Swimming on your period is one of those things we've all got questions about, right? Firstly: can you swim while on your period? Secondly: can you wear a tampon while swimming on your period? Yup, told you there were plenty of questions.
It's an age old topic that gets raised most summers and holidays (hands up who's Googled 'how to delay my period for my holiday?' too!) and it can make your period can feel like even more of a hassle than it usually does. If you're going away to a green-list destination (or if you have a nice staycation booked in the UK), you want to be free to swim in the pool without fear of leaving a trail of period blood wherever you go, or noticing way too late that your tampon string has been hanging out of your bikini bottoms.
So let's get to the bottom of what the deal actually is with swimming during your TOTM? We asked the experts at female health app Clue to answer some of our most burning questions about taking a dip while in the red. Read on for all the enlightenment you need...
Can I swim on my period, or is it unhygienic?
The long and the short of it is no, not at all. You can definitely go swimming while menstruating and not worry about leaving blood in the pool.
If you use a tampon or a menstrual cup, it’s extremely unlikely that blood will even enter the water, but if it does, swimming pools are all chlorinated to protect swimmers against the spread of disease from bodily fluids (such as a sweat and urine).
This fact was obviously overlooked by a fitness centre in Georgia in 2016, who posted a sign in the women’s changing rooms saying “Dear ladies! Do not go into the pool during periods.” Supposedly, this was to protect other swimmers after someone “contaminated” the pool with menstrual blood, but it’s important to remember that you're not endangering anyone’s health by swimming when menstruating.
Will I leave a bloody trail in the water?
When you get into a pool or take a dip in the sea, the water pressure can stop your flow temporarily. The only time this water pressure can drop slightly is if you laugh, cough, sneeze, or move around.
But even then, only a tiny amount of blood will be released, and it probably won’t be visible as the water will dilute it. Getting out of the water will change the pressure again, and your period will flow again normally, so it’s probably a good idea to use a tampon or a menstrual cup while swimming to avoid leaking once you head for land again.
Pads and pantyliners are unlikely to work very well, as they will simply absorb the water around them. If you have an intrauterine device (IUD, or the coil), you should check with your doctor before using a menstrual cup.
Am I going to get eaten by sharks?
We've already covered this very important question here, but there's no harm in a recap. Basically: don't worry. Just because you’re on your period, doesn't mean you’re going to attract sharks and recreate a scene from Jaws. To date, there are no recorded cases of sharks attacking someone who was menstruating, and according to the International Shark Attack File, people quite happily dive while on their period. And although it’s true that more research into this topic could be done, there's currently no correlation between menstruating divers and increased numbers of shark attacks. Phew.
Marie Levine, Founder and Executive Director of The Shark Research Institute has been diving for decades with no problems at all. She told Mother Jones, “[I] even got my period while underwater with a school of hammerheads - the sharks were not interested and I had to fin like crazy to get close to them.”
Can I catch an infection from swimming during my period?
It’s unlikely that you will catch a vaginal infection from swimming. The most common complaints from swimming in contaminated water often include skin infections and stomach illnesses (if you swallow the water).
You can always check with the regional health authority for information on the water quality at your favourite swimming spot, if you’re worried.
In some cases, the chlorine in swimming pools can irritate the vulva and vagina, which can leave you at risk of developing a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis (BV). If this happens, don’t panic, just have a shower immediately after swimming in chlorinated pools, and don’t sit around in your wet swimwear. If you notice any burning, itching, or unusual vaginal discharge after swimming, it’s wise to get it checked out by a doctor.
Can you go swimming with a tampon?
Yes, of course, it's probably the safest and easiest option out there.
But, as in daily life, there are always other options available if you can’t, or don’t want to use a tampon. Try using a menstrual cup or sponge as an alternative. If your flow is light, then you could also try wearing a dark coloured suit, as this will prevent staining.
A final option is to wear waterproof, absorbent swimwear, like the Ruby's swimsuits below. They look like normal bikini bottoms, but have a hidden and leak-proof lining that helps absorb menstrual blood.
Can swimming make my cramps worse?
Low intensity exercise (like swimming, for example) can actually help relieve your menstrual cramps, as your body releases endorphins when you exercise which act as natural painkillers.
In fact, research has shown that regular physical exercise may even be effective in preventing premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
Can I delay my period until after I go swimming?
Typical, combined hormonal contraceptive pills give you the option to skip or delay your period by immediately starting your next pack instead of taking the placebo pills or having a few days' break (depending on which pill you take), and this will delay your period until you finish your second pack.
If you’re not taking an oral contraceptive and want to delay your period, your doctor can prescribe you a pill called norethisterone to take three days before your period is due to start. You can take this for a maximum of 20 days and, once you finish it, your period should then arrive.
Will everyone know I have my period? What if I stain my bikini?
There’s no reason that anyone should know that you are on your period while swimming. If leaks and stains are a concern you could wear a dark coloured swimsuit, or tell a friend who can alert you to any issues and set your mind at rest, allowing you to splash around to your heart’s content.
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