Can I swim?

Jul 12, 2021


Many new ostomates wonder if they’ll be able to swim again.   

Can you do it?  

Absolutely! By far, most people with ostomies report that they can swim freely in pools and oceans, for any length of time, and in any temperature of water, with no problems. Many are scuba diving, surfing, and waterskiing like they used to.  

Of course, like any other aspect of life with an ostomy, there are individual differences. A few people have reported that their baseplate loosens after prolonged exposure to water, or in a hot tub, or that salt water affects the baseplate’s adhesion. They’re a really small minority, but you won’t know for sure how it will be for you until you try. So take a deep breath, hold your nose, and jump in!  

If your pouch has a filter (allowing gas to escape), cover it with a sticker that probably came with your pouches. An uncovered filter won’t work if it gets wet or clogged with sand. 

After the swim, you might find the baseplate is harder than usual to remove. That’s because some of them are made to grip on even tighter when wet – which is reassuring, actually. Just remember that you might need to let it dry out before peeling it off.  

What about leaking? 

It’s natural to worry about leaking while swimming. If you’re not normally prone to leaking on dry land, it’s not likely to be any different in the water. But here are some tips that can boost your sense of security.  

You can refrain from eating or drinking in the hours before swimming, particularly if you know you have a short transit time (how long it takes food to travel through your system).  

Some people find that eating specific foods, like marshmallows or peanut butter, holds off output for a while. That doesn’t work for everyone, but you might find a food that works for you.  

Don’t swim immediately after applying a new baseplate. Let some time pass to allow the adhesive to bond to your skin and ensure a really secure seal. At least 15 minutes. A few hours would be even better.  

Many swimmers use waterproof tape to make sure their appliances are extra secure from leaking or loosening. Two particular favorites are MEDIPORE® and HY-TAPE® (AKA “pink tape”), applied like a picture frame around the baseplate.  

Flange extenders can also provide added security. They’re not specifically made for swimming, but to protect against leakage or loosening generally, and they can go in water like any ostomy product. These are typically C-shaped or Y-shaped “peel and stick” strips that go around the edge of the baseplate.  

A lot of people use a self-sticking plastic film like PRESS’N SEAL®  to prevent leaks coming out or water coming in while swimming. Lay a big square across your stomach, completely covering your appliance and surrounding skin. Then press it firmly all over so it sticks to the appliance and to your stomach. It should remain in place throughout your swim. 

You can use any of these products (waterproof tape, flange extenders, and self-sticking plastic film) alone or in combination with each other.  

If you’re still nervous about your first post-ostomy swim, why not do a test run in a bath? Sit in the tub with your appliance submerged for about a half hour, then check for any leaks or loosening around the edges of the baseplate. If there’s a problem, you can use some of the tips above. If all’s well, any lingering doubts should disappear down the drain along with the bath water.  

What should you wear? 

As ostomy awareness grows, more and more ostomates are comfortable exposing their appliances, with or without attractive covers. Others are more comfortable knowing they’re fully covered.  

There are bathing suits and swim wraps specially designed for ostomates, many with front panels to reduce the profile of your appliance, or inner pockets to tuck the pouch into. However, most swimmers don’t find these necessary.  

Women have lots of choices in swimwear. If your ostomy is low enough, you can wear a regular two-piece suit. If it’s higher, there are two-piece suits with high waisted bottoms. Tankinis are another great option. Many of the tops are long and flowy, disguising any bulges. One-piece suits are popular too, and back in style. Skirts and ruching can help to disguise any bumps or bulges from your appliance, and suits with control panels will help keep the pouch snug against your tummy. 

Men can wear boxer-type swim trunks or swim shorts - as opposed to tight fitting briefs - although some wear briefs under the roomier trunks, to keep the pouch snug.    

On the beach or poolside, sarongs and wraps are perfect for women with & without ostomies, and long, roomy T-shirts are great cover-ups for both sexes.   

If you’re still concerned about your appliance creating a bulge, there are small pouches called stoma caps, designed to hold only a tiny bit of output. They’re good for short periods like swimming, when you may want your appliance to be as unobtrusive as possible. Just be sure you can count on your stoma to behave itself.  

If you’re wearing a full-size pouch and are concerned that it might peek out from the bottom of your swimsuit, you can always put it on sideways, with the pouch laying horizontally across your stomach.  

Alternatively, you can fold it up from the bottom, so it’s doubled over your stoma. The bathing suit might hold it in place, but you could also use the PRESS’N SEAL® plastic film tip here, to keep it securely folded.  

If you wear a hernia belt, there’s no reason you can’t wear it under your bathing suit. Just remember to have a dry one ready to put on when you change back into your clothes, and to hand wash the wet one before wearing it again, to get rid of any chlorine, salt, sand, etc. 

Courtesy Joan Scott, author of The Ostomy Raft

If you have an ostomy, you have the same rights as any other person to swim in the pool facility of your choice.  Learn how to swim confidently with your ostomy and how to advocate for yourself if you are denied access to a pool facility.