Stoma care, diet changes, and potential complications are just some of the things to expect after colostomy surgery. You’ll learn how to manage these aspects of recovery before you leave the hospital.

Colostomy surgery is a complex procedure that will require you to spend time in the hospital during the initial recovery. You will also need to learn some ongoing care and lifestyle changes.

This article covers some of the things you will need to know about your surgery, recovery, and how to manage your new stoma.

Colostomy surgery involves an incision in your abdomen and the cutting and reconnection of parts of your intestines. A piece of your intestine will be folded out to create a stoma, or the visible opening through which your stools will now pass.

You’ll stay in the hospital for somewhere between 3–10 days after surgery. During this time, your healthcare team will make sure that your stoma is working and that you don’t develop complications such as leaking from the new intestinal collection or infections.

You will also receive medications to address any postoperative pain you might experience. It’s not unusual to be sore and make guarded movements after abdominal surgery. Your stoma site will be sore, but you may also experience tenderness or pain deeper in your abdomen and core muscles.

Right after surgery, you’ll most likely be on a liquid diet. It can take a few days for waste to start coming from your stoma. You’ll likely be able to have new kinds of foods once the stoma starts functioning well.

While you are in the hospital, you’ll also learn about how to care for your stoma, what diet changes you’ll need to make with a colostomy, and what might signal a surgical complication.

Before you leave the hospital, you’ll learn about how to manage your colostomy, what kinds of food you should or shouldn’t eat, and how to care for your stoma and ostomy appliances.

Diet and eating adjustments

It will take some time to learn how your body responds to different foods, but it can help to keep a food journal of things that affect your output for the good or the bad. Foods such as cabbage and beans can increase gas output, and spicy foods may cause irritation.

You may need to make adjustments to your eating habits, making sure to space your meals evenly and chew your food well. Some tips for how to eat include:

  • eating your meals in 5–6 small portions spaced throughout the day
  • resting for 15–30 minutes between meals
  • avoiding simple carbohydrates
  • consuming food and liquids separately

Stoma care and monitoring

Before leaving the hospital, you’ll also learn about stoma care.

Taking care of the skin around your stoma site is an important part of your daily regimen. This includes regular washing of the stoma using approved cleaners, avoiding any lotions or irritants around the stoma, and having a supply of properly fitting stoma products for changes.

How often you change ostomy bags will depend on your output and what type of collection device you use.

Checking the stoma for any changes in size, shape, or how it sticks out is also key to avoiding complications.

Knowing how to care for your stoma and monitor for changes is important for you and anyone who may be helping you at home.

Was this helpful?

It may take around 8 weeks to fully recover after surgery. You can typically return to most of your usual activities before this point. But it’s best to talk with your surgeon about your activities and any restrictions you might have based on your surgical recovery and overall health.

The areas of your intestine that are cut and reconnected during colostomy surgery are prone to leaking and infection after surgery. It’s also common to live with skin healing, wound care, and stoma maintenance. You may also experience self-image, and social and emotional strain after your surgery.

Your ostomy team can help you learn how to manage every aspect of your colostomy recovery and stoma care. Local or online support groups can also help.

A 2022 study suggests that almost half of the people who had colostomies placed were back in the hospital within 4 months of their initial surgery. About 20% of people had to visit the emergency department, and about 40% of those visits were directly linked to ostomy-related complications.

Some of the most common complications of ostomy surgery include:

  • anastomotic leakage (when there is a break between the parts of your intestines that were reconnected to make the stoma and it leaks fluids)
  • infection
  • nonhealing wounds
  • dehydration

Colostomy surgery is a complicated procedure involving a hospital stay. Your surgical team will review any diet and lifestyle changes you may need to make after surgery. They’ll also advise you on how to care for your stoma and avoid complications.

In addition, they’ll provide you with post-operative care instructions before you go home and explain what kinds of complications to watch for.