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What Is an Ostomy?

The digestive system breaks down food and gets rid of waste, but sometimes it doesn’t work as it should. When this happens, surgeons can do a procedure called an ostomy (OSS-tuh-mee). This will let waste leave the body through a small opening in the skin of the belly. This opening is called a stoma. On the outside of the stoma (STOE-muh), an ostomy pouch collects waste.

Sometimes, ostomies are used temporarily, while the body heals. Other times they are permanent.

What Are the Types of Ostomies?

There are different types of ostomies. It depends on what a person needs:

How Does an Ostomy Work?

The digestive tract absorbs nutrients from the food we eat, and waste is left behind. The waste continuously drains out the stoma, into the ostomy bag. The ostomy bag needs to be emptied several times a day — whenever it is about one third full of solid waste (poop) or gas.

The ostomy bag needs to be replaced every few days, or sooner if it leaks.

Living With an Ostomy

Kids and teens sometimes worry about having an ostomy and what others will think. But with time, they learn that having an ostomy can help them feel better — especially if they had to make frequent bathroom trips before. Some kids and teens choose to tell their friends about the ostomy. Others prefer to keep it private.

Having an ostomy doesn’t limit what kids and teens can do — they can swim, play sports, and do most other activities. Ostomies fit neatly inside clothing. Some kids like to wear close-fitting clothing or use an ostomy belt to hold the bag in place. Other children prefer to wear looser clothes.

Someone who is worried about odors might be able to use deodorant products in their ostomy bag. Learning how to avoid leaks around the stoma also helps prevent odors.

Many kids and teens have ostomies. For some, it helps to connect with other kids who have an ostomy. You can find more information and support online at:

When Should I Call the Doctor?

If your child has an ostomy, call the doctor if:

  • The skin around the stoma looks red, is tender, or is warm to the touch.
  • Your child has fever, bloating, vomiting, or belly pain.
  • The waste in the bag is watery, hard, or bloody.
  • The stoma sticks out further than it usually does.

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date Reviewed: Oct 1, 2022

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