Is it okay to swim during your period?

People often write to us asking if it’s okay to swim while menstruating. Will you get terrible cramps, catch an infection or be eaten by sharks? Not likely. If you enjoy swimming during the rest of your cycle, there’s no reason to stop just because you have your period. Still, life is not a tampon advertisement — if you’d rather lie on the sofa and eat pizza, there’s no shame in that. Read on for answers to all your period swimming questions.

Is it unhygienic to swim while menstruating?
In 2016, a fitness center in the country of Georgia made headlines when they posted a sign in the women’s locker room saying “Dear ladies! Do not go into the pool during periods.” They claimed this was to protect other swimmers after someone “contaminated” the pool with menstrual blood. But there’s nothing unhygienic about swimming during your period. If you use a tampon or menstrual cup, it’s unlikely that any blood would be released into the water while you swim. Even if your period started while you were swimming and a small amount of blood came out, this would be diluted by the water. Swimming pools contain small amounts of bodily fluids like urine and sweat, but the water is usually treated with chlorine to prevent the spread of disease. In other words, you are not endangering anyone’s health by swimming during your period.

Will I leave a bloody trail in the water?
Water pressure can stop your flow temporarily while you swim, but if you laugh, cough, sneeze or move around, the pressure can change and a small amount of blood might come out. The good news is it probably won’t be visible. When you get out of the water your period will flow again normally, so it’s a good idea to use a tampon or menstrual cup while swimming. Pads and pantyliners aren’t a good option because they will absorb water and become ineffective. Menstrual cups can be left in for up to 12 hours, so they are a great alternative to tampons, but check with your healthcare provider before using a menstrual cup if you have an intrauterine device (IUD).

Am I going to get eaten by sharks?
There are no recorded cases of sharks attacking someone on their period. According to the International Shark Attack File, many people safely dive while menstruating. More research is needed, but they haven’t seen any pattern of increased attacks on menstruating divers. Marie Levine, Founder and Executive Director of The Shark Research Institute, has been diving for decades without any problem. 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.” So, go ahead, dive in! If you’re still worried, swim in a pool or somewhere sharks are unlikely to make an appearance.

Can I catch an infection from swimming during my period?
It’s very unlikely you would catch a vaginal disease from swimming. Skin infections and stomach illnesses from swallowing contaminated water are more common complaints. Check with your regional health authority for information on water quality at local swimming spots. Chlorinated pool water can irritate your vagina and vulva, leaving you at risk of developing a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis (BV). Take a shower after swimming to reduce chlorine exposure, and avoid sitting around in wet swimwear. If you notice any itching, burning or unusual discharge after swimming, get it checked by your healthcare provider.

Do I have to use a tampon while swimming?
If you can’t or don’t want to use a tampon or alternative product like a sponge or menstrual cup, you have a few options. If your flow is light, you can wear absorbent swimwear or a dark colored suit to prevent stains. Waterproof absorbent swimwear looks like regular bikini bottoms but has a hidden, leak-proof lining that helps absorb menstrual blood. You can wear a pad before and after swimming.

Can swimming make my cramps worse?
Low-intensity exercise like swimming can actually help to relieve menstrual cramps. During exercise your body releases endorphins which act as natural painkillers and give you an increased feeling of well-being. Research also shows that regular physical exercise can be effective in preventing premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Olympic medalist Fu Yuanhui broke taboos when she told reporters that period cramps had affected her performance. You might notice a difference in your strength and speed too, but if you want to swim, go for it. If your energy levels are low, feel free to rest and use pain relief. You can use Clue to track emotions and activities throughout your cycle, including swimming, cramps, and menstrual flow.

Can I delay my period until after I go swimming?
If you use typical combined hormonal contraceptive pills, it’s possible to skip or delay your period by immediately starting your next pack instead of taking the placebo pills. Some hormonal contraceptives are designed so that you only have a period every three months. If you’re an avid swimmer and prefer not to use tampons or alternatives, you could ask your doctor about these options and find what is best for you.

Will everyone know I have my period? What if I stain my bikini?
Menstruation is a natural process. If you’re worried about stains or leaks, you could wear a dark colored swimsuit or add an extra layer by wearing swim shorts. Ask a friend to alert you of any problems, or take a quick trip to the bathroom to check — this way you can relax and just have fun in the water.

If you want to go swimming — or do anything for that matter — don’t let your period stop you.

Track your cycle in Clue to better understand your body and find out when your next period is due.

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