Today we did the unthinkable. We took Juliana swimming. As we noted a few weeks ago, a student was telling us about the latest rage among parents in China – baby swimming. Since Juliana loves taking baths, we decided to give it a try, so we gave the student a call and asked her to come with us.
As we waited 20-30 minutes for the waist-high infant pool to fill with warm water, we watched one baby boy bobbling up and down in the water, supported only by a specially-designed innertube. In spite of warnings that you should wait 12 minutes after a bath before feeding a baby (I don't know why they were so precise), the boy sucked down an entire bottle of formula as he bobbed in the pool. Several more babies screamed at the top of their lungs during their after-swimming baths. Several of the parents whose children were bathing stopped to take a peek at the foreign baby. As we waited for Juliana's tub to fill, she napped.
Once we got into the pool room, they began by giving Juliana a personal exercise routine. The helper served as personal trainer, rotating her arms and legs in circles, stretching them back and forth, and moving them in a swimming motion. They said that we could have this personal trainer service every time as well if we liked (for an additional fee).
When her time came, we put Juliana's head into a specially designed infant inner-tube that wraps around her neck to hold her head above water. Then, we gently lowered her into the warm tub. She was a bit perplexed at first, but soon, she was wiggling her way in tiny circles, supported only by the head floatation device. Really it was more like wading in with a life preserver around her neck, but they still called it swimming. Thankfully, her head never even came close to getting wet. Eyes wide, Juliana slowly spun in circles. Before you knew it, her 12 minutes were up, so the helpers scooped her out and whisked her off to her bath. They scrubbed her and cleaned her and she smiled, seemingly unaware of the sensation she was causing. Undoubtedly, her photos will soon appear on billboards for baby swimming.
The room was like a sauna. Washcloths were spread over the radiators. Chinese people are terrified of the cold, so thankfully they made the room warm for the naked babies, but this was beyond warm. Unfortunately, Chinese people don't wear short sleeves ever in the winter, so the faces of most people in the room were glistening with sweat. Beads of sweat built on the nose of the helpers. Parents who insisted on leaving their coats on were wet. Ruth and I immediately whisked off our coats. I was wearing short sleeves underneath, to the astonishment of everyone in the room. A few minutes later, a 50-day old was unwrapped from two quilts, plus three layers of thick clothing, the helpers scolded us for allowing Juliana to come out in one thick layer of clothing plus a thick “baby bag.” “You should wrap her in a quilt too,” they insisted.
“It's good for their IQ and EQ,” our student interpreter said as she got into the water, weighing the benefits of weekly “swimming” sessions. I presume the latter is her equilibrium. Apparently a recent Norwegian study has linked infant swimming with improved balance. However, it seems that the infants in this study actually swam. Their heads weren't placed in flotation devices.
The helpers suggested that we'd nearly waited “too long” for Juliana's first trip to the pool. The babies who begin their weekly visits around seven days are better swimmers, according to the workers. Since Chinese babies aren't supposed to leave the house for the first couple months, I'd imagine that bringing your newborn to take a swim on a cold winter day might be frowned upon.
That said, apparently it's popular. In spite of a price tag of 50 RMB ($7.50) per session (you can also buy 6 sessions for 200 RMB or 13 for 400 RMB), a line of parents with tiny ones waited for their chance to take them swimming. It's a bit expensive for China. Granted, we did see one family pull up to the store in an Audi, so maybe this attracts a wealthier clientele. Our friend got them to knock 10 RMB off the price tag since it was our first time.
For more photos, go to www.flickr.com/kevsunblush. We hope to post a few videos soon as well.