How to survive going swimming with a small person (or two...)

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If the thought of taking your baby swimming for the first time fills you with fear, Rachel Tompkins is on hand with some swim survival tips…

When it’s too cold for the park and you can’t face another soft play session, swimming might seem like the perfect indoor activity, the chance to submerge you and your baby in tranquil turquoise waters. Except most of us aren’t frequenting a tropical paradise, we’re rocking up at our local leisure centre with a screaming child in tow. Or, in my case, two. Here are a few tips I've picked up along the way... 

Take their car seat or buggy into the changing rooms

A lesson I learnt after a post-swim changing-room experience which involved fishing my just-dried and clothed crawler out of a pube-infested shower tray. Taking a car seat or buggy in with you ensures you’ve got somewhere clean, safe and dry to put them in while you’re getting changed. It also gives you somewhere less slippery than changing-room benches to get them dressed on.

Think ahead

I don’t mean making sure you're up to date with your waxing (the reality is a wayward hair will be the least of your worries). Put your swimming costume on under your clothes before you go, and put your baby in their swim nappy and trunks/wetsuit. That way all you need to do is remove top layers of clothes when you arrive. Just don't make the mistake I made this weekend and forget to take a clean nappy for afterwards...

After your swim, get yourself dressed first

It might sound selfish but it's not. Because the reality is that if you try to dress your baby first you’re guaranteed to drip all over them and their dry clothes.

So instead, wrap them up snugly in a towel and secure them in a car seat/change table/buggy, get yourself dried and dressed, then sort them out. Toddlers will usually be happy to sit still while wrapped in a towel (famous last words) for five minutes if they’ve got a snack to keep them busy too.

The need for speed

You won’t want to be hanging around in the leisure-centre changing rooms for any longer than necessary, so quick clothes are key.

Forget coveted baby leggings or fiddly popper-up babygros. Pack a onesie that zips up quickly, preferably a fleecy one so you don’t need too many layers.  Ditch the skinny jeans for yourself too, unless you want to spend ten minutes forcing your damp, corn-beef mottled thighs into them. The key for both of you is loose-fitting and warm.

A friend of mine takes PJ’s for hers to pull-on after their after-school swim and I insist my toddler wears his wellies so he can slip them on himself.

Keeping warm

Although most baby pools ensure the temperature is around 30 degrees, if you’re still worried about your little one getting cold, pick up a baby wetsuit or wetsuit vest.

JoJo Maman Bebe stock baby wetsuits for £19 which start at 0-6 months and go up to 18 months, or child wetsuits from £25 for ages 1 to 6. In my experience the children are usually warm and happy for about half an hour... me, not so much - think I need to invest in a cute wetsuit of my own...

Get the gear

First time I tried to take the baby and toddler on my own I failed miserably. Think sinking toddler, slippery-fish baby, and very fraught mum. But now, I’ve invested in all the gear (well, enough to survive a swim session anyway).

An inflatable baby seat is perfect for allowing you to keep your hands free to help the second child, this one from John Lewis is available in 3-12 months, or 12-24 months and costs £12.10. 

And swimming woggles can be bought online for as little as £2.50 and are perfect for your toddler to cling on to if necessary and seem to be favoured by swim instructors over armbands.

I’ve been told that if tied in a knot properly they also double up as a floating wine-glass holder – perhaps that’s where the secret to swim-success really lies...

@mushmums @RachTompkins