What to Know about Going to School with an Ostomy

September 07,2022 |
Kids in a classroom raising their hands.

Your digestive system is comprised of various organs and body parts from your mouth, through the intestines, and out of the rectum and anus. It works hard to break up the nutrients and minerals from your food and relies on a system of microbiomes to effectively function. In a healthy individual, this occurs without incident and your body receives energy and nutrition necessary to grow, repair, and otherwise live a healthy life. However, some individuals experience malfunctioning digestive systems. In these cases, an ostomy may be necessary. Here, we’ll explain what this entails and some important information about going to school with an ostomy.


What is an Ostomy?

An ostomy is a small hole made by a surgeon in the abdominal wall during procedures such as an ileostomy, colostomy, or urostomy. This is considered a medically necessary, life-saving surgery that’s performed to bypass injured, diseased, or ineffective parts of the digestive system. This surgical opening (stoma) is connected to a part of either your digestive system or urinary system so that waste can be diverted out of your body. An ostomy pouching system is attached to the stoma to collect waste. There are several different types of ostomies and while undergoing this surgery can bring about several changes, living a normal, healthy life is still entirely possible. Although several ostomy myths exist, most of them are not true. If you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to speak with your doctor.


Advice for Parents of Students with an Ostomy

Living with an ostomy can be a difficult challenge as an adult, but having a child with an ostomy tends to bring up a lot of anxiety. Parents of children with ostomies are likely to have many concerns or questions, especially in regard to navigating school. Sending your young child off each morning can be scary, but with the proper preparation you’ll set them up for success. Here’s a few pieces of advice for returning to school with an ostomy.

Talk to Administrators

Before doing anything, schedule some time to speak with the school administrators, teachers, and the nurse. This gives you a chance to explain your child’s ostomy and discuss their unique needs. It can also help give you peace of mind knowing who is in charge of caring for your child while they’re at school. Discuss ways that the administration can support your child during the school day and provide them with emergency contact information as needed.

Tour the School

If your child has recently undergone an ostomy surgery, is new to the school, or is transferring to middle or high school, ask for a tour of the school ahead of time. This will give you time to traverse the halls without other students, locate the bathrooms, and find the fastest way to the nurse’s office. By having a better understanding of the layout, you can reduce anxiety about your child returning to school.

During this time, pay attention to the bathrooms, especially in regard to privacy and sink layout. It can be difficult to change an ostomy pouch in a crowded restroom or one that offers little privacy. If you don’t think your child will be comfortable doing so, talk to the administration about alternative options.

Focus on Nutrition

Consider reviewing the school’s menu or cafeteria options. While there aren’t necessarily diet restrictions with an ostomy, some foods may be easier to digest and therefore, have less of an impact on output. Knowing this ahead of time will help you prepare so you can pack lunches or provide your child with snacks that are nutritious and easy to digest. You should also make sure that they stay hydrated through the day by sending them off with a water bottle.

Create an Emergency Pack

Put together an emergency pack that’s filled with enough extra ostomy supplies to cover at least two or three full pouch changes and have the nurse keep it in their office. This will give you peace of mind that your child has what they need in case anything happens or they forget something. You may want to show the nurse how to assist with changing the pouch, just in case.

If your child is a teenager and drives to school, it’s important to remind them that ostomy supplies shouldn’t be left in the car, where they’re less accessible and subject to damage from extreme temperatures. You should also discuss physical activity with your doctor and get a note for gym class in advance if needed. Depending on the age of your child, you may want to talk about how to handle any questions from classmates. Talk to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about your child going back to school with an ostomy.


Tips for Managing an Ostomy Throughout College

Older individuals heading off to college may also need a little assistance navigating this transition. While it’s likely that you already know how to change your pouch and all of those details, going to college is new and can be intimidating to everyone—ostomy or not. To help you get the most out of your experience, here are a few tips for managing an ostomy throughout college.


  1. Be Overprepared

    College campuses can be big, and schedules can be grueling. Make sure that you’re prepared for each day by always having enough supplies with you. This is especially important if you’re going to be away from your dorm or apartment for the entire day. Keep track of how many changes you usually perform each day, then add extra supplies for another pouch change or two. You can discreetly keep these supplies in your backpack with your books or computer, but having them on you is an important part of preparation.


  2. Find the Bathrooms

    When you get your schedule, take a day to casually walk around the campus and find the nearest bathrooms. This will give you peace of mind and confidence to navigate through your classes without worrying about leaks or emergency situations.


  3. Get to Know Your Teachers

    Getting to know your professors and teachers is a good way to improve your educational experience, but when you have an ostomy it’s even more important. You should let them know that you have an ostomy bag so if you need to abruptly leave their class or a test, they’ll understand why. You don’t have to go into excruciating detail if they don’t know what an ostomy is, but telling them the basics will help them understand what you’re going through.


  4. Carry Snacks

    College classes can create a full schedule, making it difficult to find time for healthy, nutritious meals. If you find yourself on campus and starving, having snacks that you know don’t upset your digestive system can help reduce the risk of ostomy troubles


  5. Stay on Top of Education

    You’re at school to learn and it’s normal to miss a class here or there, but having an ostomy can result in more absences than other students. By being proactive about your education and staying on top of the material, you’ll be less likely to fall behind if you need to stay in the hospital or deal with an ostomy emergency.


  6. Utilize School Counselors

    School counselors are there for a reason. Their primary goal is to help college students get through difficult times, or find additional support. Try talking to them if you’re struggling and if you’re having difficulty adjusting to changes, consider joining an ostomy support group. To find a meeting, look on the list of support groups affiliated with The United Ostomy Associations of America (UOAA). UOAA is a national, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that supports, empowers, and advocates for people who have had or will have an ostomy.


  7. Get Involved

Having an ostomy doesn’t mean you need to shy away from sports or other extracurricular activities. You aren’t restricted by anything but yourself. College is the best time to explore your hobbies, develop new passions, and make life-long friends so don’t be afraid to get involved. As long as you take the proper precautions, you’ll be able to enjoy leak-free activities and an otherwise normal college experience.


The best way to navigate the return to school with an ostomy—whether it’s elementary school, middle school, high school, or college—is by having enough supplies. Stock your reserves with high-quality ostomy supplies from Byram Healthcare. Byram Healthcare is committed to doing our part to improve the lives of those living with ostomies through convenient product delivery and a diverse ostomy product catalog. We’re here to help you navigate life with an ostomy while you get the most out of your education.