Lifestyle Changes With an Ostomy
After your ostomy, you’ll need to get to know your body again. Your digestive or urinary system functions differently now. You may have lost some strength and stamina after surgery, or from years of illness. And you’re still getting used to having a stoma and using your ostomy pouching system.
Recovery is a long process. But here’s the good news: You can get back to living the life you enjoy. You may even be able to do more than you used to, now that you no longer have to deal with frequent pain and feeling sick.
How Does Eating Change After an Ostomy?
In the weeks after your ostomy surgery, you’ll want to stick to a bland, low-fiber diet as your digestive system heals and adapts. Eat small, frequent meals, eat slowly, and chew your food well. Avoid foods that are high in fat, fried, heavy or spicy. Examples of foods you can eat soon after an ostomy include:
- Lean meats and poultry
- Low-fiber produce, such as fruits without skin and cooked vegetables without seeds or skin
- White bread, pasta and rice
- Low-fat milk
Reintroduce foods into your diet one by one. If any food causes digestive upset (bloating, gas or diarrhea), stop eating it for a few weeks. Once your doctor says it’s OK, you can begin eating high-fiber foods again, along with plenty of water.
Hydration is essential when you live with an ostomy. When the large intestine is interrupted, that limits the re-absorption of water in your digestive system. Be sure to drink water or low-sugar, high-electrolyte beverages throughout the day.
Eventually, you should be able to eat most of the foods you enjoyed before your ostomy. Certain foods are known to frequently cause gas and/or bad odors in people with an ostomy, so you may have to cut them from your diet. These include:
- Cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli, cabbage, and kale)
- Onions, garlic and leeks
- Peas and beans
How Does Sleeping Change After an Ostomy?
Sleep is supposed to relax and refresh you… but many people worry about sleeping with an ostomy pouch. Will you have to get up several times in the night? What if it leaks while you’re asleep? Sticking to a set bedtime routine can help you adjust and put your mind at ease.
If you have a colostomy or ileostomy, refrain from eating for at least two hours before bedtime. This can help reduce nighttime output. Empty your ostomy pouch before going to bed, and check the skin barrier’s seal with your abdomen.
To avoid leaks, you’ll want to make sure your pouch stays in place without putting too much pressure on it. An ostomy belt or wrap can help, or a snug-fitting shirt. Don’t wear pajama pants or leggings with a tight waistband that could restrict the flow of output into your pouch. Find a comfortable sleeping position on your back or side, where your ostomy pouch is supported by the bed or a pillow.
Set an alarm to wake you up once or twice during the night, so you can empty your pouch. After a while, this may become second nature. Some people who have lived with an ostomy for a long time say they automatically wake up when the bag is full.
Most everyone has experienced a few episodes when the pouch detaches or leaks during the night. Use a waterproof mattress pad and keep a change of sheets handy, just in case.
If you have a urostomy, you may want to use a night drainage system. This routes urine from your pouch to a collection container near your bed. Using a special adapter (which comes with many urostomy pouches), connect a drainage tube to the container at bedtime. Don’t empty your pouch before connecting it — it should be about 1/4 full to get the flow started.
Every few days, you should clean this system by flushing the tubing with 1/4 cup vinegar, followed by 2 cups of water. Let this mixture sit in the container for an hour, then rinse the tubing and container and let it dry.
How Does Exercise Change After an Ostomy?
Once you’ve recovered from your ostomy surgery, you can return to doing any physical activity you enjoy. Having a stoma and ostomy pouch isn’t a barrier to participating in sports — people with ostomies run marathons, compete in triathlons, and climb mountains. Use these tips when you’re ready to return to your exercise routine.
- Talk to your healthcare provider first to make sure it’s OK to begin exercising.
- Begin slowly. Walking, swimming, and tai-chi all are gentle, low-impact exercises.
- Practice hernia prevention. Peristomal hernias, which occur when the intestines push through the abdominal wall, are a common complication of ostomy surgery. Use caution when lifting weights or doing crunches, and consider wearing a hernia support belt.
- Stay hydrated. Dehydration is a special concern for people with an ostomy.
- Don’t be afraid to go swimming. People with ostomies can safely swim — the skin barrier is water-resistant, and as long as you have a proper seal with your skin, you don’t have to worry.
Living with an Ostomy: Eating, Hygiene, Travel, Relationships & More (UChicago Medicine)
Diet Guidelines for People With a Colostomy (Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center)
Urostomy: Using a Night Drainage System (Fairview Health Services)
How Do You Sleep With an Ostomy Bag? (Dr. Don Schiller)
Exercising After Ostomy Surgery: 6 Common Questions (Hollister)
Get Back in the Game (United Ostomy Associations of America)