Updated: Aug 28
You've planned an awesome weekend of diving and just as you pop on your brand new white bikini, you realize Aunt Flo has come over for a visit. GAAAAH!
What does this mean for your diving? Is it ok to scuba dive at all? Do you have to cancel ? Will you attract every shark in the area ?
Here are a few answers to your questions and some tips for feeling good when scuba diving even when it's shark week on the inside!
# Rule number 1: Make sure you feel fit to dive
Most female scuba instructors will dive every day throughout their menstruation. Indeed, having your period is not a contraindication to diving. However, feeling ill and going diving certainly is.
If you suffer from severe cramping, abdominal pain, light-headedness and other physical ailments associated with menstruation, it's better to skip the dive. The last thing you want is to experience pain and stomach cramps when you are underwater, which will not only make you feel terrible but may also prevent you from concentrating on safety, and make you more prone to making silly and/or dangerous mistakes in judgment. If you only experience mild pain though, most divers will take a pain killer and still go diving, just make sure you time it right so the pain doesn't come back halfway through your second scuba dive...
Fatigue is common during menstruation so if your diving involves lifting tanks and heavy equipment, you might suddenly feel pretty weak and not quite up to it. Watch out because that's when silly avoidable accidents tend to happen. Let your dive buddies know you are a little tired and get them to help out. Make sure you choose a good team who will be happy to do so, and, again, don't go if you're really under the weather.
You may well get cold much more easily when on your period, since your body temperature increases so temperatures you'd normally find completely fine might get you shivering. Plan more thermal protection both for underwater and on the surface.
Psychological factors may also contribute to you not feeling quite fit to dive. If you are going to do slightly more extreme diving (think strong currents or tech stuff for instance ) and are feeling a little low and teary (we all do some times), you might want to change your dive plan to some nice easy diving where there is less risk of your problem solving skills and stamina being tested. Only do the dives you feel one hundred percent comfortable doing and choose your buddies well.
# Increased risk of DCS?
Studies have shown that menstruation does increase the risk of DCS in women, thought the exact reasons for this are not really known. Though there have not been many studies, the most comprehensive one did find a direct correlation between menstruation and DCS , with women in the first week of their menses having increased incidences of the bends. The study, however, could not determine why this was but hypothesized that it is due to hormonal changes, which may also in fact protect against DCS risk in the third week of the menses. Since dehydration is an important factor in DCS, and women may be more prone to it during menstruation due to fluid loss, fluid displacement and hormonal changes, this might be at least a partial explanation . Drink plenty of water, keep your diving conservative, and steer clear of NDL limits.
# Avoiding a mess
One of the trickier ickier aspects of diving when on the rag is precisely what to use as protection to avoid a nasty mess. Sanitary pads are obviously a big no no. Tampons can work but trying to find a place to ditch a waterlogged used tampon when on a dive boat is often a headache (and popping it in a plastic bag to dispose of properly later is pretty minging).
The perfect solution, and the one now adopted by most female dive professionals, is the menstrual cup. You can put it in in the morning and only deal with it again when you've finished diving, when you have a nice private place to do so. Furthermore, since they are not single use disposables, you are doing your bit for the environment and also your wallet!
# Attracting sharks, really ?
The final myth about diving when on your period is that you'll attract sharks. This is an urban legend. The quantity of blood seeping into the water is very very small, too small even for a shark to detect it. Sharks only really detect one part of blood in 100 parts of water. A small graze in the water would probably release more blood. What’s more, sharks are not interested in blood per se but in the amino acids contained in the blood that can lead them to their favorite foods, which is not human flesh, despite what Hollywood would have you believe. So even if it's that time of the month and you're in the water, you won't be reenacting a remake of 'Jaws'.
Remember that female divers are one big sisterhood when it comes to this sort of stuff so do not hesitate to chat to your female scuba diving instructor, dive guide or dive centre manager about how you are feeling. They tend to be pretty savy at helping out and keeping it discrete, after all they deal with it every month! If you're feeling fit enough, a bit of blood should not be enough to keep you out of the water!