Can you go swimming on your period? Here's the lowdown...

Swimming on your period is one of those things we've all got questions about, right? And there's two fairly big ones. 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 gym days/summers/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 so many of us are still in the dark as to whether or not we'll actually be able to enjoy a dip in the pool without the fear of leaving a trail of blood wherever we go. Or, perhaps more mortifyingly, noticing way too late into the pool party that our tampon string has been hanging out of our bikini bottoms the whole time (we've all been there).

So with the moral of the story being 'I'm not going to let my period stop me from living my best life on holiday with the girlies,' let's get the down low on what the deal actually is with swimming during your TOTM...

women posing in swimwear
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Can you swim on your period?

Cutting to the chase, the answer here is a big fat 'yes, you can definitely swim while on your period'. Hurrah!

Dr Claudia Pastides, Director of Medical Accuracy at Flo Health, told Cosmopolitan UK: "Yes you absolutely can go swimming on your period if you feel like it! There is no risk of infection to you (or to other people)."

But there are some things you might need to think about – the type of period products you use. Dr Pastides adds that it's best to use a tampon, menstrual cup or period swimwear when going for a dip when it's your time of the month.

"Unfortunately pads aren’t great for swimming because they will absorb water and be less effective at catching your period blood," she says. "It will also swell with the water and might not stay put in your swimwear."

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.

However, only "a small leakage of blood would be diluted in the water," which would make it "very unlikely to be seen."

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 (we're talking sweat, urine, etc).

Remember, 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 - just to be certain.

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 Helen O'Neill, a leading expert in reproductive science. "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."

women wild swimming
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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 - though it's suggested you try an absorbent one when you go swimming.

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 period-proof swimwear that has a hidden and leak-proof lining that'll help absorb menstrual blood.

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 like we mentioned above, 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. But really, you don't need to panic!

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.

" Exercise can be helpful for relieving period pain," Dr Pastides explains. "So if swimming is your sport of choice, you might find that swimming during your period helps reduce period cramps."

In fact, research has shown that regular physical exercise may even be effective in preventing premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

a person swimming in a pool
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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. (All depending on which pill you take, of course.) 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.

You can read more advice on delaying, or inducing, your period here.

Am I going to get eaten by sharks?

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.”

Happy swimming!

This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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