Swimming with my heart child

I can still remember the first time I took Jessica swimming. It was on a day out at Butlins when she was ten months old. We’d been in the pool about ten minutes before I became concerned about how blue she was. By the time we managed to get out of the pool, she was very blue, breathing hard and was decidedly floppy. Thankfully my sister was there, waiting with a couple of warm towels. Once Jessica was warm and dry, her colour and breathing started to improve although it was probably another ten minutes before she was back to a more normal colour. She was fine, but it was a scary moment for me.

Swimming with my heart child - Little Hearts, Big Love

Jessica, like many other heart children, gets cold very easily in the water due to her poor circulation, which makes it harder for her to maintain her body temperature. Her colour can change very quickly when she is in the pool and the transition from “slightly-blue-but-not-too-concerning” to “very-blue-need-to-get-out-now” can be alarmingly swift. It can take also take a while for her colour to improve once she is warm and dry.

Swimming with my heart child - Little Hearts, Big Love
Jessica’s first swim with a wetsuit – silly Mummy put her in an upside-down swim seat!

The blue episodes are worrying for us as parents and we’re used to analysing Jessica’s colour – they can be frightening for other people around us. We once went swimming with Jessica at a church open house event. Two of the church members were qualified doctors and they were very concerned by Jessica’s colour when I got her out of the pool. I was quite glad they didn’t see how blue she got in the time it took for me to strip off her wetsuit and start drying her off!

Swimming with my heart child - Little Hearts, Big Love

Wearing a wetsuit can help keep heart children warmer in the pool and the charity Heartline provides these free of charge to heart children, and parents can request a new one as the child grows. Getting Jessica a wetsuit has helped a lot with allowing her to spend a little more time in the pool although up until this year, she’d never managed more than about twenty minutes or so. Being in the pool means keeping a constant eye on Jessica’s colour – her hands and feet are often a little blue anyway but when her face starts looking cyanosed, then I know she needs to come out. We make sure we have extra towels to dry her off and even on the hottest days, long-sleeved tops and cardigans ready to help her warm up.

Swimming with my heart child - Little Hearts, Big Love
Comparing the colour of Jessica’s and Sophie’s feet after swimming

When Jessica’s preschool had a beach day, I practically wrote an essay in her home-preschool diary about what her key worker needed to watch for and the need to get Jessica warm and dry quickly. To my surprise, I was told that Jessica had been absolutely fine in the paddling pool (despite being in a long-sleeved swimsuit rather than a wetsuit, having outgrown the last one) and her colour had been fine.

Swimming with my heart child - Little Hearts, Big Love

Last week, we went swimming twice with Jessica’s cousins and she managed an hour in the pool both times before needing to get out – a huge improvement on the previous year. It’s encouraging to see that her heart seems to be working well enough for her to cope well with the temperature changes of being in cool water and wonderful to see her enjoying herself in the pool. Now that she is older, she can also tell me if she is okay. I was watching her in the paddling pool at Auntie Fizz’s over the weekend and just as I was starting to get concerned about Jessica’s colour, she said “Mummy, I get out now. I cold and tired.” It is reassuring to know that she will let me know when she’s no longer coping well in the water.


And then the fun began...
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32 thoughts on “Swimming with my heart child

  1. Oh my lovely, there’s always so much for to consider with things that others take for granted isn’t there. What a gorgeous post though, and great photos of your gorgeous girls. Great tips here for others in your situation. Hugs xx

    1. Thanks Renee – it’s certainly held us back from doing swimming classes but has been good to see Jessica coping better in the water more recently.

  2. Sounds like it can be scary but that you’ve coped really well. It’s great that she’d now old enough (and sensible enough!) to tell you when she’s getting cold. Gorgeous photos. #thetruthabout

  3. Aww! Bless her. It’s great Jessica is at an age now that she knows when she her body has had enough….
    I stopped taking my eldest swimming because she was turning blue.. Years ago before hear heart problem was found…The doctor said some kids just felt the cold more….hahaha Another chance they missed to diagnose her! Since surgery she has improved a little but just isn’t keen on swimming now…
    I didn’t know about Heartline & the wetsuits….That is fantastic!

  4. She looks like she had a fab time, and its great that she is learning her own limits. #thetruthabout

  5. How scary in the early days but how great that things have progressed to the point where her body is regulating better and she is able to tell you if she needs to come out and warm up. Long may the progress continue! Thanks so much for linking up to #thetruthabout Louise Xx

  6. Oh sweetie, there are so many things you must be worried about I am so admirative that despite the blueish colour on her skin, you still have the confidence to let her enjoy swimming like her sister and her friends. It’s brilliant that she’s now managing an hour in the pool. xxx

  7. Aww bless, what a sweetheart. That is such a good thing she is able to express her feeling cold and not well in water now. I had no idea that having a heart problem would cause these kind of issues too, and it must have been so scary for you when it happened the first time 🙁

    1. Thank you – it was scary although we knew that she could get cold easily in the water, so glad that she can cope for longer now though.

  8. Bless her, it’s reassuring she can tell you now when she’s cold and tired. Very worrying for you though! The wetsuit is such a good idea to keep her warm. Hope she’s having fun in the water and the paddling pools during the summer x #PoCoLo

  9. Such an interesting post Louise. There’s so much you need to look out for and take care with your beautiful heart baby. It’s great she can now tell you when she’s had enough and an hour is a really long time (I’m not sure I would last that long)! Must have been really scary to start with though. It’s probably not a good idea for most children to be in the pool for too long. My daughter physically shivers if she’s been in there for too long – that’s when I have to drag her out and get her warm. Thanks for sharing and great tips for others. X #pocolo

    1. Thank you Elizabeth, it was scary in the early days but good that she can enjoy the water a little more now.

  10. Oh wow what a lot to think about but lovely that you don’t avoid the situation all together and she can experience the water (confession: I took my two year old swimming for the first time last month because I can’t swim!).. Thanks for linking up at #PoCoLo. x

    1. Thank you Emily – hope you enjoyed your first time swimming with your little one 🙂

  11. I never would have realised this, though it makes complete sense. It’s good that free wetsuits are provided for children with heart problems. Glad Jessica can spend a bit longer in water now, and it starting to know for herself when she needs to come out. She looks like she’s having fun! #PoCoLo

    1. Thank you – the free wetsuits are fabulous and it is lovely that Jessica can enjoy herself for a little longer now 🙂

    1. Thank you Afra – the free wetsuits are great for helping heart children enjoy the water 🙂

  12. I’m trying to put myself in your shoes, and I have to say that I don’t think I’d be OK letting others determine whether or not she was all right. Until she was able to verbalize how she felt, swimming would be with daddy only

    1. That’s a very understandable point of view and I’ve generally been the same where Jessica is concerned. Our preschool have been great with making sure they are very informed about Jessica’s heart condition and they have tended to err on the side of caution, particularly with regards to Jessica’s colour and her ability to maintain her body temperature (for example with outdoor playtime in the winter). Having had a lot of conversations with Jessica’s key worker, I felt fairly confident that she would monitor Jessica closely although I think if Jessica had been a bit younger and unable to say when she felt cold, I would have been a lot more hesitant about this (the beach day was a month ago).

  13. what a lovely post! Great photos, and she seem to have a blast while swimming. It’s good that she is able to explain when its too much (that she was cold and tired). As long as they are not pushing too much and she has fun, swimming is a great summer activity!

    1. Thank you – it does help to know that she can now tell me when she’s had enough 🙂

  14. Wow I didn’t know there was a charity to provide wetsuits for heart children! We used to take Bo to waterbabies when he was only a few weeks old and he really struggled with it, but we didn’t know there was a reason for it at the time! Glad to know that she’s improving!

    1. Thanks Emma – the wetsuits are fab, worth looking into them if Bo still gets cold easily in the water.

  15. I’m so happy to read that Jessica’s heart is coping so well in the water now, that’s wonderful! It’s great that you know exactly what to look out for and can pass advice on to others who have or are caring for heart children xx

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