Practical tips for swimming with a stoma
First, I will deal with some common concerns about being in water with a stoma bag. Please remember that I am not medically qualified, and it is always best to check with your own medical practitioner before taking part in any new exercise.
1. Will my bag let water in/poo out?
The first thing to bear in mind when you are thinking about swimming with a stoma, is that the bags themselves are designed to be waterproof. This might sound obvious, but I know that one anxious thought that crossed my mind at the beginning, was “what if the poo can leak out through the bag material itself, and contaminate the pool?”. This cannot happen.
2. Will my bag lose its adhesive-ness?
The bags are very strongly fixed to your body with extremely strong adhesive – if you try and pull the bag off without using adhesive remover, you do actually have to try, it won’t just fall off. I have been in the water for up to 2 hours (warm chlorinated water), and all that happens is that the very edge of the flange becomes a little sticky and gloopy. But water has never got in, or forced my bag to come off
3. Can people see my bag under my swimming costume?
The truthful answer is that there may be a thin outline of your bag. The issues I have had with visibility of my bag, is if it becomes full of wind, and then it is more obvious. I’ll provide a tip for swimming costumes below
4. If I am not wearing a swimming costume (men, or bikinis), will people stare?
In my experience people don’t look, the most that I have had is a very brief second glance but nothing that has made me uncomfortable, or self conscious
What to wear
For those people who are self conscious, you can wear a swimming costume with a ruched stomach, or a swimming costume which has an extra elasticated panel across – the latter are often called support costumes. Both types are commonly found in high street shops. There are also specialist shops which offer stoma costumes which have a small pocket on the inside in which to put your bag. When I first started swimming, I always wore one of the specialist costumes, because I hated the feeling of the bag hanging down and touching my abdomen, as I was moving about. (Click here ) Over the years I have stopped wearing swimming costumes like that, and my next move was to wear costumes with a ruched front. I now wear any old swimming costume I find in the sale! Spotty costumes seem good at hiding the outline of the bag, too.
How to give yourself confidence in your bag
If I am planning to spend time in the water, I always put on a fresh bag. I watch what I eat the night before, or in the few hours before I go, just so that I can have confidence that my bag won’t fill. The longer you have your stoma, the better you get to know it, and learn when it will activate.
There are so many fantastic products out there on the stoma market, and there will be some incredible innovations since I started venturing into a more active life with my stoma. However, when I started out in 2012, there didn’t seem to be so much around. One thing I swear by, which gives you extra confidence that your bag won’t come away from your stomach/leak, are flange extenders (**confession – I HATE the word flange!!**). They come in a pack of 2-3, and you simply stick them around the edge of your adhesive on your stomach, and they will help to keep your bag stuck down for longer. If you do have a leak, they will give you more time before the poo leaks out (Click here ). I used these for years, for overnight, cycling, travelling, basically anything which I was doing which I was anxious about, to give me a bit more time if needed. They are a great confidence booster and in the UK I think you can get them on the NHS – I always did. Check with your stoma nurse.
Another good tip, is to get in your bath at home and lie in it for a long time – get a book, shut the door and tell your family you are carrying out a medical experiment! You will see what affect the water has on your bag if you are in it for a long time. If you don’t have a bath you could pour water on it from the shower for a long period of time, but this is potentially very wasteful of water. You could also just go to the local pool and get in the water, get out and go home. You don’t have to stay in for more than a minute. Just see how it feels. You could also go and use a jacuzzi but…warning!!! I find that in jacuzzis, my bags inflate and float about on the water (still attached to me don’t worry so this is under my costume!). It has caused much hilarity on girls spa weekends but maybe isn’t a good idea if you are apprehensive about going in the water for the first time.
How to keep the outside of your bag dry
I have yet to find a completely waterproof cover for my bag so that I can go swimming, and spend a lot of time in the water. However, I have found a brilliant site run by a lady called Elaine, who makes customised stoma bag covers, including water-proof ones (Click here )They are brilliant for going in the shower, or the bath. You get out and take the cover off and voila! Your bag is dry underneath. It is very annoying having wet underwear and clothes from the moisture on the bag – which sometimes I can’t completely remove with a towel. Elaine provides a huge array of different stoma bag designs so she is sure to have something to suit you – and if not, I am sure she could make it!
Other than the above there really is nothing different about swimming with a stoma. I have swum in races, swum in the sea, river, swimming pool. Down waterfalls, under water, jumped off rocks into pools, in strong waves and fast currents. I have never had any issues and so my last piece of advice is….GO FOR IT, AND ENJOY IT!