On listening to your gut (or why we quit baby swimming classes)

Last week baby boy started infant swimming classes. I was so excited. I’d literally planned going to these lessons since before he was born. I hassled the instructor to offer lessons in our area. I simply love the idea that tiny babies can learn to swim.

Lessons started on Wednesday. The location was beautiful and the instructor was lovely but by Friday evening I’d decided never to take baby boy back.

Warning bells had sounded in my head when we got the class materials. Until then it had completely slipped by me that baby boy would be in the water alone with the instructor. We’ve been to swimming pools before and although baby boy loves the water he does not like being held by strangers. On firm ground he’s happy to go up to people he’s never seen before but in the water it has to be my husband or me.

But I was on a roll. My boy was going to learn to SWIM! It would be AWESOME! MAGICAL! He would totally take to the completely unknown swim instructor and laugh through the whole lesson…

Of course not. Baby boy was desolate in the water. He cried the entire first lesson, reaching out towards me and my husband on the edge of the pool. For the first time in his life, I steeled myself against his cries.I smiled and shouted encouragement. I told myself and my husband that it would get better, that baby boy was okay, that he could see I was there. The next two days he cried less but he seemed shell-shocked by the time he came out of the water. He’d sit on my lap, arms and legs wrapped around me and just look, too confused even to nurse.

Friday evening I finally had a moment to think. I googled other people’s experience with infant swimming. I looked at YouTube videos. I saw that crying was considered normal in infant swimming classes. That it was considered a form of “communication” but that it didn’t harm the child.

And suddenly it hit me. Letting my son cry throughout his swimming lessons was going against everything I believed in as a parent. He was very clearly telling me that he was not okay. He wasn’t making a fuss, or having a tantrum. He was scared and I was basically just telling him to tough it out.

Although we cancelled swim lessons then and there, I felt terrible. My husband had been wary from the start but I’d let my enthusiasm sweep me away. How did I let this happen? How did I stop listening to my baby boy?

The answer is that, just for a moment, I decided to believe the swim instructor instead of my own gut. I bowed down to her authority, her supposed experience with hundreds of children, her training. For a second, I let myself believe that a stranger knew more about handling my son than myself.

Fortunately my gut is stubborn and wouldn’t let up. After three days I finally came to my senses.

We’re still dealing with the after effects of those lessons. Baby boy is nervous, my confidence has been shaken. It’s back to the drawing board with lots of cuddling, lots of carrying and lots of milk. I’m trying to find the silver lining to this experience but, honestly, I’d give anything to go back to that first moment in the pool when he started crying and whip him out of the instructor’s arms.

In the meantime, this is going up on the fridge door:

Always listen to your gut. If it’s whispering, turn up the volume.

Don’t trust the experts. They know the facts – they don’t know your baby.

It’s never to late to admit you made a mistake.


Do you find it easy to listen to your gut? How do you tune into your inner voice as a parent? I love this article on the subject of gut vs experts from StolenSleep.com.

This time last year: Move your DNA with a baby


  1. I think that the idea that they would EXPECT children to cry was so far from my mind that I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. I do think you can teach babies to swim (ie. float and kick) but not without someone they feel comfortable with

  2. For me as a parent this type of baby swimming sounds completely counter-intuitive. Why oh why would you put your child in an unknown environment with a person they don’t know? Is this really the way all courses work where you live? Here in Germany baby swimming classes are with parents only and look something like this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxSKb85EBb8
    In the beginning they’re most focused on getting used to the water and moving around in water, though, it’s not really swimming yet. Swimming proper is usually taught later when they’re around 4 years old can be done also with the kindergarten. By then the child is older and more independent.

  3. I can completly relate! The crazy thing is we do these things with really good intentions and it takes a while for our instinct to kick in and say “Hey, this isn’t working”. Did you work out the food intolerance in the end? I’m intersted because I’ve just gone dairy-free and see absolutely 0 difference in baby boy…

  4. Phew…so it’s not just my baby! I’m fine with him wanting to be with me, but am certain other people are giving me judgy looks behind my back (that’s what you get for breastfeeding for so long, etc.)

  5. I’ve never heard of a baby swim class where they are by themselves! My babies can tolerate being held by strangers, but not if they’re WATCHING ME sit 10 feet away not holding them!


  6. It’s not the same thing but this made me think of the time i took my baby to have cranial osteopathy at the age of about 3-4 months. He had horrible colic and spent most of his waking hours screaming and for some reason no one ever really talked to me about the possibility of food intolerances through breast feeding etc. but I was highly recommended this cranial manipulation. I kind of knew that he wasn’t really going to benefit because it is often aimed at babies who had a particularly traumatic birth and maybe had their heads squished by forceps or ventouse or something but he hadn’t. Anyway I took him twice and it lasted 30 minutes each time and each time he screamed and writhed throughout which really distressed me and I had to go out to the car and sit in the back breastfeeding him afterwards to calm him down. Then I listened to my gut and never took him back – like you say, sense kicks in eventually! thanks for linking up to #thetruthabout Julie X

  7. Go with your gut! We’ve been to parent and child swim classes before where the instructor only teaches the child if she is happy in their arms. Through this ordeal I also found this blogger teaching her baby to swim with lots of giggles http://domanmom.com/2012/06/how-to-teach-your-baby-to-swim-6-12-months/

  8. I’m so happy to read someone else having even the slightest bit of worry, let alone choosing not to do the lessons themselves. We’ve been pushed by several well-meaning friends to put our baby girl in swim lessons – she’s just now 14 months old. I’m just not good with it yet – she’s so young!

    My husband’s parents have a pool, and she’s happy as a clam in there in the bright sunshine with her floaties and family members always right there with her – either holding her or pushing her around the pool in her big floatie. She kicks her legs instinctively, and we work with her on learning how to turn those leg-kicks into something that really gets her somewhere. But I just don’t feel good about handing my baby over to a stranger in such a huge body of water… not when we are told over and over that we cannot turn away from them even in just a few inches of bathwater.

    I think as mothers our gut feelings and instincts are continually undermined, but they are there for a reason – it’s always so important to listen to what our bodies are trying to tell us.

  9. Well done for listening to your heart in the end. My 5 year old still can’t swim and I swear swimming lessons has slowed the whole process down for us, not speeded it up. He was terrified of being in the water without me and it set him off on hating swimming for ages. So you’ve done the right thing. You don’t sound like you leave him to cry on land, so why do it on water, ahey ? Great post. #thetruthabout

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