Living with a Stoma

Going back to work, what you can eat, going on holiday and who you can turn to with the questions you’re bound to have; Coloplast Care gives readers advice and inspiration for living with your stoma.

Will I smell?
All stoma bags have been designed and developed to include charcoal filters. These filter the air and absorb odours. Your bag shouldn’t smell, except when you are changing or emptying it. If you are worried, there are a couple of hints and tips to reduce odours. Avoid obviously smelly foods, like eggs, onions and strong cheese. There are also some foods that can help like yoghurt, orange juice and parsley.

Will the stoma be noisy?
It is normal to pass wind out of your stoma, and yes it can be a little grumbly and noisy. However, there are ways to reduce wind; try avoiding fizzy drinks, beer and food like broccoli, cheese or beans. There could also be an increase in wind going through your bag from lifestyle activities such as smoking or chewing gum—things where you are increasing air intake.

Can I wear my usual clothes?
You should be able to wear the same clothes you wore before surgery.
Your stoma care nurse will usually have spoken to you before surgery about the best place to position the stoma on your abdomen to try and avoid your waistbands. Depending on the stoma placement, some people choose to wear loose or tighter clothing to hide it.

Will I need to change my diet?
No—but just like everyone else, you should eat a balanced diet, and yes this can include your favourite foods! You may find in the initial four to six weeks after surgery that you prefer to eat little and often. This helps regulate a more predicable bowel movement and stoma output.

Start with foods that are easy to digest; things like mashed potato, soup, root vegetables that have been well cooked, ice cream, jelly and custard. When you feel up to it, work your way back to your usual diet.

I love swimming, can I still do this?
Yes! Exercise builds strength making your everyday life easier to manage. Especially in the months after your surgery it can really help speed up the recovery, as the physical activity gives you more energy and makes you stronger and build essential core strength.

Take care in the immediate weeks after your surgery and consult with your stoma care nurse who can advise you further. Listen to your body and when you feel ready, there is no reason why having a stoma should stop the activities you enjoy doing.

I want to travel abroad, what should I do?
As with any surgery it’s advisable not to travel within six weeks of your operation. Always consult with your stoma care nurse and travel insurance before travelling. Apart from that, there is no reason why having a stoma should restrict your ability to travel. You’ll need to remember to add a few more things to your packing list if you are travelling abroad to ensure you have enough supplies whilst you’re away from home. Remember to always pack supplies in your hand luggage too. Don’t forget to take stoma bags pre-cut to size as you’ll have to pack scissors in your suitcase and not in your hand luggage.

Before you board a flight, think about your routine and prepare for the flight duration. Empty or drain your bag before you depart. Think about the food and drink you consume before the flight too. For example, think about the duration of the flight and how you may feel sitting for prolonged periods and perhaps request or pre-book an aisle seat too.

Can I return to work?
You may have concerns about returning to work and this is only natural after time away.
It’s important to be open and honest and discuss your situation with your trusted employer. Not everyone needs to know about your stoma, but explain your surgery and your stoma care routine to your employer as soon as you can so you can discuss your options. Initially you will be tired and it’s important to build back strength slowly. You may feel that a phased return, reduced hours, or lighter duties and responsibilities are necessary. Your employer can help facilitate this as you adjust to your daily routine.

Can I still have sex?
Intimacy and sex are a natural part of your life and having a fulfilling intimate relationship is as important after your surgery is it was beforehand. While the operation may have changed your body, it hasn’t changed who you are.

Be open to discussing your feelings and you shouldn’t misinterpret it as rejection if your partner is worried about hurting you. Instead, share your concerns and listen to your partner’s concerns.

Having had surgery, you may experience:

  • Physical limitations such as vaginal dryness or problems with erections
  • Pain
  • Fears in terms of odour, leakage or rejection
  • Anger, resentment or guilt that interfere with the desire to have sex

These are frequently temporary, but always discuss with a health care professional as soon as possible if you experience any of these.

You should also consult with your stoma care nurse for the type of contraception that’s best for you.

Will having a stoma affect my fertility?
The medication and treatment before surgery may affect your fertility—your doctor or stoma care nurse can talk to you about the potential risks affecting your fertility.

Some types of reconstructive pouch surgery can cause a build-up of scar tissue in the fallopian tubes and reduce fertility in women. Key hole surgery is less likely to affect fertility than open surgery. For men, reconstructive pouch surgery in some instances may cause erectile dysfunction.

If you become pregnant post stoma surgery, you may wish to advise your stoma care nurse at an early stage.

Who can I turn to for support?

Your  stoma care nurse is there to help you with all your clinical needs and to give advice.
Consult with them pre and post-surgery and before trying any new products or stoma care routines, as they will be able to advise on the specific features and products and what is suitable for your needs.

There are also several dedicated associations and support groups specific to the type of stoma you have. In the digital age, most can be found online, and they also have membership opportunities to keep up to date with regular communications.

Our thanks to Coloplast Care for this article. You can register to be part of the Coloplast Care community and support programme to receive more inspiration for daily life by visiting

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