How To Get Dressed After An Infant Swimming Lesson When Your Baby Has Just Started Crawling And It’s 5 Degrees Outside and You Haven’t Had Lunch

'On a leather banquette, outside the changing room, I breastfeed my baby as I apply moisturiser one-handed'

When to take your baby swimming

by Nell Frizzell |
Updated on

However you deliver a baby, one of the interesting side effects of motherhood is the sheer carelessness with which you now treat nudity. After months of having your body under, essentially, a time share with another living being, as well as the guardianship of the medical profession, you (by which, of course I mean we) become amusingly blase about dropping your knickers, lifting your jumper, unhitching your belt or opening your legs.

So it took longer than you might imagine for me to realise that I was bending over, under a flourescent lightbulb, in a dripping cloud of chlorine, trying to push a miniature rice cake into the hand of a crying child, while stark buttock naked. Mere centimetres from my bare and unwaxed undercarriage another woman - up until that moment a total stranger - was also crouching, her hair wet, in flip flops, a bra and nothing else, trying to get the nozzle of a Tommee Tippee into her toddler’s mouth. We straightened up, looked each other in the eye, smiled and only then, walked back across the room to reach for a towel.

Infant swimming is, in many ways, a logistical fireshow. How to dry, apply a clean nappy, dress and soothe a cold and disconcerted baby while, all the time being soaked through is parental equivalent of the old fox, chicken, bag of seed boat riddle. You can dry them entirely, but you can’t pick them up or you’ll soak them with your costume. You can dry yourself, but then they’ll be lying wet and freezing on a tiled floor. You can wrap them in a towel, but then you can’t put their wet bum in the dry play pen. You can get them half dressed, yourself half dressed and then do the rest in a sort of reverse-flamenco around the changing room, grabbing arms, sliding through puddles, stamping through trouser legs, all the while hoping to all that’s holy they don’t catch yet another cold.

The leisure centre I go to has taken the interesting approach of holding a baby swimming class in a pool that’s usually heated to somewhere around ‘cold’. As babies are notoriously bad at regulating their temperature, they’ve also taken the interesting decision to keep the changing room at a temperature I’ll call ‘Siberian’. Which means that after every lesson about seven mothers would be thrown into a panic of rubbing, towelling, cotton bribery before their children’s lips turned blue and the howling began. Because once one of them goes, it’s only a matter of time until another joins in.

At first my solution was to just pack about four towels. I would put one on top of a fold-down changing tables, use another to get him dry and dressed, then place him on a dry folded towel and then use the remaining towel to get myself entirely dry, dressed, deodorised and packed in the time it usually takes to open a throat sweet.

All of this is fine (to a point) if all you’re doing afterwards is eating cold pasta and walking home with a napping baby. But it is quite another when you have to go straight to a work meeting, your baby can crawl, and there is frost on the ground outside. In this instance I did what I so often do in times of stress: I piled myself high with snacks. There were snacks as I towelled him dry, snacks as I dressed him in enough layers to recreate the earth’s tectonic plates, snacks for when I put him in the lightly padded primary colour prison that we call a play pen and, of course, snacks for the six other babies all rolling around there in a 40cm tall version of an ultimate cage fighting match. I then sprinted back to the showers, rinsed off the worst of the chlorine and applied deodorant while speed walking past the lockers. During this time i was, of course, entirely naked. By the time I had my smart grey trouser suit on my child was howling and a thin paste of half-chewed breadsticks lined the playpen.

So, I’m afraid I let him cry. I let him cry as I packed up our bags, let him cry as I put my shoes on and let him cry while I rescued my notebook from under a pile of wet towels. Finally, on a leatherette banquette outside the changing room, as men walked past in lycra shorts and boat-like trainers, I breastfed my baby while applying moisturiser one-handed. I then pushed my son around a nearby park, in the freezing cold, for 20 minutes until he fell asleep, at which point I used the reflection of a betting shop window to apply my make up (of course I had forgotten to pack a mirror). I then ate all the remaining snacks from my rucksack as I hadn’t had time for lunch and my stomach was making a noise like a spin cycle. A grown woman cannot survive on tomato dusted corn puffs and apple-flavoured rice cakes for very long, but they can get her between bus stops.

In the end, I got to the meeting on time, slightly damp, with a buggy absolutely laden down with chemical-smelling washing but, mercifully, I was clothed. The baby was happy, I was hungry but we were there. And sometimes, my friends, the best you can hope for is just ‘not naked’

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