As it’s NZ Immunisaton Week from the 3rd to the 9th of May 2020 so we thought it would be timely to write about whether babies need to have their 6 weeks, 3 or 5 months vaccines before they can start swimming?
No, babies do not need to wait to have any vaccines at all to start swimming. Melissa Simpson-Mulholland – a registered nurse and HCH programme lead confirms current medical opinion is that ‘”you should still have your child vaccinated, however you don’t have to wait for these before starting baby swimming lessons”.
Not only is it safe but the benefits of baby swimming are numerous – not only for a baby but also for parents too and it’s safe to start for your baby to start swimming lessons from birth.
Why take a Baby swimming?
Swimming is a natural activity for babies. They have been in the womb surrounded by liquid for the last nine months so often they find it comforting being in the water especially if they’re being held by one of their parents. Babies have a reflex called the bradycardic response which “makes babies hold their breath and open their eyes when submerged in water” says Jeffrey Wagener, a paediatric pulmonologist in Colorado. It’s not however true that babies are born with the ability to swim – though they have reflexes that make it look like they are.
When is it safe to take my baby swimming?
Babies do not need to have any vaccines at all to start swimming. The idea that they can’t start swimming until they have had their 5 month vaccinations is the biggest misconception of all when it comes to baby swimming and is based on outdated medical advice.
Historically, babies were encouraged to stay at home away from others until they had received their polio vaccines, as the vaccine used to include a live poliovirus. Although effective at protecting against Polio, this meant you could potentially have a baby who was unvaccinated come in contact with another baby who had recently been given the live poliovirus vaccine and this could result in the baby with the live poliovirus in their system passing Polio onto the unvaccinated baby.
The live poliovirus vaccine is no longer used in New Zealand (like most other developed countries New Zealand now uses the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV)). Polio has disappeared from New Zealand and most parts of the world because of immunisation. The Western Pacific region was declared polio free in 2000.
In addition, ALL other diseases that babies are vaccinated against are not transmitted via water. Other germs and viruses will be killed on contact with a properly operated, maintained and disinfected swimming pool – not even Covid-19 can survive in this environment.
Other things to consider before you take your baby swimming
This only instance where we would not automatically encourage a baby to start swimming from birth would be if the infant had a medical condition that prevented them from swimming or if they were born prematurely. Premature babies may not yet have a fully developed immune system and may also feel the cold more than other babies, so we would request parents check with their GP first to see if their baby would benefit from baby swimming or need to wait until they were a little older. We can also suggest adaptations to the swimwear needed and the activities which would be beneficial to offer a nurturing environment for any babies with special needs to participate as soon as it was deemed medically safe for them to do so.
The other consideration to think about when taking your baby swimming is to make sure that the swimming pool is at least 32ºC for new-born babies (up to 3 months or 5.2kgs), because they can’t regulate their body temperature until they are a bit older.
Also, just like adults, some babies may feel the cold more than others, so may need the added warmth of a baby wetsuit which will add up to 2ºC to their body core while they are in the swimming pool. Many baby wetsuits also act as a UV suit, so are ideal for little ones in the paddling pool or at the beach too – protecting them from the harsh Kiwi sun!