So, here's the lowdown on swimming on your period

·7-min read
Photo credit: Dimitri Otis - Getty Images
Photo credit: Dimitri Otis - Getty Images

Swimming on your period is one of those things we've all got questions about, right? Firstly: can you swim while on your period? And, secondly: what should you wear to protect yourself while swimming on your period?

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?') and it can make your period feel like more of a hassle than it usually is. It's no surprise then, that if you're planning a post-pandemic getaway next year (or if you've booked a staycation in the UK), you might be wondering whether or not you'll actually be able to enjoy a dip in the pool – without fear of leaving a trail of period blood wherever you go, or noticing wayyyy 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?

Can you swim on your period?

The short answer to that is, yes, you absolutely can go swimming on your period. "People often believe that you can’t go swimming on your period," explains Dr. Helen O'Neill, a leading expert in reproductive science and CEO and founder of Hertilty Health. "However, period products, especially tampons and menstrual cups, have made it possible to take a dip without worrying about any accidental leaks."

While it's safe to take a dip if you're using a tampon or menstrual cup, Dr O'Neill advises against using a sanitary towel or liner as these could soak up water.

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.

Photo credit: Westend61 - Getty Images
Photo credit: Westend61 - Getty Images

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.

"We’ve all had nightmares of leaving a trail of blood behind us, but it’s not time to panic," points out Dr Sarah Welsh, gynaecologist and cofounder at Hanx. "The water pressure can help prevent the blood flowing out as you swim. However, any increase in abdominal pressure such as coughing or laughing, would change the pressure and a small amount of blood may leak out," she adds, although "a small leakage of blood would be diluted in the water, so very unlikely to be seen."

However, if you do happen to have any (very unlikely) leaks during your swim, swimming pools are all chlorinated to protect swimmers against the spread of disease from bodily fluids (such as a sweat and urine).

It's important to be mindful though, that getting out of the water will change the pressure 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. 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.”

Photo credit: Luis Alvarez
Photo credit: Luis Alvarez

Can I catch an infection from swimming during my period?

It’s unlikely that you will catch a vaginal infection from swimming simply because you're on your period, although the chance of infection is increased if you opt to go wild swimming.

"Swimming in polluted water can increase the risk of experiencing skin irritation and getting a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)," points out Dr O'Neill. "Wearing a wet bathing suit for a long time after you are done with your swim can also increase the likelihood of irritation and infection, however these risks are not exclusive to when you are on your period."

She adds: "It is always recommended to have a shower and change into clean, dry clothes after you have been swimming to prevent the above from happening."

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 have any unusual itching, burning or discharge that persists after your swim, consider speaking with your doctor," reminds Dr O'Neill.

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 here. They look like normal bikini bottoms, but have a hidden and leak-proof lining that helps absorb menstrual blood.

Photo credit: Getty
Photo credit: Getty

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. "It can be very beneficial to move your body and exercise by swimming whilst on your period," points out Dr Welsh.

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 are on hormonal contraception such as the combined oral contraceptive pill, you can speak to your GP about taking two packets consecutively ('back to back') so you can skip the hormone-free interval where you would usually experience a withdrawal bleed," explains Dr O'Neill. "If you're taking the progesterone-only contraceptive pill, taking it 'back to back' will not delay your period. But, you can speak to your GP about switching to the combined oral contraceptive pill or taking another medication to delay your period."

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.

Photo credit: microgen
Photo credit: microgen

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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