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The Beach Lover’s Guide to Feeding Tube Care

I’m always happy at the beach, even with my tube!

One of my first questions about getting a tube was if I could still go swimming. Thankfully, the answer is yes! I’m not ashamed of my tube, but I did feel a little awkward at first (mostly in front of people I know), with everyone being able to see it, since normally it’s hidden under my clothes. I wasn’t going to let having a feeding tube stop me from enjoying one of my favorite things, however, and I got used to it quickly. These days, I don’t even think about it! Read on for more about swimming and going to the beach with a feeding tube.

My family has a love of the ocean that has spanned generations. My maternal grandfather was a carpenter and boat builder (he mostly restored sailboats) and a merchant marine in WWII. My maternal grandfather was a WAVE in the Navy in WWII. She served in Pearl Harbor prior to the bombing and was one of the first women in the military. When they passed away, their ashes were scattered in the ocean, as well as my mother’s oldest sister’s. My mom says we love being the ocean because it reminds us of being in the womb, and that when she swims in the ocean she has feels an incredible sense of well being and a unique feeling of peace. She definitely feels happiest when she’s at the beach, and it has a strong hold over me as well. I love to swim in the ocean and almost always go in no matter how cold it is. Pretty much the only time I’m not in pain is when I’m in the water, especially when it’s cold. I don’t weigh anything, I can float and move through the water without dragging my aching body around. It’s blissful and I’m so glad I didn’t have to give it up.

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When I met with my surgeon prior to my GJ tube surgery, I asked him about swimming once I had my tube. He said yes, once it’s healed I could swim in the ocean and in pools if I was reasonably sure they were clean, but rivers, ponds, lakes and hot tubs were out of the question. Fresh water is often contaminated with animal feces and bacteria like giardia, and hot tubs are so warm that they encourage bacterial growth. I was sad I couldn’t swim in rivers, because I love swimming in cold, clear, mountain streams, but it was definitely better than nothing! I’m not a hot tub fan anyway.

The Oley Foundation agrees with my surgeon and recommends that patients talk to their doctor first, but that “Tube-fed consumers can swim if their stoma site is healed and healthy, and they avoid a poor quality water source.” This is echoed by the Feeding Tube Awareness Foundation, an organization for the parents of children with feeding tubes.

On the beach in Bermuda with my husband

Personally, I swim as much as I can in the ocean and have gone swimming in pools as well, both with no problems. I even went swimming every day for over a week in Bermuda, on my honeymoon! I don’t cover my tube with anything, but I’m really careful to keep my stoma clean and dry as soon as I get out of the water. Below is how I handle swimming with my tube and some tips for what supplies to put in your beach bag. Keep in mind that you should always discuss things like this with your doctor before doing them! Safety first.

  • Sunscreen! Sunscreen! Obviously you should wear sunscreen whenever you’re at the beach, pool, etc, but I’ll tell you right now you only need one sunburn around your stoma to realize how important it is to protect it as well! Ouch! I put sunscreen on before I leave the house as close to my stoma as I can, and then put zinc oxide diaper rash cream (which I always use to protect my skin, but also here does double duty as sunscreen) right up to the stoma. Then, I let it dry, and…
  • Avoid soggy dressings and anything wet around your tube. After letting the sunscreen dry so the tape will adhere to my skin, I tape my tube down flat to my abdomen (I always tape it down to keep it stable), but without the IV drainage sponge, because wet anything resting on your skin around your stoma = major risk of fungal infection. I also would not wear a one-piece (I always wear a bikini anyway) for the same reason.
  • Keep your tube from getting pulled out. Like I mentioned above, I tape mine securely to my abdomen, and I’m recommend doing that, just to make totally sure it won’t get accidentally pulled out – that could be catastrophic at the beach!
  • Clean and dry the site every time you get out of the water. I rinse my stoma off with pressurized, sterile saline and sometimes hydrogen peroxide when I get out of the water, dry it with a sterile pad, then reapply sunscreen, zinc oxide and retape. It’s a pain but much better than getting an infection!
  • Know when not to swim. Lakes, ponds, rivers, hot tubs, pools or beaches that don’t seem clean or have animals swimming in them, and honestly if I see a lot of little kids I’ll avoid swimming because…warm spots? and, of course, if your stoma is infected. You can check on beach water quality in the U.S. at the EPA’s website.

What’s in my tubie beach bag? Hypoallergenic sunscreen | Zinc oxide diaper rash cream | Pressurized sterile saline in a can | Hydrogen peroxide | Q-Tips | IV drainage sponges | Medical tape | Hand sanitzer | Tissues or paper towels | Plastic bag for trash

And general spoonie beach tips…

  • Hydrate with electrolytes (replace the salt you’re sweating out). I drink 4-5 Nuun tablets in water daily and a ridiculous amount of water, so to the beach I bring two Hydroflasks, the best water bottles ever – they keep water cold forever- one for Nuun water, one for regular water, with tons of ice. I also bring an extra bottle or even gallon jug of water to add to my ice-filled hydroflask and to make more electrolyte water.
  • Shade. I usually have an umbrella, you can get these little umbrellas that attach to your beach chair, or use a regular beach umbrella. I also always have a sun hat and long-sleeved cover up.

Have fun!!!

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