or 3 for £229). Ours was cancelled by them due to problems with the pool and to be honest we didn’t bother to rebook it so I can’t give you personal feedback on these. I have heard very mixed reviews with some people saying they kept baby under for too long and that it was very impersonal and others saying it was brilliant and that they loved the results. Another thing to flag up with Water Babies is that they have an ‘automatic rebooking system’ whereby they give you (a lot of) reminders just before the end of the term that there is a rebooking deadline and unless you give notice to change or cancel by then you will be automatically charged again (and there is virtually no chance of a full refund if it turns out that you can’t make it). The reasons they give for this are admin, stating that most people want to continue and that spaces are limited so in theory it’s easier for everyone. It does grate a little bit as I like slightly more flexibility but maybe it’s just down to personal preference.

Water Babies have varied levels so depending on your baby’s experience (yes, they literally asked me about my 3 month old’s level of experience to which I awkwardly laughed and said he was a beginner despite the Baby Spa ‘training’) they start you off in either Beginner, Intermediate 1, etc. They also have a set weekly lesson plan that changes and ‘develops’ each week, to include things like more underwater swims, underwater swims with release, using woggles, tiny ‘surfboards’ (that are just small mats) and so on. They say this is to ensure that your baby is progressing but at his age it feels like it could just be the repetition, as used in the Laura Sevenus method, and increased age and strength that means he is getting better. This is the part of the class that I appreciate though as for the 6 months that we’ve been going to Water Babies it’s changed a lot and I personally find this more interesting (with Oscar not seeming too fussed either way). Another positive about Water Babies is that they let you bring one or two people in to watch whenever you like, which although we haven’t taken advantage of this (as we swim during the week) is definitely a perk.

Find out more here

Other Providers

Although those listed above are the only ones that I have tried there are several others that I considered and either initially didn’t take up due to availability or timing. These include; Swimming Nature, Aqua Tots, Aqua Babies, Puddle Ducks, Little Dippers, London Baby Swim and no doubt many others.

What’s best for you?

- When finding a swimming school be sure to get the timing right. There is no point trying to take your baby swimming in the middle of nap time as they won’t enjoy it and you will have a grouchy baby for the rest of the day

- Think about what is important to you. If you have a fussy baby I highly recommend going to classes that have the best facilities as the drying and changing process is tricky enough without you also having to bend down on the floor or try to keep your tired, wet and hungry little one still while changing them on a table. Likewise if you get bored easily and want some variety then opt for classes that ‘progress’ each week

- Take along a couple of bath toys to keep your baby occupied during the changing afterwards

- Cost, they do vary in price from about £15 up to about £30 a lesson so pick something that is comfortable for you. Likewise think about the options such as monthly versus termly (also be alert about things such as automatic rebooking and waiting lists)

- Make sure you have a plan about where you are going to feed them afterwards as swimming makes them ravenously hungry and you don’t have long before your baby will be demanding food

- Make sure you ask any questions that you have and that you feel totally comfortable before getting in the water with your baby. It can be nerve-wracking at first and you want to feel happy and relaxed to ensure that you little one doesn’t pick up any stress

- Find out whether they allow the other parent to watch. If you are planning on going together, it can be disappointing to both turn up and one have to wait downstairs

- Finally have fun with it! This can be a wonderful bonding experience with your baby and can create some lovely memories (and photo opportunities) for you!

by Georgina from www.babystepsaroundtheworld.com

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