From its fruition as a group of friends taking it in turns to look after each other’s babies while they swam, to a 1000+ community of empowered mothers, Mamma Swim has gone from strength to strength. We spoke to co-founder Bridget Flynn about how the group makes such a big difference for women at a crucial stage in their lives.
“It can be really lonely being a new mum. It’s not only hard to find ‘your people’ but it’s also hard to retain the ‘old you’, the one that existed before having kids.” Bridget Flynn, co-founder of Mamma Swim.
Mamma Swim is a swim community that, according to their wonderful byline, “empowers women to boost their mental and physical health, one stroke at a time”.
The community has over 1000 members across its three groups – the ‘Sunday Swim’ groups in London and Somerset that meet weekly without kids, and a London ‘Mamma Swim Babies’ group of mums that take turns to look after one another’s babies while they each grab a much-needed dip.
We spoke to one of Mamma Swim’s founders Bridget Flynn about this inspirational community, and the difference it makes for women at an exciting yet challenging stage in their lives.
Bridget, tell me about how Mamma Swim was founded.
Mamma Swim started 10 years ago at London Field Lido, as a small group of friends taking it in turns to swim while looking after each other’s babies. We’d meet no matter the weather, and if someone wasn’t up for a swim there was always coffee and a chat.
Having 20 minutes to swim without our babies was incredible. The group not only provided the headspace we so desperately needed as new mums, but also allowed us to regain some control over our post-pregnancy bodies and fitness. It offered the gentle exercise required to start feeling strong and confident in our skin again.
As the group returned to work after maternity leave, and the babies became speedy toddlers eager to explore the water for themselves, the group formally dispersed but carried on meeting for swim trips and remaining the best of friends.
Five years later in 2018 the group reformed with friends old and new. Our favourite spots were Parliament Hill Lido and London Fields Lido. Lots of poolside space for us to spread out with the babies, and easy buggy access from the local Overgrounds (when the lifts worked).
And I believe the national lockdowns spurred the group to grow?
Yes it wasn’t until lockdown that our community really exploded!
In the first lockdown in March 2020, many of us found our domestic and childcare obligations increased exponentially. With no end in sight we started plotting our escape to the water, but with public swimming pools still closed we needed to rethink. Thankfully we discovered The West Reservoir Centre in Stoke Newington, which reopened post lockdown in June 2020. We had no idea this incredible spot was so close to us.
We established a regular slot called ‘Sunday Swims’ where we’d meet every Sunday morning for a dip without our kids.
Amidst work, family, homeschooling, furlough, redundancy and all the challenges of lockdown, nipping off for a swim was a huge boost for our mental and physical health.
We’d always talked about opening the group up and encouraging more people to join us. This felt like the perfect time to do it! We set up a website and social media platforms to reach out to other mums looking for some swim respite. We were inundated with requests to join.
How do you feel outdoor swimming helps new parents?
It’s unbelievably nerve-wracking leaving a young baby with others while on maternity leave. So the ability to be able to swim – occasionally checking in for a thumbs up from the rest of the group – is ideal and super reassuring.
The fresh air and the sound of the water has an amazingly calming effect on both mums and babies. There is something about being supported and immersed in water. It’s an escape from the busy new parent life where your mind is usually too busy thinking of others to find the same level of calm.
Several of our baby groups swim all year round and fully embrace cold-water swimming. Many mums swear by the buzz they get from the cold water, saying they feel the warmth for the rest of the day and that it ignites a sense of bravery they carry with them in all areas of their lives.
And the community aspect – why do you feel is this important for women at this stage of their lives?
Enabling each other to swim by taking care of each other’s kids fosters extremely close bonds within our community. It encourages invaluable camaraderie and peer support at an exciting but very challenging time in life.
It can be really lonely being a new mum. It’s not only hard to find ‘your people’ but it’s also hard to retain the ‘old you’, the one that existed before having kids.
Our community is made up of a range of women from all walks of life. Initially connected by a love of swimming, but bonded by a shared appreciation for one another.
While they are benefiting, mums can prioritise their own needs, and support other mums to do the same. There’s a level of commitment and trust between each other that accelerates the process of becoming friends. The group starts to feel like family pretty quickly.
What about expectant mums – do you have any pregnant members in your group?
We’ve had many pregnant mums swim in our Sunday Swim group. Although we try to point them in the direction of documented advice around swimming when pregnant, we’ve found that our pregnant swimmers are often the most hardcore. They’re usually the first in!
Cold water swimming while pregnant certainly seems to have its benefits. Firstly, you do have a certain amount of ‘natural neoprene’ and a lot of women have commented they are generally too hot, so it’s nice to finally get in the water to relax and cool down.
The weight of being pregnant, especially in the third trimester, can get so uncomfortable. The weightlessness and support provided by the water can be an enormous relief.
Do your swimmers notice an improvement in their sleep and energy levels because of outdoor swimming?
In our recent impact study, many mums referenced having more energy and highlighted both themselves and their babies experiencing improved sleep.
Whether this is due to fresh air, the swimming, looking after multiple babies, or a combo, who knows?! I certainly always sleep better after a swim!
We’d love to hear what one of your members about her experience of Mamma Swim.
“I’m a single mum with birth injuries and fairly significant post-birth trauma. I swam every week during my pregnancy and was very fit and well. Adjusting to my current physical weakness has been the hardest thing I’ve had to deal with as a new mum, not least because there seems to be so little focus on postpartum physical recovery.
Mamma Swim, to me, is a place where our babies’ needs and our own needs are given equal priority. By supporting each other to have a swim, we positively reinforce a message that all mums need to be reminded of: that we need to look after our own physical and mental health as well as that of our children.
This has meant so much to me. It’s brought much needed fun and enjoyment to the early months of my maternity leave.” Mamma Swim member
Bridget, looking back on all Mamma Swim has achieved, how does it feel to have brought these mums together?
We couldn’t be happier with the positive impact our community are providing. We do it all as volunteers because we’ve experienced the impact ourselves first-hand.
We are passionate about swimming being the best form of exercise for mums. Living in a comparison culture, we strongly believe in women supporting women.
We’ve had some epic group achievements over the years and raised funds and awareness for some mighty causes, including marching at the Pregnant Then Screwed ‘March of the Mummies’. We even did the Parliament Hill Ice Swim Hootenanny (PHISH) relay last weekend. Things like this wouldn’t have happened without us getting behind the group ethos.
It’s not a complicated concept, taking it in turns to swim and watch each other’s babies. However, it’s not that easy to set up without some help steering the ship. That’s what we’ll continue to do for the foreseeable future. With a shocking lack of crèches (listen up Swim England), it’s nearly impossible for new mums to regularly make it to a swimming pool to swim without their baby.
What do you hope the future holds for Mamma Swims?
This year we plan to register as a CIC so we can apply for funding to reach a wider demographic of mums. We have a list full of projects we’d love to run, from swimming lessons for mums, to using swimming as a respite activity for mums who need it most. We just need the funding to kick them off, so watch this space!
Mamma Swim hosts Friday morning swims (with babies) and Sunday morning swims (without babies and children) at West Reservoir Centre, London N4.