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Babies and swimming

6-minute read

Key facts

  • To keep young children safe, learn first aid and never leave them unattended near water.
  • It’s generally best to wait until your baby is around 6 months old before starting swimming lessons.
  • New mothers should not go swimming until at least 6 weeks after the birth, or when you have stopped bleeding.
  • When swimming, your baby will need a swim nappy to make sure their poo does not enter the water.

Taking your baby swimming can be lots of fun and will help get them used to water. Even young babies can go in the pool, but make sure you follow these tips when you take them swimming.

When can I take my baby swimming?

Newborn babies can’t swim — they have to learn, just like they learn to walk. Most babies like being in water and their reflexes mean they will be able to do primitive swimming strokes.

It’s best to first get your baby used to the water at home in the bath. Just let them enjoy floating (while you hold them) and feeling the water on their skin. You don’t have to put them under the water.

You can take them into a heated pool. If they start to shiver, take them out and wrap them in a towel. Babies can’t regulate their temperature like adults, so it’s very important to make sure they don’t get cold.

When can I go swimming?

New mothers shouldn’t go swimming until at least 6 weeks after the birth, or when you have stopped bleeding. This is to avoid getting an infection.

Swimming in rivers, lakes and the ocean

It’s OK to take your baby into a river, lake, or the ocean. Like the swimming pool, it’s very important to make sure they don’t get cold.

Choose a spot where the water is warm and clean. Babies can get sick from bacteria or viruses in water that hasn't been treated. Watch out for currents that stop you from holding them properly. And don’t let your baby drink the water.

How do I keep my baby safe in swimming pools?

Water safety

Babies can drown in just 5cm of water. To keep your baby safe, never leave them unattended near water — this includes the bath.

If you have a pool or spa, it’s important to make sure it is fenced according to the Australian Standard.

Sun safety

If you are swimming outside, make sure your baby is protected from the sun.

  • Dress them in swim clothing that blocks out ultraviolet (UV) light.
  • Use recommended sunscreen for babies that is water resistant and SPF30+.
  • Use a broad-brimmed hat.
  • Go swimming in the early morning or late afternoon, when the UV radiation level is lower than in the middle of the day.

Pool toys — floaties and pool noodles

It’s also important to be careful when using flotation devices like floaties. They can give you a false sense of your child’s ability in water.

When buying floaties, you should check the recommended age and weight range is correct for your baby.

Never leave pool toys in your swimming pool when they’re not in use. Pool toys never replace the need for adult supervision of children.

First aid

It’s a good idea to learn resuscitation for babies before you take them swimming. You can learn this by doing a first aid course.

It’s a good idea to update your first aid skills every 3 years and your resuscitation skills every year.

When should my baby start swimming lessons?

Many swim schools offer lessons to babies from 6 months of age. These lessons offer a chance for you to bond with your baby. They also get your baby used to being in the pool.

There’s not a lot of research to tell us when your baby should start swim lessons. But studies suggest that children only start to become confident in the water and master basic water skills at about 4 years of age.

What happens in a baby swim lesson?

Baby swimming lessons generally start at around 6 months.

Usually, lessons involve a small group of parents and babies who learn through fun activities and play. Parents and carers always need to be with babies in the water.

Baby swim classes are designed to teach your baby:

  • to get used to and have fun in the water
  • basic water safety skills, such as floating and holding on to the pool edge

What should I take to the swimming pool?

It’s a good idea to take a bag with everything you need for the swimming pool.

You will need:

  • towels
  • a swimsuit — for you and your baby
  • a swim nappy
  • your nappy bag
  • change mat
  • clothes to change into afterwards
  • snack or bottle for afterwards
Swimming bag checklist

Swim nappies

Public swimming pools often require babies to wear a swim nappy. A swim nappy is needed to make sure your baby’s faeces (poo) does not end up in the water. If faeces gets into the swimming pool, it will need to be closed immediately for cleaning.

Swim nappies have snug-fitting legs and waistbands to hold your baby’s faeces. Swim nappies are not designed to hold urine (wee).

There are 2 main types of swim nappies:

  1. disposable swim nappies — like a normal disposable nappy but they won’t swell up in the water
  2. reusable swim nappies — made from stretchy bathing suit material, which allows water to run out, but holds any faeces

Resources and support

Kidsafe Australia have resources on keeping your young child safe around backyard swimming pools.

Royal Life Saving Australia also have information on keeping your home pool safe.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: May 2023


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Need more information?

Water safety | Emergency services and safety | Queensland Government

Information to help you stay safe in and around the water.

Read more on Queensland Health website

Drowning and water safety | NT.GOV.AU

Read about how to stop children from drowning at your home.

Read more on NT Health website

Drowning prevention and water safety | Kids Health

If children aren't supervised closely in or around water, they can drown quickly in just a few centimetres of water.Drowning is very quick and silent. Most parents and carers think they will hear if a child is drowning, but this isn’t true. A young child's head is heavy compared to the rest of their body, so they can’t lift themselves once they're under water. 

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Water safety for children - Better Health Channel

Toddlers are most at risk of drowning because they are mobile and curious but don't understand the danger of water.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

It only takes seconds for a child to drown | Children's Health Queensland

Constant adult supervision is the only way to keep children safe around water and reduce the number of childhood drownings this summer.

Read more on Queensland Health website

Water safety for babies and children

Babies can drown in as little as 5cm (two inches) of water. Drowning is silent so you won’t necessarily hear any noise or struggle.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Water safety - MyDr.com.au

In Australian waterways in the 12 months to 30 June 2017, 291 lives were lost to drowning. Here are some water safety tips for use at swimming pools, inland waterways and the beach.

Read more on myDr website

Water safety for kids | Raising Children Network

Close adult supervision at all times is the key to drowning prevention and water safety for kids around dams, ponds, swimming pools, beaches and lakes.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Water expanding toys & products | Product Safety Australia

Water expanding products can pose a choking hazard, always keep them out of reach of young children.

Read more on Product Safety Australia website

Swimming & flotation aids | Product Safety Australia

Swimming and flotation aids are not safety devices and they are not designed to prevent drowning. Children must be supervised at all times when around water. Children may drown when flotation aids are used incorrectly, do not fit properly, or are faulty or not maintained. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions for safe use.

Read more on Product Safety Australia website

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