Top things to know about swimming on your period:
It’s not unhygienic to swim while you’re on your period
You won’t leave a bloody trail in the water
You can use a tampon, sponge or a menstrual cup while swimming
People often write to us asking if it’s okay to swim while on their period. Will you get terrible cramps, get an infection, or be eaten by sharks? Not likely.
If you enjoy swimming during the rest of your cycle, you can still swim when you have your period!
Still, if you’d rather lie on the sofa and eat pizza, that’s also a valid option. Read on for answers to all your period swimming questions.
It is not 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 will 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.
You won’t 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 long-lasting alternative to tampons.
Use a tampon, sponge, or cup 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 look like regular bikini bottoms but have a hidden, leak-proof lining that helps absorb menstrual blood. You can wear a pad before and after swimming.
You can delay your period for swimming (and vacations)
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 healthcare provider about these options and find what is best for you.
Will everyone know I have my period?
If you’re worried about stains or leaks, you could wear a dark-colored swimsuit or add an extra layer by wearing swim shorts. Wearing a tampon or a menstrual cup will stop blood from leaking when you’re swimming. If you want to, you can ask a friend to alert you of any leaks, or take a quick trip to the bathroom to check—this way you can relax and just have fun in the water. But remember, menstruation is a natural process and most women and people with cycles have one too!
Swimming can relieve period cramps
Low-intensity exercise like swimming can actually help to relieve menstrual cramps (8). During exercise, your body releases endorphins that act as natural painkillers and give you an increased feeling of well-being. Research also shows that swimming can reduce premenstrual syndrome (PMS) (9). For some people, exercise might be negatively impacted by their menstrual cycle. Olympic medalist Fu Yuanhui broke taboos when she told reporters that period cramps had affected her performance.
You are more likely to get an ear infection than a vaginal infection from swimming
Skin infections, ear infections, and stomach illnesses from swallowing contaminated water are more common complaints than vaginal infections from swimming (3-6). Always check with regional health authorities for information on water quality at local swimming spots. Wet bathing suits can cause pH changes and irritate your vagina and vulva, leading to a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis (BV) (7). To reduce the risk of a yeast infection or BV, you can change into dry clothes after you swim. If you notice any itching, burning, or unusual discharge after swimming, talk to your healthcare provider.
You will not get eaten by sharks because of your period
Thanks to some popular films like Jaws, lots of people are afraid of sharks while swimming in the ocean. Some people with periods are told not to swim in the ocean during their periods because period blood might attract sharks (2). However, 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 divers while they’re on their periods. 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.”
How do I know if I started my period?
Your first period may be very light or short (10). It could be bright red or only a few reddish-brown spots. It is normal for your period to last 2-7 days. Periods are part of your menstrual cycle and usually come every 21-45 days. How long or often it comes may change during the first few years (10).
Every person’s body is on its own schedule. Before your get your first period, you might notice changes in your:
You can track your period by marking the first day you bleed in Clue. Keeping track of your period will help you understand your body better.
A previous version of this article was published, June 21 2017.