What to Expect After Ostomy Surgery

After your ostomy surgery, you’ll wake up in a hospital bed with a body that functions differently than it used to. It’ll take time to adjust to your new normal.

The First Days After Ileostomy or Colostomy Surgery

You’ll remain in the hospital for 3 to 7 days after your ostomy procedure. Nurses will encourage you to get up and get moving as soon as you can, which promotes the healing process. On day 1, you may only be able to walk to the bathroom and back; by day 3 after surgery, you may be able to complete a few laps around the floor, depending on your mobility and fitness level.

When nurses observe signs that your bowels are beginning to work — usually within a day or so of surgery — you can begin consuming clear liquids. After that, you’ll transition to a low-fiber diet.

Your wound, ostomy, and continence nurse will show you how to apply, empty and change your ostomy pouching system. You may feel frustrated or confused as you try doing this yourself for the first time. That’s OK! With time, you’ll gain skill and confidence.

Some pain is normal after ostomy surgery. You’ll manage your pain with medication delivered by epidural catheter or IV, or with oral medication.

Your stoma will be swollen in the days after surgery. Your nurse will help you measure it, so that you can adjust your ostomy pouch skin barrier to fit. Your nurse will also teach you how to keep the stoma and the peristomal skin clean and healthy, which is an essential part of ostomy self-care.

If your rectum and/or anus were removed as part of your ostomy surgery, then you’ll learn how to care for this posterior wound as well. Warm sitz baths can help.

The First Days After Urostomy Surgery

After your urostomy, you’ll remain in the hospital for 3 to 7 days. You may not be able to eat solid foods for a few days; instead, you’ll get nutrition through an IV. Once your bowels are active again, you’ll transition to a liquid and then a solid diet. It’s important to drink 8 to 10 glasses of water daily so you stay hydrated, reduce odor and reduce your chance of a urinary tract infection.

As with colostomy surgery, you’ll be encouraged to slowly resume physical activity to promote healing. Soon after your surgery, you’ll practice walking around and sitting up for progressively longer periods of time.

Your wound, ostomy, and continence (WOC) nurse will show you how to apply, drain and change your urostomy pouch. You’ll also learn how to keep the stoma and the peristomal skin clean and healthy.

Returning Home After Ostomy Surgery

You should be strong enough to return home within a week, but your recovery from ostomy surgery will take about 8 weeks. During that time, stay hydrated, follow your doctor’s instructions about what to eat and drink, and keep a close eye on your stoma and peristomal skin. You’ll notice your stoma slowly shrinking in the weeks after surgery, which is normal.

You may want to hire a home nurse to help you for the first few weeks. Call your WOC nurse if you have any questions about how to apply or change your ostomy pouch, or if you need help managing your pain.

Typically, the hospital will give you about 3 weeks’ worth of ostomy supplies. Once you have a good sense of the type of products that work best for you, you can order more supplies so you always have some available.

During your recovery, you should continue to stay physically active and participate in gentle to moderate exercise. Don’t lift anything heavy for 6 to 8 weeks, and avoid strenuous activities for at least 3 months. Your doctor will tell you when you can return to normal activities, including work and driving.

Read more: Working With an Ostomy

When to Call Your WOC Nurse or Doctor

It’s especially important to keep an eye on your peristomal skin, which is vulnerable to irritation, injury and infection. If you see a rash or sores, contact your WOC nurse for help. 

If you notice any unusual or troubling symptoms, or if you begin feeling unwell after your ostomy surgery, contact your medical team right away. Symptoms that could indicate a serious problem with your ostomy include:


  • A change in stoma color, from pink-red to purple, black or pale
  • A stoma that appears dry
  • An increase or dramatic change in stoma size
  • The stoma retracting or elongating
  • Excessive bleeding from the stoma opening
  • Bleeding between the stoma and skin
  • Pain or sores on your peristomal skin
  • Unusual bulging around your stoma
  • A strong odor from the stoma
  • Urine that’s bloody or foul-smelling
  • An absence of bowel movements for more than 2 days
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Any unusual abdominal pain or continuous nausea and vomiting


You should call 911 or go to the emergency room if you notice rapid or dramatic changes in stoma color, or if you’re experiencing symptoms of severe cellulitis, such as  high fever, chills, vomiting, and areas of skin that are red, hard, swollen, hot or painful.

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