Opinion divided on benefits of baby dips

Swimming courses for babies and toddlers are making a splash at the moment as more and more parents are sending their babies and toddlers to swimming classes. Liu Ying, a full-time mother in Beijing, takes her 1-year-old son to a stylish spa in the capital's Chaoyang district on a Wednesday afternoon for a swim after he has had a nap.

"When I delivered my baby in hospital, the doctors told me that swimming is very good for a baby's' health, so I searched online for facilities near our home," said the 32-year-old, adding that she didn't balk for a second at the 5,700 yuan ($930) one-year membership fee.

After a warm-up, simply playing with toys in a playroom, a hydrotherapist changes Liu's son clothes, then places him in a baby tub to have a quick shower before putting him in a small pool with a buoyancy ring buckled up under his arms to help him float.

The boy plays with toys in the water and turns around with the therapist's help, usually staying in the water for less than half an hour, said Liang Yan, the store manager of the Royal Care International Pregnancy & Baby Spa at Shilipu, Chaoyang district.

"Although it might be little exercise for an adult, this is enough to be conducive to a baby's health and brain development," she said.

After swimming, a hydrotherapist will gently massage the baby's body including ankles, wrists and fingers with lotion, she said.

"Most of our clients are parents born after 1980 with high or middle incomes" she said.

"Baby swimming is a hit with young parents, our SPA center has already attracted more than 200 clients although it has only been open five months," she said. The brand has 10 franchise chains in other cities nationwide, she added.

Zhu Rui, a mother of a 16-month-old girl in Beijing, said she found her daughter sleeps well after swimming. "My daughter was not that interested in swimming at first. But now, whenever somebody mentions the word 'swim', she will get excited and stretch out her arms and move as if she were swimming," said the 33-year-old yoga coach.

Guo Jianguo, director of the Chinese Baby Swimming Association, said baby swimming is booming in China. "Swimming pools for young children have mushroomed in China's cities in the past five years, There are an estimated 10,000 licensed swimming pools for babies nationwide, and the number is much bigger if you count those operating without licenses," he said.

However, with pre-education institutions, hospitals, shopping malls and retailers all eager to tap into the market of baby swimming, the quality of the services varies. And there are no regulations on how often the pool water should be changed, what is the appropriate water temperature for babies and other safety issues, Guo said. "The qualification of hydrotherapists is even more worrying, as there is no such courses in China's formal education so employers' training of their staff depends on their own limited experience and expertise," he added.