Finding a pool where your baby can experience the joys of swimming for the first time will take a little research, Viv Micklefield puts the best swimming pools to the test.
Are you looking for high entertainment value where your little one will be surrounded by bright, stimulating, attractions? Or, do you prefer the idea of a more tranquil environment, where the two of you can quietly explore the water together?
If you have a toddler or pre-school age sibling in tow, a crèche might be useful to keep them amused while you supervise their younger brother or sister. And what about swimming lessons? From as young as 3 months old, provided your baby has completed their first series of inoculations, many teachers say that it’s not too soon to consider starting. At this age a baby has no fear as the diving reflex is still active, enabling them to stay underwater for extended periods of time. The focus is also likely to be on teaching the parent about being confident in helping their little one to enjoy the water.
Pools that offer babies and young children a separate swimming area or shallow paddling pool are worth investigating, as are separate swim sessions for young families. It’s likely to be easier to build up water confidence without older children splashing, and jumping in and out.
Chlorine and ozone are most commonly used as water cleansers in pools. A baby’s delicate skin may react differently to an adult’s, so take advice from a healthcare professional if you have concerns. You might also consider checking out water temperatures. Babies lose heat more quickly than adults so the pool temperature should not be too cold – the Amateur Swimming Association recommends 32˚C for babies, and avoid remaining in the water for too long.
Buoyancy aids provide water confidence and also offer an extra layer of warmth. Any flotation aid used should carry the number BS EN 13138:2003, but as RoSPA cautions, “You should not rely on flotation devices as a substitute for supervision. Children can remove jackets and armbands and slip into the water very quickly.” Pools are likely to insist on a swim nappy being worn and at bigger public pools, will often have these available to purchase.
In fact, most pools have a range of facilities under one roof that makes a swim a rewarding experience all round. So dip a toe in the water and enjoy yourselves at some of the region’s best.
Best swimming pools for water confidence
Dolphin Swim Centre, Mitcham
A specialist swimming centre dedicated to teaching. Lessons are offered Monday to Saturday for babies from 3 months. Parent and baby classes aim to provide fun and enjoyment of the water through games and play combined with simple instructions, enabling your baby to gain water confidence. The impressive claim is that infants will learn to jump in, get to safety and climb out again before the age of two. Lesson fees apply.
020 8640 4488
London Baby Swim, Osterley
With the water temperature at a constant 33˚C, this specialist pool is open seven days a week exclusively for baby swimming lessons from 6 weeks (or 10lbs), toddler swimming lessons and water confidence. Babies are introduced gently to swimming in a playful, fun and safe environment with a progression that will develop natural swimming skills. The maximum number of children per class is eight. The pool has low chlorine levels with a UV sanitation system. Changing facilities are designed specifically for babies. Lesson fees apply.
020 8400 9091
Best swimming pools for gentle splashing
Hogarth Health Club, Chiswick
This oasis features a decent size 18m leisure pool where you can sign up for the swim school and private swimming lessons. The chlorine-free water will appeal to some. There’s a crèche for babies from 3 months up to 8 years and plenty of pampering treatments available in the adjoining spa, including mother-to-be packages. Private membership fees apply.
020 3468 4654
Nuffield Fitness & Wellbeing, Wandsworth
One of the national chain of Nuffield fitness centres. Family sessions and swimming lessons are available for 3 to 5 years. On-site Nuffield Health nursery includes baby massage and yoga, with free junior membership to the health club. A free one-day pass is available encouraging you to try before you buy. Private membership fees apply.
0845 564 3229
A small pool at this north London health club provides a sanctuary to introduce newcomers to the water. The crèche is available for babies from 6 weeks up to 5 years. Postnatal exercise classes run also. Private membership fees apply.
020 7483 6800
Best swimming pools for the whole family
Brentford Fountain Leisure Centre
A large family-friendly multi-purpose leisure centre recently refurbished. Adult and baby, and adult and toddler swimming lessons are offered within the ASA Learn to Swim scheme. The main pool has a flume and wave machine. There’s a soft play area with mini tots play pit for under 2s, and a crèche from 6 weeks to 5 years. Under 3s go free. Family group concessions.
0845 456 6675
Richmond Pools on the Park
This leisure complex with three pools offers a range of Swim with Confidence classes in the teaching pool beginning with Starfish for 6-12 months. Little Shrimps for 12-24 months builds on water confidence introducing songs and games. With Richmond Deer Park right on the doorstep this pool is in a great location. Under 5s go free. Pay-as-you-go and private membership options.
020 8940 0561
Best swimming pools for additional facilities
One of the national chain of Virgin Active health clubs, offering great value pay and play facilities plus additional private membership options available. Two public pools include a separate children’s pool with lessons, parties and mini aqua aerobics. FUNdamentals physical fitness activities for 18 months to 6 years. Club V for 2 to 4 years provides additional entertainment for pre-school age with a crèche and café. Under 5s go free, juniors from 90p and adults from £2.20 with a Fulham Pools card.
0845 270 9124
David Lloyd, Finchley
This club features a splash pool plus indoor and outdoor pool for older children. The Swim Allstars programme begins with 12 week foundation courses for parent and baby, and for parent and toddler, with progression within the ASA Learn to Swim scheme. Club Play for 3 to 4 years with an annual programme of family events. Includes a children’s area, crèche and nursery on site. Post natal exercise classes for new mums. Private membership fees apply.
0845 129 6791
Best swimming pools for private lessons
Purple Dragon, Chelsea
This private members club re-invents the whole notion of encouraging children to learn, whilst being entertained. Babies may be too young to take full advantage of what’s on offer but tots and older siblings will be entranced. Beach hut style changing rooms sit alongside the bright swimming pool and wet play area. There are daily swimming lessons during term time, with intensive holiday courses and private lessons available. Private membership fees apply.
0844 880 3580
Best underwater photography
Urchin Rock are the UK’s leading professional underwater photographers. The team have a real creative flair highlighted in their beautiful images. Your images can be viewed online, where you can order prints, canvas artwork and more. A special moment for you and your baby to enjoy the water. To book in at one of their shoots please call 020 8977 7603 or go to URCHINROCK.COM.
PHOTOGRAPHY: Graham Parker @ Rusalka Swim School rusalkaswim.com