Swimming and periods

Most women and girls of child-bearing age bleed every month, unless they are pregnant or breast-feeding.  Many, many millions of them swim.  But we know girls often worry about swimming during their period, so we’ve gathered some tips and information which might help. 

If you’d prefer to talk to someone face to face, Sam Lake would be very happy to chat to you.  She has vast experience of handling periods during training and competitions and, as a teacher, is used to discussing them with girls.  She can also pass messages to James for you, if there are things you feel awkward about telling him yourself.

  1.  It is absolutely fine, and completely normal, to swim while you are bleeding.  Indeed, if you are feeling a bit “meh”, swimming might help.  Exercise is a great way of dealing with cramps as well as improving your mood.  All high-level swimmers train and compete every day of their cycle.  Whenever you watch women competing, you can be sure that some of them are on their period.
  2. There are lots of options when it comes to dealing with your flow while you are in the water.  Which you choose will be a matter of personal preference and may depend on how heavily you bleed.  Don’t try to swim with an ordinary pad on; it will become saturated with water.
    (1) Unless your flow is very heavy, you can swim without any protection.  The water pressure will generally keep the blood inside you while you are in the pool.  Just go to the toilet immediately before the session and again afterwards.
    (2) You can get period proof swimwear, which absorbs any flow while you are in the water – e.g. https://www.modibodi.co.uk/collections/swim.  Although modibodi describe their swimwear as being for “light to moderate flow”, they say this means it will hold about 10ml.  That is roughly the same as two daytime pads [i].  Period swimwear can be worn on its own, or some people choose to wear the briefs under normal swimwear.
    (3) Alternatively, you can use a tampon or a menstrual cup.  These catch the blood before it leaves your body.  Learning to use them might seem a little daunting at first, but generally becomes much easier with practice.  You can get versions designed especially for teenagers or younger girls.
  3. Leaking in the pool is not the end of the world.  It is very unlikely anyone will notice and you aren’t going to cause any harm.  The amount of blood will be infinitesimal compared to the volume of the pool.  A typical leak would be less than one millilitre; that is about 1/250,000,000th the amount of water in Meadowlands pool.  Or, to put it another way, as small as the distance between Meadowlands and Drake’s statute is compared to the distance from the earth to the sun.  In addition, swimming pools have chemicals to deal with any possibility of infection.
  4. If you fear getting out of the water for diving or doing exercises on the side will cause you problems, speak to your coach.  You can practise backstroke starts instead of dives and wrap a towel around you for land exercises.  There’s no need to be embarrassed: James has been a coach for well over a decade; it is not new to him and he will understand.
  5. If you get your period during a gala and don’t have anything with you, speak to one of the team managers.  They will have a bag with supplies in it.
  6. You might find your performance depends on where you are in your cycle.  That’s just life, I’m afraid.  Even elite athletes have to deal with it, and more and more of them are now talking about it.  See, for example, Eilish McColgan discussing her issues here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/athletics/61752427
  7. Although periods can be annoying, they are a useful sign that everything is working as it should.  It is not healthy to get so thin, or to train so much, that your periods stop.  That is a sign that your body no longer has enough energy to function normally and you should talk to your GP if it happens to you.
  8. Your GP may also be able to help if your periods are so heavy that they affect your life.
  9. Finally, although it is absolutely OK to swim during your period, it is also OK not to.  Some clubs force people to do things; that is not us.  The Sunday technique sessions follow a cycle – front crawl one week, breaststroke the next etc. – but James is careful to avoid it being a regular one.  So if you do miss (e.g.) one week in four, you will not always be missing the same stroke.




[i] Different products vary, but a daytime pad holds about 5ml when fully saturated and an overnight one about 10-15ml: Heavy periods? How much a tampon holds | Norton Children's Louisville, Ky. (nortonchildrens.com); ?How much blood do you lose during your period? (flo.health)