I went swimming for the first time with my stoma on 10 February this year. To say I was nervous was an understatement! The thoughts of ‘what happens if my bag leaks?’ or ‘what if people see my bag?’ and ‘how do I do a bag change or dry my bag when I get out of the pool?’ were circling in my head all the way to the swimming pool.
First of all, I had to ask my surgeon if it was alright for me to go swimming, due to having a ‘Barbie butt’ that hadn’t healed (I got the OK). I then had to plan exactly what I needed to take with me and what costume would be suitable. As I had a few to choose from that I either recieved as a gift or bought from stoma companies, I was fortunate enough to be able to choose. As my house is only round the corner from the pool, I risked not taking bag supplies with me, as I only had to call my partner who could drop them off if needs be. I showered, and then put my swimming costume on under my clothes to save time and make things easier when I got there. I packed the usual—namely, body wash, moisturiser, a large towel and clean socks.
Walking into the changing rooms, I immediately identified the familiar smell from when I went swimming as a child. The excitement started to kick in and I couldn’t wait to get in the pool! I put on a swimming cap and goggles, preshowered and headed to the pool.
Top tips for ostomates swimming
• Ask your medical team (surgeon or GP or nurse) if it is alright for you to swim
• Plan all the things you need to take with you—for instance, body wash, moisturiser, large towel and clean socks—and collect them in a handy bag
• See if you can get a grant for specialist swimwear from a charity such as Purple Wings
• Choose your swimming costume
• Put flange extenders on the edges of your pouch flange before swimming, to give your pouch extra security
• Put your swimming costume on at home under your clothes, to save time and make things easier when you get to the pool
• Take care of yourself after swimming: make sure to rest and drink plenty of fluids. Also make sure to keep moisture in your skin for a few days afterwards, to avoid dry skin
• Take your time and enjoy it
Taking the plunge
Once I stepped into the pool, it felt amazing. I had forgotten just how refreshing it felt to be in water, after spending years in and out of hospital or on the toilet unable to get out the house. After my Ileostomy surgery and other surgeries that didn’t go so smoothly, this was my chance!
‘Once I stepped into the pool, it felt amazing’
Gliding my body through the water and feeling muscles that I’m sure had forgotten their purpose (oops) work as I swam, I felt so happy and free. It has always been recommended to me by various health professionals to swim for gentle exercise, because I was limited as to what I could do and that it could benefit my joints. I swam lengths of the pool for 45 minutes, with breaks in between.
Take your time and enjoy it
Back on dry land
When I got out of the pool, the first thing I did was check to see how my pouch was. I had put flange extenders on the edges of my pouch flange before swimming, to give my pouch extra security—and it worked.
Not only did my swim make me feel like I was able to get good exercise, it also had a huge positive impact on my mental health. For the first time in a long time, I felt motivated and ready to tackle the day ahead.
If you are thinking of going swimming, but aren’t sure, ask your consultant or health professional in charge of your care, who will be able to advise you on you personally and not generally. I have had a few lucky days of good health to go back swimming and try different types of swimwear, including high-waisted bottoms from eBay. I haven’t had so many good days lately, so I haven’t been swimming in a while. However, I was fortunate to receive a grant from Purple Wings (https://purplewingscharity.com—a charity that helps build the confidence of ostomates and raise awareness of stomas), which were vouchers for specialist ostomy clothing supplier, Vanilla Blush. I chose a bikini from there and I cannot wait to try it in the pool.
‘Don’t push yourself with unrealistic goals'
There are so many places that you can get swimming attire from, such as New Look, eBay, SHEIN, Vanilla Blush, Aura Clothing and Respond Healthcare. There are also many instagram accounts of ostomates who proudly show their pouches while on holiday to help support you.
While swimming is great, it’s also important to take care of yourself afterwards. The first few times can be quite tiring, so make sure to rest and also drink plenty of fluids with rehydration treatment, such as Dioralyte. Also make sure to keep moisture in your skin for a few days afterwards, to avoid dry skin—especially for those of us with Ileostomies, as we don’t retain water in the same way as people with a large bowel.
Take your time and enjoy it. Don’t push yourself with unrealistic goals of times to start and stop, until you feel you are ready.
I am thrilled to know that I can go swimming on days that my health is OK and even better that, when we plan to have a family, I can go swimming while pregnant and then take our baby swimming without worrying about doing it with a stoma!
• The Ileostomy and Internal Pouch Association gives practical advice on swimming
• Firms such as Coloplast can help with tips for swimming
• CliniMed is another firm with helpful advice on swimming
• There are several videos about swimming with a stoma, including from Shield and Vegan Ostomy
Alannah-Jayne Simpson runs the ostomy and IBD blog Glitterygutsx