MaryAnna Clemons remembers being in the far left lane of the highway when the urge came to use the bathroom. At eight months pregnant, Clemons was used to needing frequent bathroom breaks along her 40-mile trek from her rural home to her job in Colorado Springs, Colorado. When she finally made it to a gas station restroom, the door was locked. In panic, Clemons went to the front of a line of customers and demanded the key from a surprised gas station attendant.
“Three people asked me if I ‘made it OK’ after I emerged from the bathroom,” recalls Clemons, whose son is now nine months old. Her advice to other pregnant commuters: “Stay in the right lane for easier access to getting off the main drag.” For the last few weeks of her pregnancy, Clemons gave up highway driving altogether in favor of town roads that had easier access to bathrooms and emergency rooms.
No doubt other pregnant commuters can identify with Clemons’ woes. And for many, commutes are getting longer. According to the Transportation Research Board, from 1990 to 2000, the number of workers with commutes lasting more than 60 minutes grew by almost 50 percent. If you’re commuting while pregnant, you need to take extra precautions to keep yourself—and your baby—healthy and comfortable.
DON’T: Wear constrictive clothing or high heels.
DO: Wear comfortable clothes and sneakers.
A comfortable commute starts before you get in your car or on the train, says Susan Bellinson, a certified nurse midwife at the Montefiore Comprehensive Family Care Center in the Bronx, New York. “Because so many women get dressed in a hurry, they may not think about how constrictive clothing or high heels might affect them.” Tight clothing, knee-high stockings, and ill-fitting shoes constrict blood flow, causing increased swelling and discomfort, especially in your legs and feet.
Dr. Jennifer Ashton, MD, an OB-GYN in private practice in Englewood, New Jersey, gives another reason to forgo heels: “During your pregnancy you have a different center of gravity. You’re more prone to slip or trip going down stairs.” Her solution? Wear sneakers.
DON’T: Skip breakfast before you leave for work.
DO: Grab at least a quick bite to eat.
Passing on breakfast is dangerous, warns Bellinson. “Morning starvation is bad for Mother and Baby,” she says. “Not eating enough can make you dizzy and weak.”
If you’re running to catch a bus or train (or even sitting in a car), you need food to keep you going and alert. Bellinson recommends a balanced breakfast with a glass of milk, toast, and fruit. If you can’t sit for a meal, opt instead for quick, healthy snacks such as a granola bar or fruit. Once you get to the office, make sure to eat something more.
DON’T: Drink too much water or other liquids before your commute.
DO: Drink a small glass of milk, juice, or water before you leave and drink up once you get to the office.
Your pregnant body needs plenty of fluids, yet you don’t want to be on a long commute with a full bladder and no restroom. “Not only is a full bladder uncomfortable,” says Bellinson, “but it can lead to bladder infections, which can then lead to kidney infections.”
Instead of drinking a full glass of water at the beginning of the day, Bellinson advises commuters to drink a small amount before work and to bring a water bottle. Before you get to the office, start drinking (when you know a bathroom is nearby). When you get to work, keep drinking.
DON’T: Ignore nausea symptoms.
DO: Stash snacks in your pockets.
You may experience moderate to severe nausea at the beginning of your pregnancy—and a commute certainly doesn’t help. Some pregnant women avoid eating hoping to escape an upset stomach. That’s a mistake, says Bellinson. Instead, she suggests keeping your symptoms in check with nuts such as almonds or cashews, whose essential oils help reduce nausea. If nuts don’t appeal to you, try other pregnancy staples such as saltines or graham crackers. Keeping something in your stomach, says Bellinson, is more soothing than traveling on empty.
Posture and Position
DON’T: Lock your legs or stay in the same position for your entire commute.
DO: Try simple stretches or any sort of movement to keep your blood flowing.
“I can’t tell you how many patients have told me how they’ve fainted on the bus or subway,” comments 20-year veteran Bellinson, whose practice draws many pregnant women from the Manhattan area. Pregnant women who stand in the same position for a long time are susceptible to dizziness and fainting because blood pools in the lower part of their bodies, depriving the brain of oxygen and putting pregnant women at risk of blacking out. Dr. Ashton equates the blood flow to the sand in an hourglass. The longer you stand, the more likely it is that blood will pool in the lower part of your body, just as sand drains to the bottom of the hourglass. While your baby is not at risk from lack of blood flow or oxygen, you are at risk of serious falls.
To alleviate blood-flow problems, make sure to move around as much as possible. If you’re stuck in traffic, try wiggling your toes, moving your feet, or stretching your calf muscles to get your blood circulating. Bellinson also recommends maternity support stockings to help maintain adequate blood flow.
DON’T: Wait to be offered a seat on the subway or bus.
DO: Ask for someone to give up a seat if none are available.
“You can’t always count on a polite person to give up a seat,” says Dr. Ashton, “but you shouldn’t hesitate to ask for one.” Sitting will make your commute much more comfortable, and you’ll be less likely to fall or black out.
DON’T: Drive without a safety net.
DO: Drive safely.
If you’re exhausted or drowsy at the end of the day, consider taking a break at work before heading home, carpooling with coworkers, or using public transportation. Bellinson says pregnant women can “safely drink a cup of tea or coffee with caffeine in the morning if they are concerned about fatigue.”
Beyond your own driving habits, you should also be vigilant with general safety strategies such as always taking your cell phone with you and letting someone know what route you’ll be taking, in case of an emergency. (You may also want to stash pepper spray in your purse, as pregnant women can be targets for robberies.)
Commuting while pregnant can be uncomfortable, but by following a few simple suggestions, your commute can be a lot smoother and safer.