Pregnancy diary: week 23 – swimming

I’ve been meaning to write a post on swimming in pregnancy for ages: in fact since before I was pregnant with this baby, because I was so impressed with how it helped me in pregnancy with Andrew that I wanted to share it with others who are (or will be) pregnant. This week isn’t particularly special in terms of how much I’ve swum, it’s more that I’m writing it now because nothing else has sprung to mind, and swimming is such a normal part of my weekly routine that I often forget about it. So here’s what I have to say about swimming in pregnancy.

Between about weeks 6 and 18, I can’t deny that I did less swimming than usual, because the sickness took over my life and forced me to take things a lot more easy than normal in terms of exercise. Before I had Andrew, I used to swim 3 times a week for about half an hour (60 lengths or 1 roughly mile). Obviously I had a gap of about 2.5 months after he was born when I didn’t swim, but since then I’d been managing to fit in about 2 half hour swims a week (not including the once a week I go with Andrew), which was as much as I could fit in around the times our local pool is available for public swimming and Tom is around to look after Andrew. This dropped to once a week when I started being sick with pregnancy; instead of half an hour of 60 lengths front crawl, I managed to do about half this and just breaststroke. I used to go in evenings, but as this was the worst time of day for the sickness, the only time I could make was a Saturday in the late morning. I didn’t enjoy it as much when feeling sick, but it was the form of exercise that made me feel the least sick – walking and cycling were worse, though I still had to do one of them most days. And it did make me feel refreshed for a short time afterwards, I guess because I always feel refreshed when I’ve been for a swim.

I thought it would be a good idea, given the theme of this week's post, to take a photo in my swimming costume. Incidentally, this has been a very good costume, it's still going strong half way though my 2nd pregnancy. It was from Mothercare maternity range, though I'm not sure they still do it. I wish I had a photo of me in the pool, but as I go on my own, there's nobody to take it!

Since about 18 weeks, although I’ve still not been feeling great with the lingering nausea, I have managed to get in one more swim in the early evening most weeks, even if only for 20 minutes. At about 20 weeks I did find that my energy level started to slowly increase, and I’ve been able to generally do more stuff (though I’m trying to remember not to go all out with my newly re-found energy and wear myself out again – easier said than done when life is so busy!) I’ve always found that swimming is a great way to feel energised. Whenever I’m feeling a bit lethargic or tired, although it’s an effort to get to the pool when I’m like that, I know that I feel so much better with 10 times more energy when I finish the swim, so it’s worth it in the end. This has certainly been true in pregnancy, perhaps even more so than usual. So I would definitely recommend swimming as a way of boosting your energy and feeling more positive about the tiredness at times when you inevitably feel low in pregnancy.

Swimming has always been something that gives me some ‘me-time’, time to be alone and think, to calm down after a busy day or to wake myself up slowly in the morning. When I’m under water, just hearing the sound of water swooshing around my ears, I find it helps me block out all the other noise of daily life and just concentrate on what I’d like to think through, for example my day at work or what activity I’m going to do with Andrew tomorrow. This is particularly important in pregnancy I’ve found, and even more so this time when I’m so busy with all the things that I try and fit into an average week, including running around after an active toddler. I’m very grateful to Tom for letting me have this time to myself, and I really appreciate just how important it is to me.

At the moment I still don’t feel particularly heavy, but I know it’s rapidly approaching that time, if this pregnancy is anything like the last, when the bump will suddenly grow a lot very quickly. When I was pregnant with Andrew, I found that swimming was the most comfortable form of exercise after about 30 weeks, because it isn’t weight-bearing. The time I spent in the pool was amazing, as it was the only time when I could forget just how big and heavy I felt on dry land! I still did quite a bit of walking, because that’s how I got around Cambridge without a bike, but it became quite tricky towards the end of pregnancy, when I would get a sudden pain in my hips and have to stop for a while. Swimming wasn’t at all painful though, even when doing breaststroke which uses the hips a lot.

Another good point about swimming is that you don’t get all sweaty whilst exercising. Given that I generally feel so much warmer in pregnancy already, I really don’t like getting even hotter when walking or cycling. This was less of an issue last time, because I was heavily pregnant in late autumn and winter when it was cold, but this time (if we get a proper summer!) it’ll be harder on this front. Swimming will be my way of cooling off.

In general I’d say that swimming is a great way to keep fit, both aerobically and for toning muscles. In pregnancy I found, and I’m finding again this time, that it’s a particularly good way to keep fit when your body is carrying extra weight and working extra hard. In my last pregnancy I swam right up until the day before Andrew was born (I didn’t have time on the day he was born as the midwife came in the morning and by the afternoon I was starting to get contractions and he was born at 10.22pm), and I intend to do the same this time. The midwife who was with us in labour and delivery said that she could tell I was fit for a pregnant mum, and I reckon all that swimming paid off in how quickly and smoothly labour went. I’m hoping the same will happen again, though I know complications can unexpectedly happen.

If I haven’t convinced you by now that swimming in pregnancy is a great idea, I’m not sure what else I would have to say! I know I’m biased in that I’ve always loved swimming and done a lot of it, but I think it can be something for everyone, because you take take things at the pace you want. I totally understand that some people are not too keen on wearing just a swimming costume in public, and that might get even harder in pregnancy as the body changes shape. I’ve personally found that having a bump is a great conversation starter in the pool, as others are amazed to see a pregnant swimmer pacing up and down the lanes, overtaking some of the other swimmers on her way!

Next week I get to see baby again at an extra scan that we’re having, as part of doctor training (I wrote about this back at week 14 – I can’t believe how time is flying, it seemed like ages until 24 weeks back then!) So there’ll be another picture to see/try and figure out. I’m looking forward to it 🙂

Busy bank holiday weekend

There’s nothing like a good bank holiday weekend, especially when you’re feeling exhausted like me! We’ve enjoyed a lovely three-day weekend; we’ve managed to sort out lots of stuff, spent time with family, and had a rest too. It’s amazing what an extra day to the weekend can do for productivity and rest levels.

It all started on Saturday morning, when my parents arrived with a car-load of flat-pack Ikea wardrobes. For a while now, even before we realised that there’d be another cot to fit in the kids’ room at some point, we’ve wanted to get some more storage for all the bits and bobs of baby/toddler equipment, clothes, toys etc. that have mounted up since Andrew’s arrival. Very kindly, my parents gave Tom for his birthday (back in January) a voucher saying that he could choose a storage solution of his choice for that room. With one thing and another, we’ve not got around to getting it sorted until now, and now that we know it’ll be handy to have it all sorted before number 2’s arrival, that made us more motivated to get things sorted. So Saturday’s task for the men was assembling Ikea furniture – it all went quite smoothly, with only a couple of fixable errors, and no extra pieces that you can’t figure out where they were supposed to go and wonder if it will all fall down by lunchtime. Meanwhile I rested (pregnant mum’s prerogative) and went for a leisurely swim, and Mum looked after Andrew and did some housework whilst he was asleep – though he helped with some sweeping up and ripping up cardboard packaging to put in the bin before nap-time. This did remind me of when we last moved house: I was about the same number of weeks pregnant with Andrew, also feeling sick like I do now, and Tom, my parents and my brother and his girlfriend did all the furniture sorting, unpacking and general cleaning, while I sat there and did nothing (except rest).

Our little helper - Tom is keen to foster carefully this fascination with sweeping that Andrew currently has
More sweeping

The furniture assembly extended into Sunday, but Granny and Grandad got to stay a bit longer at the end of that day and play with Andrew. We were all pretty shattered afterwards, but it’s definitely worth the effort – take a look for yourself…. here are some photos of our very tidy looking children’s room. I was going to take some ‘before’ shots to compare with these ‘after’ ones, but (a) I forgot and (b) I’m not sure I really want to expose our cluttered-ness on here. But the clutter is no more! (Well, it’s there, but hidden behind closed doors with bright and cheery pictures on.)

A wall of wardrobes, decorated with bright pictures
Hanging space for nappy stacker and some clothes, and some little drawers with dividers in - perfect for little socks and hats so they don't all get mixed up in one big draw
Lots of room in boxes that pull out - currently housing things like toys, books and blankets
Lovely big baskets that pull out and you can see into them - perfect for nappy supplies and clothes, sorted into different age ranges

Then today (Monday), Tom and I decided that we would have a more relaxed day, particularly since Andrew is pretty miserable with some mean molars cutting through his gum – naughty teeth! The weather forecast was better for this morning, so we set off once we were ready to Wandlebury Country Park. Of course we were some of the first people there, along with a few keen runners – ‘spot the families with young children’ is an easy game on bank holidays! Andrew was keen to have a wander rather than ride in the buggy, so we had a little adventure together, which involved Andrew dragging Daddy ‘off piste’ into the woods. I stayed on the beaten path for fear of losing part of the buggy over a tree root or inconspicuous branch lying in the way. But then the teeth got the better of him, and Sir Walkalot turned into Sir Grizzliness, so we headed back home, just as the car park was filling up with normal bank holiday visitors and the inevitable rain drops.

If you go down to the woods today....
Oooh you've got the silver shiny thing out again
Come on Mummy, keep up!

Now I’m sat here having another rest (can’t get enough of it these days), while Andrew naps off some of his teething woes (hopefully) and Tom finishes some bits of DIY. Oh and it’s showering outside. A pretty typical British bank holiday it’s been for us then. DIY, family time, and a walk in the country. I guess a picnic in the rain would make it complete – we chickened out of that and lunched at home. What have you been upto over the weekend? We’re very lucky in that Tom gets the day off (and I don’t work Mondays anyway), but I guess not everyone even gets a holiday for May Day, so maybe you or someone in the family has had to work? Whatever you’ve done and wherever you’ve been, I hope it’s been both productive and restful for you too! 🙂

Learning to swim, and learning how best to learn how to swim

I don’t write anything about swimming for a while, and then two posts come along at once! For a few weeks now, I’ve been reflecting on how Andrew’s and my swimming sessions are going. He loves the water, that is clear to see, and he has great fun splashing about, chasing toys and other children. I’ve been trying to do some specific exercises with him that I found on a great website called uSwim. In theory these look great, gradually building up to letting your child swim unaided in the water. But I’ve been finding with Andrew that he’s simply too distracted by being interested in everything else going on in and around the pool. He rarely looks directly at me for more than a few seconds, even when I try and keep his attention with singing or talking. This means it’s incredibly difficult to set up a situation in which I can count to three with him looking at me, and then let go. He’s pretty good at holding his breath, and doesn’t mind being let go of for a few seconds, but I don’t feel like we’re making much progress, because he would rather just go off on his own to chase the toy that he’s got his eye on, than do things on my terms when I say it’s time to go under. He tries to wriggle away from me, and he’s confident to do so, but he doesn’t have the strength or skill yet to swim completely on his own – he just flounders for a few seconds before I scoop him up out of the water again.

My glamourous assistant modelling his arm bands - I know it looks a bit odd with his nappy on and not trunks, but I don't have enough hands to take a picture at the pool whilst carrying all our kit, so home photos will have to do for now until I can enlist the help of a willing grandparent photographer!

So…. I had a scout about online, and got Mum to ask a friend who has kids and is a keen swimmer, for advice on buoyancy aids for toddlers. I had thought, and again came across this advice, that it was best to not use buoyancy aids at all. But as I’ve just explained, I don’t think in Andrew’s case that this is working. Some suggested a woggle/noodle float – a long thin tube-shaped float that you can wrap around them, or get them to hold onto. I’ve tried that as they have them in our local pool to use for free, but again Andrew is interested for a short while, before he exchanges his interest for another exciting toy/float/person across the pool. In the end, all things seemed to be pointing towards the Delphin System arm floats.

The Delphin System: 1 red, 1 yellow and 1 green disc on each arm, clipped together to make the arm bands

These are like traditional inflatable arm bands, in that they fit onto the upper arm and give buoyancy in the same place. However, they don’t need any blowing up and deflating each trip to the pool (I’m not very good at generating enough puff for those kind of things at the best of times, let alone when I’m having to keep an eye on an active toddler!), and they can’t be punctured by sharp objects. Instead they are made of a lightweight material similar to what kickboards or those big floats you see during splash sessions in pools are made of. They are shaped like thin discs, with a hole just below centre for the arm to go through, and a blue foamy bit in the hole which adjusts to the size of arm – they are apparently suitable for ages 1-12 years. The discs clip together so that you can have more than one on each arm; the idea is you start with 3 discs on each arm, and gradually take them away one at a time over the course of your child learning to swim. It’s supposed to build confidence and allow you to easily adjust the buoyancy as they get stronger and more skilled at swimming.

Being cheeky and trying to hide from the camera around the back of the table, giggling about it to himself at the same time!

So that’s the theory, but how do they work in practice? I decided to take the plunge (financially) and buy a set with some money that Andrew had been given as a present. From my Googling around, the cheapest I found was £26.39 (including postage and packing) for a set of 6 discs from SOS Swim Shop. On Tuesday we had our first trip to the pool with them, and I was very impressed! For the first time in a while, Andrew was much less frustrated and we had no whinging about the fact that he wanted to go his own way – this time he could do as he pleased. It took a little while for him to get used to the buoyancy effect and how he should move to go with it and not resist it, and I think that will take a bit longer to get completely right, but overall he reacted very well. He figured out that his head needs to stay above the water, or he needs to hold his breath if it goes under slightly. He was best when swimming on his front towards me or a target object, and I encouraged him to kick his legs to keep the forward motion. Again, this will take some practice to get right, but for a first attempt it went well. Of course I didn’t just let him go completely unsupervised, but I found my hands were much more free to encourage him and help direct his body in the best way, like using a finger to push his tummy upwards to get him onto his front rather than upright in the water so he could move forwards.

Mummy, this isn't the right time to have arm bands on - are you mad? We're not at the swimming pool! By the way, the blue circles you see on the left-hand arm band are how the discs clip together - they slot into indents in the adjacent disc, like you can see on the right-hand arm band.

As the weeks go by, I’ll try to put some updates on here as to how we’re doing. I’d be interested to hear if anyone else has the problems that I’ve mentioned with their young toddler getting distracted in the swimming pool. All the discussion I found online whilst researching buoyancy aids seemed to be from parents with older pre-school-age-ish kids, and distraction didn’t seem to be the main issue, but rather gaining confidence in the water – we don’t have that problem, probably because he’s been swimming since just 6 weeks old. Please let me know if you found this post useful and/or interesting. I’d love to hear from anyone who shares my love of taking a toddler swimming!

Too many to choose from: my favourite swimming memory

Recently I saw a competition advertised on BrtiMums (via Twitter) which I thought would be easy enough to enter. It’s called the Joy of Swimming Competition, sponsored by British Gas, and this post is my entry for it. To be in with a chance of winning a Merlin family pass, which gives year-long entry to theme parks and zoos around the UK, or £250 to spend in JJB Sports (I would easily spend that on swimming-related gear for the family), all I have to do is post on my blog about my favourite swimming memory. So I set about writing a quick post (it has to be at least 100 words, but that’s no problem for Little Miss Wordy here!) But it turned out to be harder than I thought: in fact I have so many swimming memories because swimming has been and still is such a big part of my life, that it’s so hard to choose. In the end I chickened out, and decided to write about a selection of a few favourite swimming memories. I wrote about this fairly recently on the blog, so you may get a feeling of deja vu in certain parts.

From one generation..... (me swimming at Bedworth pool aged about 2)

Although we have photos of me (as above) swimming as a baby/toddler, of course I don’t remember that far back personally. I’d say my earliest actual memories of swimming were of lessons at Ernesford Grange swimming pool in Coventry when I was aged somewhere between about 4 and 7. I remember enjoying myself so much when I was at swimming lessons. I wasn’t much good at any other sports at school and was always the last to be picked for a team, but swimming I could do, and do well. It was also great to work towards badges, and I enjoyed getting stronger in the water, so I could swim longer distances and learn new skills. I found it great fun to do things like picking up bricks from the bottom of the deep end, tread water for a while (with or without 1 or 2 hands in the air!), or do some skulling (lying on my back. legs still, just pulling through the water with circular movements of the hands). I particularly remember the teacher I had for most of my lessons – the infamous Mrs Leigh. She was lovely really, but did have a bit of a reputation for being slightly scary with her big booming voice and concentration on getting you to swim to your potential – not one to stand any messing around in the ranks!

Moving on to later-primary-school age, I have fond memories of my time as a member of the City of Coventry swim squad. It was there that I learned all about good stroke technique, and got to improve my speed and stamina swimming. The first Friday of every month we had time trials, where we had to swim one 25m length of each stroke (front crawl, back crawl, breaststroke and butterfly), and we were timed doing them. It was a challenge to see if I could beat my personal best and improve my times over the months and years – that was great fun. I also enjoyed the galas we took part in against other squads, both as individual swimmers and relay teams. Most of these were local, usually based at the pool in Nuneaton, but I particularly remember a tour we went on to Devon, where we swam in galas against teams down there in the evenings, and got to visit nice places in the day. Little did I know that I’d end up marrying someone who lived down there! (We met years later and not through anything swimming-related though.)

Apart from badges and competitive swimming, I’ve always loved swimming just for fun too. Family holidays in France always included a lovely blue outdoor pool – I wouldn’t let Mum book a campsite without one! I would spend most of the afternoon and early evening every day in there, just swimming about and playing games with family or friends that I made. I reckon that’s something that helped my French at a young age – one year I made friends with a couple of French girls my age in the pool, and we managed to communicate between us enough to play games in the water.

I’ve continued to swim regularly into adulthood. I particularly enjoyed swimming in the University of Nottingham swimming club as an undergraduate student, and more recently swimming was a real benefit for me during pregnancy – the feeling of weightlessness and still being able to exercise was amazing, especially towards the end when I felt so big!

....to the next generation (Andrew, aged around 9 months, and I swimming at Abbey pool)

Of course I can’t finish this post about swimming memories without including the next generation of swimming fun! I remember, like it was yesterday, taking Andrew swimming for the first time. It was quite an effort to get everything together and go at just the right time between feeds (naps weren’t his strong point so we weren’t too restricted by that), but it was all worth it when we got there. Back in those days I could lay him down on the fold-down changing table in the cubicle, knowing that he wouldn’t go anywhere. I got changed first, so he wouldn’t get cold waiting for me, and then got him into his little trunks. He was just about big enough by then to fit in the smallest size of Boots brand swim nappies which were on offer at the time so worked out the cheapest, and I’d bought a cool little pair of swimming shorts for him that were a bit big for his non-existent bottom (now he’s walking that has definitely muscled up!) Then I wrapped him in a towel, and, after I quickly got into my swim costume myself, took on the actually very difficult task of carrying a tiny baby, a rucksack, a nappy change bag, my handbag and a towel to the locker. That was nothing compared to juggling them all whilst trying to put the coin in the locker. We survived it though, and then headed through to the pool.

It was fairly busy in the small pool, but there was still plenty of room to get in gently down the shallow steps at the side. I introduced him to the water slowly, by sitting down on a step, holding him in one arm and using the other arm to pour water gently onto his skin with a cupped hand. After a few minutes of that, I eased us down into the water a bit more, so that he was completely immersed except for his head. He wasn’t at all phased by it, and was very happy for me to walk around and pull him through the water with me. Of course I was supporting him a lot, especially his head which was still floppy then. He was fascinated by everything that was going on – all the other boys and girls, the lifeguards walking round in bright yellow t-shirts, and the brightly-coloured bath toys like ducks and octopuses that were floating around. Incidentally, the staff at the pool have written a different name on each toy – so there’s Vinny the duck, Alice the octopus and Olly the bear etc. Not that he was really old enough to do much with these himself, but his little eyes and ears were clearly soaking it all up like a sponge. As he was so at ease in the water, I even tried splashing some water around him, and he loved that. It was just about the time when he was starting to smile, and I got lots of smiles and splashing that day. We only stayed in for about 15 minutes, because I didn’t want to risk him getting too cold, though the pool always feels lovely and warm to me, but you can’t tell what a baby’s perception of it is. As we got out, I wrapped him up in the towel again, and then we headed back to the changing cubicles to get dry and dressed. This time I sorted him first, as I can cope with the temperature and still being in a wet costume for a while. He fell asleep on the way home and napped well that afternoon. I soon discovered that swimming was a way to wear him out and guarantee a good nap.

So there we go, a selection of my swimming memories. I’m looking forward to adding many more with Andrew over the years, as that part of our swimming story has only just begun.