For divers who menstruate, scuba diving on your period may initially seem like a scary or difficult concept. Many instructors have been approached by a nervous student asking whether they can continue with their course because they’ve started bleeding. But let us assure you, there is absolutely no reason why you can’t scuba dive during your period.
There are plenty of ways to be able to manage your period to allow you to enjoy being underwater, which we’ll share in this article. We’ll also talk you through the ways your period might affect your scuba diving experience, and debunk those good old shark myths (spoiler - you’re not going to get eaten by a shark whilst you’re menstruating).
Read on for everything you need to know about scuba diving on your period.
How does your period affect scuba diving?
Whilst it’s absolutely possible to scuba dive on your period, there are a few extra considerations you might want to think about compared to diving at any other time.
Menstruation and Decompression Sickness
Some research suggests that you have a slightly increased risk of decompression sickness during the follicular stage of your cycle. This stage is usually the two weeks leading up to ovulation, which includes when you’re on your period.
With this in mind you may want to consider diving more conservatively during your period. This may mean sticking to shallower dives, or changing your dive computer to a more conservative setting.
Dehydration and fatigue are two factors which can contribute to a higher risk of DCS, and both can be more common during your period. Ensure that you keep hydrated and well rested, and stay in tune with how you’re feeling.
Hormonal changes can cause you to feel the cold more than usual during your period. You may need to wear a thicker exposure suit or change your accessories (hood, gloves) to keep warm during your dives.
Energy levels can fluctuate hugely during your period, so you may find physical activity more challenging than normal. This applies to the activities that diving requires above the surface as well as your time spent underwater.
Underwater, you may want to avoid more strenuous dives (such as a dive with a long surface swim or one with strong currents). Some divers who menstruate report finding it more challenging than usual to walk long distances with heavy equipment. To avoid this, consider planning boat dives or shore dives with easier entries and exits.
Period Pains and Scuba Diving
If you’re someone who experiences menstrual cramps, you’ll know they can sometimes affect your ability to carry out tasks as you normally would. Painful cramps can make it difficult to concentrate, and this could be a potentially risky situation underwater.
Contrastingly, some divers report that diving is beneficial for reducing their menstrual cramps - read on for more about the potential benefits of scuba diving during your period.
PMS and Diving
PMS and menstruation can cause big changes to mood, some of which can have an impact on you underwater. Some people experience irritability, heightened anxiety, or feelings of stress around their period.
This could make diving more challenging or risky, so reconsider your dive plans if any of these emotions are likely to affect your focus underwater. This doesn’t necessarily mean cancelling a dive, but if you’re a newer diver you may want to reconsider dives which require a lot of task loading.
Buoyancy During Your Period
Menstruation can cause fluid retention, and some divers who menstruate have reported this having an effect on their buoyancy. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself having to adjust your weights by adding a kilo or so during your period - and remember to note why you added the extra kilo in your dive log!
Similarly, fluid retention and hormonal changes can mean your body shape fluctuates at different times during your cycle. Some divers have to adjust their BCD or wing differently, for example, or wetsuits may feel tighter in some places than they do for the rest of the month!
Listen to Your Body
If you’re a diver who experiences periods, some of these factors might resonate with you and others may not. Ultimately, it’s about your own personal experience - you’re the only one who can know how you feel during your period, and you get to decide how this influences your diving activities.
Listen to your body, and remember that any diver can cancel any dive at any time for any reason. If you’ve made the wrong call and decided to dive but no longer feel well enough to do so, that’s totally okay!
Are there any benefits to diving on your period?
It’s definitely not all doom, gloom and simplified dive plans when it comes to scuba diving whilst menstruating. Many of our Girls that Scuba members report that their diving is largely unaffected by being on their period, and some even see benefits to diving during their period!
This can include periods being shorter or lighter, and some people even experience reduced cramps as a result of diving (which is in line with a lot of non-diving research which suggests that exercise can be beneficial for reducing cramps).
These experiences of lighter and shorter periods are purely anecdotal, though, and dive medicine is still distinctly lacking in information on how menstruation affects scuba divers.
Will I attract sharks underwater when I’m on my period?
How many times have you been told tall tales of how sharks can sense a drop of blood from unbelievable distances? It’s a total myth, and in reality even the most sensitive sharks would be able to sense “...about one drop of blood in a small swimming pool”. When you’re diving in open water this is quite literally a drop in the ocean, so a shark is not going to notice your period blood.
Even then, sharks aren’t usually interested in humans and there is no evidence of sharks harassing or attacking people who are menstruating. Trust us, if this myth was true many divers on their periods would probably be flocking to the water to attract more sharks!
What menstrual products can I use for diving?
We’ve come a long way from the bulky pads and uncomfortable tampons of the past, and there are many more comfortable options for managing periods. If you’ve ever been unlucky enough to find a rogue tampon underwater, you’ll also be pleased to know that modern period solutions also tend to be more sustainable (including biodegradable tampons). Here are some solutions we suggest for water activities like scuba diving!
Menstrual cups are devices made from medical grade silicone which are inserted into the vagina to collect menstrual blood. This is then emptied as needed throughout the day, rinsed, and re-inserted. They are reusable for up to 10 years, making them beneficial for both your wallet and the planet.
There are so many brands of menstrual cup to choose from, and it’s also well documented that there’s a bit of a learning curve when you’re new to using a cup. Put A Cup In It is an incredible resource for learning all about how to use menstrual cups, and they even have a helpful quiz to find out which cups might work for your body.
Our very own Girls that Scuba Menstrual Cup is a soft, flexible cup which comes in two sizes. 10% from every cup sale is donated to Bloody Good Period, who fight for menstrual equity and the rights of all people who bleed.
Plastic Free Tampons
Since the rise of the menstrual cup, tampons get a bit of a bad rap. Not all tampons are created equal, though, and menstrual cups simply don’t work for every body.
If you prefer to use tampons, look for plastic free tampons with cardboard applicators and paper wrappers. There are even a number of brands which have created reusable tampon applicators, as cardboard isn’t always the easiest to use.
Period Underwear and Swimwear
As well as menstrual cups, period pants have seen a huge rise in popularity as a sustainable option in the last few years. Luckily for us scuba divers, this technology has even extended to swimwear!
WUKA’s Swim Bikini Brief comes in size XS-3XL, and can be worn on light flow days (holding up to two small tampons worth of flow) or for extra protection in combination with tampons or cups. GTS Membership Card holders receive a 10% discount at WUKA.
Period underwear can also be a great option for drysuit diving, too. However, remember that when you’re in a trim position underwater your flow is more likely to move forward, so look for styles where the “pad” portion of the underwear comes forward to the waistband too. This tends to be the case with overnight and heavy styles.
Changing Period Products Between Dives
We all know that accessible toilets and changing facilities can sometimes be a challenge in diving locations, so this can make changing period products more difficult. Our Girls that Scuba Changing Robe can give you a slightly more discrete way to change your period underwear, cup or tampon in a pinch.
Carrying hand sanitiser and a small bag for any rubbish can also be helpful. Finally, if you’re diving from larger boats with toilets, remember that as well as the drain systems being small your waste often ends up in the water, so tampons should never be flushed.