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Raising a swimmer

Babies are naturally inclined to love water but you need to learn how to best protect him. So, how do you know if your baby is ready to hit the pool or beach this summer? Laura Kalehoff, Executive Editor for American Baby Magazine, gives tips on safely raising a swimmer.

Children 12-36 months have the highest risk of drowning, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Be sure to stay near your baby. Always be close enough to lay a hand on your child, keeping her within arms reach near water.

Beware of inflatable pools. It's easy for a baby to lean over and tumble headfirst into small pools. Always empty these pools after use and fence off larger pools. Parents should have basic CPR and water-safety training. Skip the floaties. The AAP advise against air filled swim aids. They give a false sense of security and can easily be punctured or deflate.

Sign your baby up for swimming lessons after her first birthday. Most swim schools teach babies 6 months and older, but the AAP doesn't recommend formal programs until 12 months. There's no proof that they're beneficial and the health risks of swallowing water are greater before 1 year. Instruction for children older than a year is not only safe, but may help prevent drowning.

In the first swim classes your child will learn to get comfortable being in the water. She'll pick up basic skills such as how to kick, blow bubbles, pulls with her arms and get her face wet. Eventually she'll dunk and when she's around 3 or 4 , really start swimming.

Seek out small-group lessons with up to ten caregiver-baby pairs. Look for a fun atmosphere with a relaxed, flexible pace. Instructors should be nationally certified by an organization like the American Red Cross.

There are some major "don'ts" when it comes to making your baby comfortable in water. Don't flinch, body language says it all. If you're relaxed, smiling and making eye contact, your baby will learn that the water is a safe, fun place to be. Don't be pushy. If he looks scared, ease off. Take him out of the water, tell him it's OK and try again later. Don't jump right into the water. Introduce him to water slowly. Hold him securely and use a cup to wet his skin so he adjusts to the temperature. Ease him in gradually by dipping his feet and the rest of his body, but go no further than chin deep.

For more information preparing your baby to swim and other parenting tips, click here.

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