Pregnant and Traveling? What You Should Know

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Maybe you've been planning a trip for months. Maybe something's just come up and you have to go out of town for a little while. Whatever the circumstances, being pregnant doesn't have to mean that you can't travel.

In fact, if your pregnancy is proceeding normally, you can probably take just about any trip you could if you weren't pregnant. Of course, you should check with your doctor before you travel. But in most cases, being pregnant need not mean you have to stay at home.

In some ways, taking that trip while you're pregnant can be better than waiting until after the baby is born. It can be a lot easier to travel while pregnant than to travel with an infant or toddler. You won't have any crying, feeding, spit-ups or messy diapers to deal with. You won't have to lug around a diaper bag, car seat or portable crib.

If you do travel, being smart about some things can make your trip safer and more comfortable. Although it's generally safe to travel throughout pregnancy, good timing can make things easier. If you have a choice, schedule your trip during your second trimester (weeks 14 through 28). By then, the pregnancy should be well established, and your doctor will be aware of any potential complications. What's more, the morning sickness that may have surfaced in the first trimester is no longer an issue. Later on, however, you'll be heavier and have more trouble getting around in confined spaces like airplane aisles and restrooms. Sitting for a long time will be uncomfortable. You'll tire easily. And as delivery approaches, traveling women run the risk of going into labor in an unfamiliar place, far from their doctor.

Spend some time thinking about the kind of trip you'll take. If it's for a vacation, plan something restful and pleasant. Save the jet-setting or business trip for some other time.

For more ideas about how to enjoy your travels while pregnant, keep reading.

Eating for Two and Other Basic Tips

Wherever you're going and however you're traveling, some common-sense measures can make you happier and healthier.

For one thing, you can't be sedentary for too long. This isn't just a question of being comfortable: Sitting still for extended periods may lead to swelling of the feet and ankles. Worse, it increases the chances of developing blood clots. A clot that forms in the legs or elsewhere can travel to the lungs, which can be life-threatening. Any type of travel lasting four hours or longer can be risky, and pregnancy just ups the ante. So make sure you get up, walk around and stretch every hour or so. Compression stockings also can help ward off blood clots, but some medical conditions make them unsafe, so check with your doctor. [source: ACOG]

Here are some other ideas:

  • Dress comfortably. Wear loose clothing -- preferably made of cotton because it breathes. Avoid pantyhose, knee-highs and tight waists. Wear sensible, well-fitting, flat shoes.
  • Bring a pillow and a back cushion along with you.
  • Pack your prenatal medical records and other health information, like blood type. If you're going to be far from home, know where to find the nearest hospital.
  • Get plenty of rest. You'll tire more easily than usual, especially in the early and late months of pregnancy.
  • Take along fruits and raw vegetables, whole-grain crackers or chips, string cheese and other healthy snacks. Forget the old rules requiring three meals per day and forbidding snacks between meals. Having frequent small, healthy snacks keeps your energy up and your metabolism under control.
  • Drink plenty of water, juice and other healthy liquids. Be careful hydrating yourself in certain parts of the world, however.

Plane, train, ship or automobile? Keep reading for transportation-specific tips.

On the Road Again: Pregnant Women and Road Trips

Most pregnant women will drive and ride in cars throughout their pregnancy. With an uncomplicated pregnancy, there's no reason not to venture out in the car for a longer trip than just around town.

The most important thing to remember when traveling by car is -- buckle up. Don't make the mistake of thinking that the seatbelt or shoulder harness might harm the fetus. Studies have found that if pregnant women do get involved in an auto accident, their babies run a significantly greater risk of injury or death if the moms aren't wearing seatbelts [source: Curtis]. Make sure that your air bags work properly as well.

You should also know how to wear the seatbelt and shoulder harness correctly. Position the lap belt below your tummy, across the thighs and pelvic area. The shoulder harness should go over your shoulder rather than your neck. It should go diagonally between your breasts and off to the side of your tummy. Never put the shoulder belt under your arm. Have the lap belt and shoulder harness fit snugly, but not tightly.

Put the seat back far enough so that you're at least 10 inches (25.4 centimeters) from the airbag and dashboard. Don't worry too much if you have to brake suddenly. Your fetus is well insulated inside the womb due to the amniotic fluid that surrounds it. If you're in even a minor accident, however, visit your doctor to make sure there are no ill effects. In the latter months of pregnancy, if you no longer feel like driving, you might be more comfortable and safer in the back seat, if it has plenty of leg room.

Try to limit travel time to four hours a day, six at most -- assuming that you're aren't traveling every day, of course. Remember to stop frequently to walk around and stretch to keep the blood flowing.

Planning to fly? Find some pointers on the next page.

Off We Go: Pregnant Women and Air Travel

If you're healthy, you're probably safe to fly well into pregnancy -- at least through the 36th week. This may surprise some, but a few common worries are actually unfounded. There's no evidence that the metal detector at the security checkpoint poses a risk to you or your unborn child. If you're worried, however, you may ask for a hand or wand search.

Some people worry about low air pressure and reduced oxygen when flying at high altitudes. Commercial airplanes are well pressurized, and the body adjusts to slight differences in pressure, so there should be no problem. You might want to avoid flying in small aircraft that aren't so well pressurized, however, especially at altitudes of more than 7,000 feet (2,134 meters).

Another concern is increased exposure to radiation at higher altitudes. Luckily, that's nothing to worry about if you fly only occasionally.

There are some good tips to keep in mind if you're going to fly:

  • Check with your doctor first.
  • Check with the airline. Some have rules regarding pregnancy and travel. Make sure that you ask about meals as well.
  • Take healthy snacks with you.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Try for an aisle seat near a bathroom. You don't want to have to squeeze in and out past other passengers. A seat near the front of the plane may give you a smoother ride.
  • Plan to stand, stretch and walk at least once an hour.
  • When walking, steady yourself by holding onto the backs of aisle seats as you pass.
  • Gas expands in lower air pressure, so avoid carbonated drinks and foods that cause stomach gas before and during flights.
  • Wear your seatbelt, except when you get up.

Going by train or ship? Keep reading.

Life in the Sleeper Car: Pregnant Women and Travel on Ships and Trains

The train can be a safe and comfortable method of travel, but a little planning can make the trip go even more smoothly. For instance, find out if there is a dining car on board and bring healthy snacks just in case the dining car is closed. The bathrooms tend to be small -- but so are airplane restrooms.

Pregnancy can be taxing, so why not unwind on a cruise? Ship travel can be relaxing. Sea air is refreshing. There's plenty of room to walk and exercise, and getting plenty to eat is rarely a problem.

Again, however, a little planning goes a long way. Make sure a doctor will be on board the ship. Check on the availability of medical care at all ports of call. In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Web site can tell you which ships have passed its health and safety inspections.

One potential problem with ship travel is seasickness. If you're worried about it, talk to your doctor about medications that pregnant women can take safely. One non-drug alternative that works for many women -- for both morning and motion sickness -- is acupressure wristbands. These natural means of controlling motion sickness have wristbands with plastic studs that put pressure on strategic points on the wrists. They're sold for about $10 a pair under brand names like Sea-Bands and BioBands.

Noroviruses can be another pitfall of cruise travel. These highly contagious viruses may spread rapidly through the passengers on a ship, causing severe nausea and vomiting. The attack rarely lasts more than a couple of days, but because of the dehydration it causes, it can be a real problem for pregnant women. The best way to present infection is to be careful about washing your hands and any raw vegetables or fruits you might eat. If you do get sick, seek medical attention immediately.

Considering an exotic location? Head to the next page for a few more travel tips.

Oh, the Places You Might Go: Pregnant Women and Exotic Travel

You may not want to travel abroad during your pregnancy. The trip will be long and you may be far from your doctor. But if you must travel out of the country, be prepared. Talk to your doctor well in advance.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is a great resource for travelers. You can find out what immunizations you might need in specific countries, as well as safe vaccines for pregnant women.

To avoid traveler's diarrhea -- especially in Third World countries -- avoid drinking the water. If you're sure of the quality of bottled water, drink that and use it for everything, even brushing your teeth. Local brands of bottled water may not be safe. If there is any doubt, use only water that has been boiled for at least one minute. Don't consume drinks with ice made from water that hasn't been boiled. Canned juices and soft drinks may be a good alternative. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables only if they've been cooked or you can peel them. Of course, make sure meat and fish are thoroughly cooked. If you do get diarrhea, seek medical help. Find out in advance what remedies work well for pregnant women.

You never know what might happen, so buying travel insurance is a good idea in case you have to cancel. Also, make sure your medical insurance policy would cover both you and the baby while you're out of the country. If not, buy travel medical insurance before you go.

Know how to get in touch with a reputable doctor at your destination. The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT) has a directory of physicians from around the world. Because there can be no room for ambiguity when you get sick far from home, take a basic language dictionary with you on your trip.

However and wherever you travel, bon voyage. Read on for lots more information.

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Sources:

  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. "Travel During Pregnancy." Education Pamphlet No. AP055.
  • American Pregnancy Association. "Pregnancy and Travel." (April 20, 2010)http://www.americanpregnancy.org/pregnancyhealth/travel.html
  • BioBands. "How Biobands Work." (April 23, 2010)http://www.biobands.com/howworks.htm
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Traveling While Pregnant."http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2010/chapter-8/traveling-while-pregnant.aspx
  • Curtis, Glade B. and Judith Shuler. "Your Pregnancy Week by Week." Da Capo Life Long. Philadelphia, 2008.
  • Dobson, Roger. "Mosquitoes Prefer Pregnant Women." The Lancet. (April 23, 2010)http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1127358/
  • Douglas, Ann and John R. Sussman. "The Unofficial Guide to Having a Baby." Second Edition. Wiley Publishing. Hoboken, N.J. 2004.
  • Mayo Clinic. "Air Travel During Pregnancy: Is It Safe?" (April 20, 2010)http://www.mayocolinic.com/health/air-travel-during-pregnancy/AN00398
  • Morning Sickness Help. "Sea-Band Accupressure Bands." (April 23, 2010)http://www.morningsicknesshelp.com/seabands/html
  • Murkoff, Heidi and Sharon Mazel. "What to Expect When You're Expecting." Fourth Edition. Workman Publishing. New York. 2008.