Travel During Pregnancy
Up until about 36 weeks, most healthy pregnant women can continue to enjoy traveling.
For most women traveling during pregnancy is completely safe and a good way to relax and unwind before the arrival of their new baby. In most uncomplicated pregnancies, it’s possible to travel safely until you reach approximately your 36th week.
After the 36th week mark, travel may still be safe, but it’s best to consult with your doctor before your trip. In complicated and high risk pregnancies—including conditions such as preeclampsia, premature rupture of membranes, preterm labor and if you’re carrying more than one fetus—travel is generally not recommended as these pregnancies typically require close surveillance and frequent doctor’s office visits.
The best time to travel while pregnant is during the second trimester because most common pregnancy difficulties occur during the first and third trimesters. During the second trimester most women have a return of energy, relief from morning sickness, and enough mobility to easily get around—all helpful for enjoying your trip.
When planning a trip there are a few extra things to do to help ensure safe and comfortable travel. Before your trip, schedule an office visit with your obstetrician to discuss whether travel is safe and whether your doctor has any concerns with your travel plans. Your doctor may also take this time to remind you of such things as not lifting heavy luggage.
It’s also a good idea to ask for a copy of your medical records to take with you, especially if you’ll be traveling later in pregnancy and will be far from home. Ask your doctor if you should locate a hospital or clinic near your destination.
Make sure you pack any medications you may need for your trip, both prescribed and over-the-counter medications (pain relievers, prenatal vitamins, allergy medicine, hemorrhoid cream, etc.). Packing extra snacks and water is another precaution in case you’re delayed.
Consider purchasing travel insurance so that if complications arise that prevent you from traveling, you’ll be protected.
Types of Travel
When you travel by car, be sure to wear your seatbelt every time you ride in a car. The seatbelt should be buckled low on your hip bones and below your belly. The shoulder strap should be positioned off to the side of your belly and across the center of your chest.
Plan to break up long car trips with frequent stops to use the restroom and stretch your legs. Sitting or not moving for long periods can increase your risk for deep vein thrombosis.
For airplane travel, always keep your due date in mind when booking your trip. In an uncomplicated pregnancy travel up to 36 weeks is generally safe. Airlines, however, may have their own restrictions on flying, so check with the airline before making your reservation. Because international flights may have an even earlier cutoff point than 36 weeks, be sure to check that, too.
Another consideration is booking your seat. You may prefer to book an aisle seat, especially for longer flights, as this allows you to get up and move about the cabin more easily (if deemed safe by the pilot). Plan to stretch your legs and move around at least every two hours.
Again, always wear your seatbelt when seated. Avoid any foods or drinks that may produce gas (such as carbonated drinks), as gas expands in lower cabin pressures and this may cause abdominal discomfort. Be sure to bring any necessary over-the-counter medications for reflux and gas in your carry-on bag and wear non-restrictive clothing to be more comfortable.
When traveling by cruise ship, make sure there are medical personnel on board the ship throughout your entire trip—you’ll want a doctor or nurse onboard. For a cruise, be sure to discuss with your ob-gyn which medications are safe for motion sickness during pregnancy. Some cruise lines restrict travel to before the 24th week, so check before booking.
Given the close quarters of cruise ships, viral infections are much more common and can be transmitted by eating food, drinking liquids or touching contaminated surfaces. While on board be sure to wash your hands frequently. Viruses, such as Norovirus, can cause severe nausea, vomiting and dehydration. If you experience diarrhea and vomiting at the same time, increase your fluid intake and seek medical care aboard the ship.
International trips are safe but require a bit more planning. Consult your ob-gyn to see if there are any specific concerns related to your destination. For example, mosquito-borne illnesses—such as malaria and Zika—may be prevalent in certain areas. Travel to these areas should be avoided during pregnancy. Also discuss if you should find an English-speaking doctor at your destination.
Check the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website before your trip—it’s a valuable source of current information. Review your vaccination history, as well, since certain vaccines may be required for travel. Your ob-gyn and an infectious disease physician who specializes in travel medicine can ensure you’re up-to-date, and if necessary, can confirm if you can be safely vaccinated while pregnant prior to travel.
In addition, if traveling to developing countries, safe drinking water and undercooked foods may be additional concerns. Hepatitis A and listeriosis may be spread by contaminated food and water and may cause serious pregnancy complications. Avoid food from questionable sources.
If any of the following symptoms occur during your trip, seek immediate medical attention:
- Vaginal bleeding
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Water breaks
- Headaches that don’t go away, changes in your vision, swelling of your face or hands
- Severe vomiting or diarrhea
- Signs of deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
Travel during pregnancy is safe for most women. Planning for your trip is important and should include consulting your doctor. For more information, visit the CDC’s website and search for “Pregnant Travelers” or visit the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ website ACOG.org.
Manuel Ferreira, M.D., is a physician at Chester County Ob/Gyn, with locations in West Chester, Kennett Square, Downingtown and West Grove. Dr. Ferreira received his medical degree from Temple University School of Medicine and completed his residency at Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia. His areas of expertise include obstetrics and gynecology. He’s on the medical staff at Chester County Hospital.
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