Is it time for your annual vacation, or are you suddenly struck with a spur-of-the-moment yearning to fly to Cancun? Wondering if you can safely travel during pregnancy? Of course you can! Traveling as a mom-to-be can be safe, comfortable, and loads of fun. Here are a few tips to help you on your way.
Obstetricians generally agree to reasonable travel plans for pregnant women other than those at risk from hypertension, diabetes, bleeding, or a history of miscarriage. It’s a good idea to discuss your travel plans with your doctor or midwife, particularly if you have a high-risk pregnancy.
Timing Your Trip
The second trimester of pregnancy, from weeks 14 to 28, is the optimum time to travel. By then the nausea and fatigue of the first trimester have generally abated, and the body has adjusted to pregnancy. Likewise, the higher risk of miscarriage during the first trimester has subsided, according to Dr. Cynthia Flynn, CNM, PhD, of Columbia Birth Center in Kennewick, Washington.
Traveling in the third trimester, however, can prove uncomfortable, particularly with the uterus pressing on the bladder and the added risk of preterm labor looming as a distinct possibility. In fact, most obstetricians discourage clients from traveling beyond a 100-mile radius after their 28th week of pregnancy.
Yet professional opinions differ. “I advise my clients that if their pregnancy is a healthy one, it is OK to travel during pregnancy up to about week 32,” says Dr. Flynn. “After that, I only encourage long car trips. Finally, I like my clients to just stay home after 36 weeks; then they are ‘grounded.’”
Expectant mothers should avoid journeys that take them far from quality medical facilities and that prevent them from getting routine prenatal check-ups. Such visits should be planned every four weeks from gestational week number ten up to week 30, at which point the frequency increases to every two weeks. With the arrival of week 36, most obstetricians want to see their patients every week until the baby’s birth.
Regardless of their current status, pregnant women should schedule an examination shortly before departure. Those planning to travel a long distance should pack a copy of their medical records in their carry-on or overnight bag.
When traveling by car, there are several guidelines that will make your trip safer and more enjoyable.
- An expectant mom should always wear a seat belt, with the bottom belt across her hips and below her abdomen.
- Stop for a bathroom break as often as needed, and “get out of the car and take a ten-minute walk every two hours,” says Dr. Flynn.
- “Get a pillow to raise your feet and wear loose socks and shoes,” adds Dr. Flynn
- Keep healthy snacks and plenty of water handy.
Air travel is a touchier subject. Some doctors encourage pregnant women to consider the advantages of simply staying home by pointing out potential travel problems. For overseas trips these include the non-availability of medical specialists, the possibility of contaminated equipment, language barriers, and cost. “Yet in general, air travel is safe until week 36,” says Dr. Raul Artal, MD, and spokesperson for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Dr. Artal, who also serves as chair of obstetrics, gynecology, and women’s issues at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine, believes that pregnancy should not be viewed as a “state of confinement.”
Dr. Kenneth Johnson, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and director of the University Women’s Center, agrees, yet urges pregnant women to use caution. “Common sense dictates that women with complicated pregnancies involving twins, hypertensive disease, severe nausea, placenta previa, pre-term labor, and other pregnancy-related complications should not fly,” he says.
Pregnant women can take several steps to make a flight as enjoyable as possible. They should wear loose, layered clothing and comfortable shoes, keeping in mind that their body temperatures are higher than normal.
“They should also drink extra fluids, because air travel tends to be dehydrating,” says Dr. Johnson. “Extra fluids will also help eliminate Braxton Hicks—false labor—pains.” He adds that eating frequent small meals can prevent hypoglycemia and nausea. Having plenty of leg room is important, as is keeping a small pillow under the back. Dr. Johnson recommends stretching at least every hour to decrease the risk of blood clots in the legs.
Some airlines have strict rules for late-term pregnant travelers and may request due-date documentation before allowing the purchase of tickets.
Overseas travel always brings up the question of immunization. Some doctors worry that certain vaccines can harm the developing fetus and recommend that their patients avoid travel to countries that require vaccines.
However, for many women, following such advice is unrealistic. Fortunately certain vaccines prove safe, and women can consult with their healthcare providers to see which immunizations pose no risk to themselves or their developing babies.
Malaria in pregnancy is very serious and can result in stillbirth, miscarriage, or complications. It is especially hazardous to pregnant women traveling to certain areas of Africa, Asia, Central America, and South America, and such women should seek detailed medical advice.
Whether flying abroad or driving an hour to the mountains, pregnant women should review their health insurance plans before leaving home to make sure they cover prenatal complications and delivery in foreign countries.
Another important consideration is the use of medication. Many medicines are considered unsafe during pregnancy. Keeping a list of acceptable medications in a carry-on bag or a purse can refresh a tired memory, thereby preventing accidents that could potentially harm the fetus.
Acetaminophen remains the top choice for general pain relief, while such medicine as diphenhydramine (Gravol and Dramamine) helps abate motion sickness. For general coughs, colds, and allergies, medications such as DM cough syrup and antihistamines are generally safest. It is important to check with a practitioner before taking any of these medications during pregnancy.
While on Your Trip
If the main reason for traveling is to take a vacation, the destination may afford new and exciting activities that prove tempting.
Swimming, walking, and hiking at a moderate pace (and on a moderate trail) are all acceptable. However, “Scuba diving would not be good because of the pressure changes,” says Dr. Flynn. Another potentially dangerous sport is water-skiing, which can force water into the cervix. Dr. Flynn recommends avoiding long periods in the sun, “because of the potential to raise the woman’s core temperature.” The same danger exists in using saunas and hot tubs.
If you take the proper precautions, traveling during pregnancy can be an enjoyable experience. After all, you’re sharing the journey with the little person who will soon become the center of your world. One day, you’ll even be able to tell him all about the trip you took together to Cancun.