Updated: Aug 12
There is one question that our boys always dread. "Can I dive while on my period?" Our male instructors have asked me about the "Special Day" or "That Time of the Month". It's a period, boys, and it is very common, as are women's concerns about diving while on their period. To save them (the men) from having to confront one of nature's most natural events and explain how it affects diving, I thought I would write a blog for them and any female diver who also is not sure.
So we will address some of the more common questions and dispel some of the myths.
Can I dive on my period?
The answer is yes. Absolutely you can, but you know your body better than anyone, so you should consider how you feel before your dive, just like you would at any other time. Every woman feels differently while menstruating. Some have severe cramps and feel bloated or uncomfortable, while others have no side effects at all.
You must consider your comfort in the water and whether this will distract you from diving safely. If you do not feel comfortable diving, don't do it. This rule applies to any time you dive, not just on your period. You should always take a moment to review your state of mind and comfort levels, based on your knowledge of your body, before any dive. Especially those dives that can be a little more challenging.
That being said, some studies show that swimming can help relieve some menstrual cramping.
Is it safe?
Generally, you are ok, but studies show an increased risk of decompression sickness while diving on your period, with one study stating that females were twice as susceptible to DCS throughout the first week of their menstrual cycle.
There is, however, no proof, and this correlation could also be attributed to dehydration caused by fluid loss, a distraction from safe diving practices, the fact that migraines are more common and that there is less iron in the body that may reduce the capacity for exercise. To be safe, we should dive more conservatively on days that we are menstruating.
Will a shark attack me?
One of the most common questions a woman will ask is if a shark will attack because of the smell of blood in the water. We have all heard that sharks can smell a drop of blood from miles away. The thought of this is enough to put fear into any new woman diver on her period.
The truth is, it is the gastric juices of the fish that the sharks can smell, not the blood. A fish releasing gastric juices is certainly handicapped and easy prey—good news for divers. Also, a shark has a "really" good sense of smell so it will pick up on more than just the blood in the water. They will also smell urine and other bodily fluids, enough to put off even your most curious shark.
Another interesting fact is that sharks attack 8 men for every 2 women, so if a shark attack while diving worries a menstruating woman, dive with a male buddy.
Will it be messy? Do I need to consider a dive operation that has a toilet onboard?
Assuming you use no protection for your period, the menstrual flow is relatively slow over a few days, between 30-40 ml (2-3 tablespoons) and up to 60 ml (4 tablespoons). So the amount of blood loss in a 45-minute dive is minimal.
Menstruation may seem to stop underwater due to the increase in pressure. This is not entirely true; your period does not actually "stop", but the flow will be restricted due to the water pressure. Your period is still happening, just not at the same rate.
Even if you leak in the water, it quickly dissipates into a vast body of water. The chances that anyone will even notice are very slim.
While there are bathrooms for our divers located within the Pocna Dive Center, IDC Pocna Isla Mujeres, and the Selina Hostel, most boats (or lanchas as they are called here) in Isla Mujeres do not have bathrooms (heads) onboard their boats where a female diver may change tampons or check for leakage. However, there are options, and female instructors have been using these for decades.
What options are there?
Tampons are the most common form of managing your period while diving. They are discreet, easy to use, easily obtained, and can be left in throughout the dive.
The most significant disadvantage is that a tampon string can be humiliating if it escapes out the side of your bathing suit. A wet tampon string can also draw liquids out of the body and bring about leakage.
In rare cases, Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) can occur.
Use the lowest absorption possible while diving, and if you are using tampons while on a boat with no toilet, leave your wetsuit on until it is possible to change the tampon.
· Menstrual cups
Environmentally, this is always the best option for a woman on her period, as many are reusable and great to use while diving. They are designed to collect the fluid rather than absorb so all you need to do is empty and clean them.
Although menstrual cups can take a little getting used to, it does get easier with practice. They last significantly longer than tampons. You can put them into place before entering the boat, and you should be fine for the whole boat trip. A jumbo tampon can hold around 10 ml, while an average cup holds 30 ml.
Surrounding pressure does not affect a menstrual cup, and diving with one may be more comfortable.
The most wonderful thing about menstrual cups is the environmental impact and the fact that you do not need to buy sanitary products continuously but can clean and reuse them. Think of all that extra money you can spend on dive gear!
Other advantages include
They are safer for use with less risk to TSS
Less to pack when travelling.
Depending on your flow, they generally last 6-12 hours before needing to change.
For advice on choosing the right menstrual cup, click here.
· Menstrual disks
Many people find menstrual discs more comfortable than cups, which work similarly. These discs also collect blood rather than absorb it.
They can be difficult to insert at first, but just like cups, practice makes perfect.
They are not reusable, so you will need backup.
· Period bathers
· Do not use pads and liners.
Unless you use a dry suit, then pads and liners are not suitable for diving. When you think about it, they are directly exposed to the water, and their function is to absorb. You will be swimming with a fully loaded pad within moments.
Although your period doesn't always arrive at the most convenient of moments, there is no reason for it to take you away from activities that make you happy if it is not physically debilitating. Do what makes you happy, and if that includes diving, then go for it!
Do you have any further hints to give new female divers or experiences you would like to relate to? Please comment below.