A woman and man in swimsuits hold up an ostomy bag with barrier strips, as waves roll behind them.

Let's Go Swimming

This may be an odd topic as the temperatures are dropping in the northern hemisphere, but for me, the cold weather season is when I enjoy visiting my local indoor pool for laps. I love to swim - it has by far been the best cardio activity for me while also being fairly gentle on my body. I don't know if my other ostomate friends had the same fear, but early on, I was so worried about swimming with my ostomy. I was sure it would just come off somehow.

Swimming with an ostomy

I am happy to report that is not the case, and I have a few tips to ensure your ostomy bag stays on and how to best maintain a sterile environment for your stoma.

Protect your edges

Water is sneaky and if you are going to have barrier failure, it will be from water lifting the edges. Two ways I have found to combat this have been to:

  • Wear high-waisted swimsuit bottoms;
  • Use barrier strips.

Wearing a high-waisted or one-piece swimsuit as a woman provides compression and support for my ostomy bag. This way, there is no pulling as the bag gets wet and the edges of my barrier are pressed down. For men, wearing a pair of compression shorts under your swim trunks can accomplish the same thing.

If I am going to be swimming for a long time, especially in saltwater, I will use barrier strips. I specifically use the curved ones that you apply on top of your barrier in a type of "picture frame." These strips protect your barrier from water erosion and can extend the wear time if you are going to be swimming for a full day.

Set yourself up for success

Swimming with an ostomy bag that is already due for a change is not the best idea. I prefer to have on a fairly new bag before swimming laps. If I'm spending a day at the beach, I will actually put on a brand new bag the night or morning before. I want to make sure my barrier is at peak stickiness!

In my personal experience, the longer I wear my bag the less secure the edges become, as I've mentioned before, that is the first place your barrier will peel up. Next, be prepared to put on a new bag after a day in the water. Saltwater will start to melt your ostomy barrier. Don't let a fun day in the water be ruined by a bag leak the following evening.

Any time I'm at the pool, beach, or lake I make sure I have on hand extra supplies should my barrier strips or swimsuit not do the trick.

Stay safe

Those of us with urostomies know our stoma is almost a direct line to our kidneys. I will fully soap up my bag after a swim at the pool or beach to make sure I wash off any chlorine or salt. Most often, I will just go ahead and slap on a new bag, but a good wash works in a pinch.

The only exception is in freshwater lakes or rivers. Growing up in the southern United States, I have witnessed how easily bacteria can thrive in freshwater. I make sure to completely replace my entire appliance if I have been in freshwater. I will thoroughly wash my peristomal skin and the skin around my ostomy (preferably a bagless shower). I always err on the side of safety and caution to make sure my stoma is protected in these situations.

As long as you do a little prep, keep extra supplies on hand, and make sure to keep your stoma clean swimming with an ostomy is incredibly easy and safe!

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