After stoma surgery

The days after stoma surgery can be challenging. You have a pouch attached to your abdomen and lots of new things to learn. It's important to remember that it takes time to adjust, but it will get easier. With support from your stoma care nurse and practical guidance on how to change your ostomy pouch and care for your skin, you should soon be able to do the things you’ve always done.

In this section, you’ll find information that is intended to guide you as you become used to your stoma, up to the first 3 months after surgery. As well as information on managing your stoma, you’ll find helpful tips, keeping your skin healthy and other aspects of getting used to your stoma. 

Getting used to your stoma

What will the stoma look and feel like after surgery? What will the stoma look and feel like after surgery? When you wake up after the operation you’ll be wearing your first pouch. This will probably be a clear one so that your nurses can check on your new stoma easily. The days after stoma surgery
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How does it look after surgery?

When you wake up after the operation you’ll be wearing your first pouch. This will probably be a clear one so that your nurses can check on your new stoma easily. You may also have drips and drains attached to your body. This is perfectly normal and they will be removed with very little discomfort when appropriate.

Your stoma
Your stoma will be moist and pinkish-red in colour and should protrude from your abdomen. It may be quite swollen to begin with but will reduce in size over time – usually 6 to 8 weeks after surgery. A stoma is red in colour.  This is because it is a mucous membrane, just like the mucous membrane inside your mouth. There is no sensation in the stoma, so it is not at all painful to touch.  The stoma can bleed a little when being cleaned, especially in the beginning, but this is quite normal, and should stop shortly afterwards.

Your stoma will begin to work shortly after your operation, usually within a few days. At first the output will be a watery liquid and may be strong-smelling as your bowel hasn’t been working for a while. Don’t worry, though, the consistency will thicken slightly and the smell will diminish as you resume a more balanced diet. Your doctor will advise you when you will be able to eat and drink as usual.

Initially, it’s also likely that a certain amount of noisy wind will come from the stoma – again this is perfectly normal. It is not uncommon to feel the need to go to the toilet as you did before. This is normal and should reduce with time. If your anus is still present there may be some mucus discharge from it.

Urostomy
If you have a urostomy, the stoma will begin to work immediately after your operation. The tubes placed in the urostomy will be left in place for seven to ten days. At first, your urine may be tinged red, but it will soon return to its usual colour.

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Taking good care of your stoma Taking good care of your stoma Keeping the skin around your stoma in good condition is the most important thing you can do to make life with a stoma pouch secure, comfortable and worry-free. Healthy stoma
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Taking good care of your stoma

It is important to keep the skin around your stoma healthy. Contact between stoma output and skin causes skin irritation that then affects how well the adhesive on the appliance sticks to your body. This creates a vicious circle of more leakage and even more irritated skin.

 

Keep your skin healthy
These six steps will help you keep your skin healthy: 

  1. Make sure your skin is clean and completely dry before applying the adhesive
  2. Adjust the hole in the adhesive so that it exactly fits around your stoma
  3. Make sure that there is full contact between the adhesive and your skin – use a bit of light pressure with your hand
  4. Change your appliance as soon as you feel any discomfort or itching
  5. Check the size of the stoma regularly, especially if you have a hernia
  6. Make sure to use the stoma appliance and accessories most appropriate for your body profile 

Use the right type of appliance
If you have concerns that your appliance is not providing a secure enough fit for your stoma and body shape, it is always advisable to check with your stoma care nurse first. There are many different types of stoma appliances available, so you might have to try a few to find the perfect product for you. 

You can choose between different pouch sizes, application systems, colours, adhesive types and many other features to suit your lifestyle.

See the product finder for more details.

Use the right accessories
Coloplast also offers a wide range of accessories available to make wearing a stoma pouch even more comfortable. These can help improve sealing, prevent skin problems and reduce smell.

You can see more detailed instructions on changing and draining a stoma pouch in our instructional videos.

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How do I learn about my managing my stoma? How do I learn about my managing my stoma? Your stoma care nurse will explain how to take care of your stoma while you’re still in hospital. There’s a lot of information to take in, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. Taking care of your stoma
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Becoming confident with your stoma

After your operation, your stoma care nurse will focus on helping you become confident in taking care of your stoma. It will help to have a close relative or spouse with you for this training.

Your nurse will help you with:

  • Learning how to care for your stoma, including what to watch out for
  • Re-ordering stoma pouches and accessories
  • Your rights regarding reimbursement and other economic support relating to your stoma
  • Other practical aspects of living with a stoma, e.g. foods and drink, your social life, travelling and your intimate relationships
  • Who to contact when you have questions
  • Ostomy associations in your area 

Ask questions
There will be a lot of new information to take in at once; it may even feel a bit overwhelming. Take your time and ask all the questions you need, as many times as you need to. The more you ask and try things out, the better prepared you will be once you are back at home.


Before you leave hospital, your stoma care nurse will make arrangements for a follow-up consultation to make sure you feel confident caring for your stoma.

Overcoming challenges
Once you are home, you may experience some challenges caring for your stoma. But remember that your stoma care nurse, as well as Customer Care will be more than happy to help you with any issues.

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Adjusting to everyday life with a stoma

Everyday life with a stoma Everyday life with a stoma As you recover from the surgery, you’ll find yourself adjusting to life with a stoma. Read hints an tips on socialising, food and drink, and exercising. Everyday life with a stoma
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Everyday life with a stoma

Sports
Exercise is good for everyone. What you can do now really just depends on what you did before. Swimming and walking are both great low-impact ways to keep fit and keep your energy levels up. Just remember that taking up sport again should be a gradual process. Talk to your stoma care nurse for advice on how to reduce the risk of getting a hernia.

Swimwear tips:

  • Try before you buy. There is specialist swimwear available, but it should not be necessary

For women

  • A one-piece costume with ruched fabric or patterns can help disguise the stoma pouch
  • Swimwear with a panel across the stomach can provide extra support.
  • Sarongs are great for covering up on the beach

For men

  • Layering a pair of lycra or stretch material swimming trunks underneath shorts will help hold your stoma pouch in place

Sunbathing tip:Apply suntan lotion only after you’ve put your bag on, as the creams may affect the adhesive.

 

Diet

You don’t need to follow a special diet, but just like anyone else, some foods may cause wind or just not suit you.

If you think a particular food is causing problems, try cutting it out for a while – then reintroduce it into your diet later. If you do this three times with any suspect food, you’ll know if it’s really causing an issue.

Chewing your food really well before swallowing aids digestion. In addition, charcoal tablets from the pharmacy can help avoid wind, as can peppermint and fennel tea. Yoghurt and yoghurt drinks can help some people too.

Foods that can cause wind include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, spinach, beans (green and baked), onions, garlic, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, sweetcorn and peas.

Drinks
As before your surgery, how much fluid you drink will affect the consistency of your output. It’s very individual, but many people find fizzy drinks and beer tend to cause wind. Water, squash and fruit juice are better than tea and coffee, which can be dehydrating. As for alcohol, you can still have a drink as long as it doesn’t interfere with any medication.

Have a chat with your doctor or specialist stoma nurse if you have any concerns. 


Constipation
If you are suffering from constipation, adapting your diet will help. Everyone’s is different so you know what is normal for you. If you are passing wind, your stoma is working. Increasing your fluid intake will help with constipation, but if you have any discomfort or concerns please contact your specialist stoma nurse or pharmacist. If you haven’t been for 3-4 days, they may recommend a laxative.

Diarrhoea
Occasionally, just like everyone else, you may suffer from a bout of diarrhoea or loose stools. Don’t be too alarmed about this. A one-off episode of diarrhoea may be caused by something you ate and will often resolve itself. However, three or more consecutive loose stools are a cause for concern as you risk becoming dehydrated. At this point, you should consult your stoma care nurse.


Dining out
Once you have a better idea of the types of foods that suit you, there’s no reason not to enjoy eating out again.

Start with a familiar restaurant and keep it simple – something like a pizza. When ordering, you don’t have to be too over cautious, just sensible. Order what you want but be aware that rich foods and sauces may cause a problem.

If you’re concerned about particular types of food, try them out at home first so you know how you’re going to react, and then add them to your diet gradually.

If you normally have a drink at home, start with a smaller version of your usual, e.g. a small beer rather than a large one. This will help your body build up your tolerance to alcohol again.

Socialising
Whether it’s a quiet drink in your local bar, a meal out with your partner or going out with friends, nothing should stop you from enjoying all the social events that you were doing before your operation.

It may be helpful to set yourself small targets to start with. It could be something as simple as using a public toilet for the first time, visiting a restaurant or relative or planning a day away. Before long, you will be thinking about booking a holiday or even going out dancing.

When you meet new people, you don’t have to tell them about your condition, unless you are comfortable doing that. It’s entirely up to you.

Intimacy 
Having any type of operation can affect how you look and feel about your body. Try and accept that it will take time to adjust. It’s not just about your stoma but your whole body.

Sexual activity doesn’t put you at risk of damaging your stoma and most people are able to resume a healthy sex life. It is natural to feel nervous so only do what feels comfortable, take your time and talk to your partner.

There are small stoma pouches that can be used during intimate moments. Contact customer service for complimentary samples.

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Who and what to tell about your stoma Who and what to tell about your stoma After your operation, one of the big questions may be: how and who do I tell about my stoma? Who to tell?
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Who and what to tell about your stoma

Whoever you decide to tell, the most important thing is that you are comfortable with your decision. You may want to explain that you had major surgery because of a serious illness and now wear a stoma pouch. This often leaves few other questions to be asked and people will see that you have a straightforward attitude towards your condition.

Family and friends
Being open and honest with the people close to you can help you get back to the life you had before your stoma surgery. In the beginning, it’s important for the people closest to you to understand that although you are back home, recovery from major surgery will take time.

Children
If you have young children or grandchildren you may feel that they are too young to understand. However, children tend to cope well if they are given the information in a simple way. Children will often pick up on secrets and hiding the truth from them can sometimes make them think a situation is more serious than it really is.

At work
Many people are concerned about telling work colleagues. And just like with family and friends, who you tell and what you tell them is entirely up to you. However it’s usually advisable to ensure that at least one person knows you have a stoma. Then, in case there are any problems or issues, you will have someone to talk to. 

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Going back to work Going back to work After surgery, it’s natural to want to get back to your everyday life as soon as you can. Going back to work may be part of that and, with a bit of planning, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be possible. Back to work after stoma surgery
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Going back to work

Thinking ahead
After surgery, it’s entirely possible for most people to go back to work. But when and how you do this really depends on how you feel, the type of work you do, and the stoma operation you had.

Talk to your employer and discuss your options as soon as possible. It may be possible to return to work part-time; this could be particularly helpful when you first go back as you may still feel tired and need time to get used to new routines.

Try it out
A few weeks before you go back, do a few trial runs where you dress and plan your day as if you were going to work. Think about your diet and when and how many times a day you may need to change or empty your pouch. This will help you to establish routines and plan your day accordingly. Most importantly, it will make you feel prepared.

Tips

  • Speak to your employer as soon as you can
  • If possible, build up your working hours gradually
  • Check the available changing facilities at work
  • Pack a small changing bag that you can take discreetly to the bathroom
  • Do trial runs before you start work, thinking about diet and clothing etc.
  • If your company provides healthcare insurance, check whether your condition affects the policy
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Travelling with a stoma Travelling with a stoma Having a stoma needn’t stop you from travelling or start planning a holiday a few months after your surgery. Tips for travelling with a stoma
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Holidays and travelling with a stoma

Travelling
Having a stoma needn’t stop you from travelling. You may, however, need a bit of time to adjust to having a stoma and feel ready to travel. Start by taking short trips, and see how it goes from there.

Whether you are travelling by car, ferry, train or plane, it’s important to be well prepared. Pack a small, travel changing bag and keep plenty of extra pouches and any other supplies you may need with you.

Flying
If you are flying, make sure you pack plenty of supplies to take with you on the flight and for while you’re away, plus extra for contingencies. Divide up your supplies in different bags just in case your luggage is misplaced or your flight is delayed. Don’t forget that scissors aren’t permitted in hand luggage, so cut all of your bags to size before you fly.

Don’t be concerned about your pouch expanding due to the change in cabin pressure. Stoma pouches have been designed and tested to withstand pressure changes.

Travelling abroad
Before you travel abroad, check your travel insurance policy to see how your condition and circumstances are covered while away.

In warmer climates, you may perspire more and thus need to change your pouch more frequently. Always make sure your skin is completely dry before applying a new pouch ensure a good secure fit. If necessary, use a hairdryer to dry the area – but be careful not to have the heat setting too hot.

You may also be at increased risk of diarrhoea or dehydration. Drink plenty of water, and take rehydration sachets and medicine to treat diarrhoea, just in case.

Once you are on holiday, remember that you can still do all of the same activities you did before, and relax and enjoy yourself.

Holiday tips:

  • Store stoma pouches in a cool place
  • Use bottled drinking water to change your pouch when out and about
  • Apply suntan lotion after you’ve put your pouch on, as the creams may affect the adhesive
  • Seal and empty used pouches and dispose of them with normal rubbish
  • If you feel a bit self-conscious about leaving bags in your hotel room, use public bins
  • Before leaving for your vacation, find out where you can get professional healthcare assistance at your destination, just in case.
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Intimacy & relationships after stoma surgery Intimacy & relationships after stoma surgery Intimacy and a normal loving relationship following stoma surgery can be resumed. How and when depends on the nature of the operation you've had. Read more
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Sex and intimacy

Following stoma surgery, it’s natural to have concerns about your body’s appearance. It can take time to get used to the physical changes and you may feel less attractive as a result. Although it can be challenge, it’s important to learn to accept it as a part of who you are.

What about intimacy?
Intimacy and a normal loving relationship following stoma surgery can be resumed. How and when depends on the nature of the operation you've had. However, impotence and/or discomfort can occur in cases where the rectum or bladder have been removed (women can also be affected by this).

It’s important to talk to your partner and try not to feel self-conscious because of the operation. It’s also important to talk to your stoma care nurse who is used to discussing the issues you’re experiencing and will be able to help in many ways. There are also many providers of ostomy lingerie in the UK who have a range of underwear specially designed for ostomates.

Can I have children?
Stoma and pregnancyYes. Having a stoma does not prevent a woman from carrying a baby to term and having a normal delivery. As the belly grows, the stoma will typically just follow the changing shape of the abdomen. In the later stages of pregnancy, you might need to use a mirror when changing your pouch. Delivery usually takes place as normal.

Talk about it 
Ultimately, nothing is more helpful than talking to someone who really understands what you are going through. Patient organisations and online communities (see section below) can help you and provide personal support.

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Stoma appliance terms explained Stoma appliance terms explained Life after stoma surgery is a journey, with challenges along the way. Your body can continue to change and there are a lot of new things to get to grips with – starting with the key terminology of stoma appliances. Read common terms of stoma appliances.
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Stoma appliance terms explained

To help you better understand your stoma appliance and discuss your needs with your stoma care nurse, here is a glossary of commonly used terms.

Adhesive: The part of a stoma appliance that attaches the appliance to your skin while you are wearing it. The adhesive must ensure close contact with the skin surface so that output from your stoma does not touch the surrounding skin.

Baseplate: The part of a two-piece stoma appliance that is covered by the adhesive.

Coupling system: This attaches the adhesive baseplate to the pouch in a two-piece appliance, allowing the pouch to be changed without changing the baseplate. It can either be mechanical, or adhesive.

Convexity: A specially shaped baseplate with an oval shell that puts light pressure on the peristomal skin. It is designed to help pouch a stoma that is difficult to manage, for example, a retracted stoma that lies below the skin.

Extended wear adhesive: An adhesive that can be worn for a longer time period, or if there is “aggressive” output from your stoma. Some types of ileostomy or urostomy can have output that breaks down standard adhesives too quickly. Extended wear adhesives are generally used with two-piece appliances.

Filter: From time to time, your stoma releases flatus or wind. The filter included in the appliance has a deodorising action which helps ensure there is no odour, one of the things that people often worry about. It also controls the release of the deodorised wind, so that your bag doesn’t inflate (which is also called ‘ballooning’).

Non-return valve: Urostomy appliances have a non-return valve to stop urine from flowing back to the stoma and help prevent urinary infections.

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Connecting with others who have an ostomy Connecting with others who have an ostomy Meeting and connecting with others who are going through or have been through ostomy surgery can be a reassuring source of support. Read more
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Support and community

Many people with an ostomy find it helpful to go to support group meetings or join a forum, Facebook group or follow people on Twitter. Whether you meet or chat often or just once in a while, it can be a good chance to learn more and to connect with others who have the same questions you do. You might well find you’re not the only one who’s wondering about certain issues: that question in the back of your mind isn’t odd after all… And answers to questions that never occurred to you could prove really useful.

It’s up to you how involved you become. Some people like the anonymity of the web. Some people find it reassuring to go to a few meetings in person, but it isn’t something they decide to do on a regular basis. Others find that talking to others regularly about stoma issues is very helpful. They enjoy both the learning and the social life it gives them.

Confidence and reassurance are key to how you continue to approach life in the months and years following surgery. Support groups can be an important part of regaining that confidence, you may even decide that you want to help others. Your stoma care nurse may have good suggestions on how and where you could help.

Another good resource are the national organisations (see below). They can help you connect with others or direct you to a local group meeting. Some people also choose to become a Certified Trained Visitor, those who volunteer to talk to people who’ve recently had a stoma operation, either while they’re in the hospital or during their recovery at home.

Ostomy support groups

Colostomy Association
www.colostomyassociation.org.uk 

The Urostomy Association
www.urostomyassociation.org.uk 

The Ileostomy and Internal Pouch Support Group (IA)
www.iasupport.org 

Stomawise 
www.stomawise.co.uk 

Living with a Stoma
www.living-with-a-stoma.co.uk 

Ostomy Lifestyle 
www.ostomylifestyle.co.uk/

Ostomyland
www.ostomyland.com

Gay and Lesbian Ostomates
www.glo-uoaa.org 

British Digestive Foundation
www.digestivedisorders.org 

Stoma Data - Practical Information for colostomates
www.stomadata.com 

International Ostomy Association
www.ostomyinternational.org


Stoma Data - Practical Information for colostomates
www.stomadata.com 

Cancer support groups and associations

Macmillan Cancer Relief
www.macmillan.org 

Beating Bowel Cancer
www.beatingbowelcancer.org 

Bowel Cancer UK
www.bowelcanceruk.org 

Bowel Cancer Information 
www.bowelcancer.tv

Have I Got Bowel Cancer - Symptom Checker
www.haveigotbowelcancer.com

Cancer Research UK
www.cancerhelp.org 

Cancer BACKUP
www.cancerbackup.org

Crohn's and Colitis support groups

Chrohn's & Colitis UK
http://www.crohnsandcolitis.org.uk/ 

National Association for Colitis & Chrohn's
www.nacc.org


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Living with a stoma

Read our guidance on managing your stoma 3+ months after surgery as you become more experienced. Read more 

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