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Traveling While Pregnant
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The idea of travelling when you’re pregnant may seem daunting at first. When it’s hard to get comfortable in your own bed, you might think there’s no way you’ll manage it on a plane or in a strange hotel room. But guess what? This is one of the best times for you to get away and treat yourself. You don’t need to be reminded that your world is about to revolve around someone else, but you may need the encouragement to prioritize yourself, plan a comfortable and fun trip, and hit the road with your partner for much-needed time together. Whatever you call it—a babymoon, a sanity-saver, the last vestige (for awhile at least) of couple time—now is the time to go. Here is our guide to making it easy, comfortable, safe, and relaxing.
Pick Your Perfect Spot
You don’t have to worry whether the outlets will be at kiddie level, the restaurants toddler-friendly, or if there’s a fridge to store milk, so you have a lot of options. Brainstorm with your partner about what you think you will miss in those first harried months of new parenthood and then plan a trip that centers around that. For my husband and me, a long weekend in Nassau, Bahamas gave us exactly what we knew we would miss: peace and quiet in a beautiful setting (with lots of big belly-relieving swimming!).
Things to Consider
How long do you have? If you only have a few days, don’t eat up precious hours on the road; pick a place you can get to in less than two hours by car, train or plane.
What kind of traveler are you? Do you want a chance to walk and see the sights before naptimes dictate your schedule? Or would you rather sit still and read by the pool without interruption?
Is it a trip you can really enjoy when you’re pregnant? Carey Meyers, a mom to two in Brooklyn, NY, was considering a trip to Argentina during her first pregnancy. But then she realized that one of the main reasons she wanted to go was to “drink insane amounts of wine and eat beef that had been cooked as little as possible.” Realizing those goals were incompatible with pregnancy, she opted for Stockholm instead and advises that you think about “what limitations pregnancy might impose,” so you don’t end up somewhere you can’t take part in the main sources of fun (read: Mardi Gras or a Dude Ranch).
Is there access to good medical care? This can be especially important if you are having a high-risk or complicated pregnancy. Most major US cities will have high-level neonatal intensive care units in the off chance you go into labor early. If you are traveling overseas, find out what kind of medical care is available and ask your doctor or midwife if it will be sufficient.
Time it Right
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says the best time to fly is between 14 and 28 weeks—the second trimester, when medical emergencies related to pregnancy are least likely to occur. Plus, this is when you should have the greatest amount of energy and still feel comfortable. Most commercial airlines allow pregnant women to travel up to 36 weeks, though some require medical clearance from a doctor for third trimester travel (international flights may have an earlier cut off).
It’s best to ask your doctor or midwife his or her recommendation. For Holly S. Puritz, MD, a fellow of ACOG in Norfolk, VA, her guideline is “32 weeks is the time to stop travelling, and I certainly don’t recommend it in the last month, because you shouldn’t plan on being very far from where you plan to deliver.”
Check in with Your OB or Midwife
Make sure that your OB or midwife is comfortable with you traveling; this is especially true if you are having a complicated or high-risk pregnancy, are at risk for preterm labor, or are pregnant with twins. You may still be able to travel, but picking a spot with good medical care or that is closer to home may become one of your top priorities.
Ask for a note from your practitioner that states your due date, and the fact that you have his or her clearance to fly. It should be dated within a week of when you travel. Some airlines require this. Even if yours doesn’t, weather or other delays could bump you to an airline that does. When Meyers was traveling for work at 31 weeks and had to change planes in Helsinki, Finn Air asked for her note before they let her onto the last leg of her trip, even though she hadn’t needed it up to that point.
Feel Your Best on the Road
Limit gas-producing foods and carbonated beverages prior to flying, since cabin pressure can increase the discomfort associated with gas and bloating.
Book an aisle seat, so it’s easy to get up to go to the bathroom and walk around when you need to.
If you have trouble with nausea related to motion or pregnancy, talk to your doctor about prescribing an anti-nausea medication to have on-hand. There are several that are safe to take during pregnancy.
Plan time to recover from jet lag or travel in general, recommends Meg Nesterov, who is expecting her first child and living in Istanbul, Turkey where she writes about traveling while pregnant for Gadling.com. “Sleeping on a plane can be much harder, especially without sleeping pills or alcohol to help you relax, so build in time to recover from the travel.”
Make sure your car (whether it’s a rental or your own) has working air conditioning before hitting the road, since pregnancy can make you feel overheated.
Consider a Cruise
A cruise can be an ideal pre-baby getaway, since the ship does the traveling for you and there’s plenty of room to move about and even gyms to exercise. But there are three important things to watch out for:
Seasickness: Ask your doctor to prescribe nausea-preventing medication that is safe to take during pregnancy in case you discover you suffer from seasickness; pack along seasickness bands that activate pressure points to help relieve nausea.
Illness: Norovirus, a group of viruses that are passed by food and contact and cause diarrhea and vomiting, can travel quickly on a ship. To steer clear of it, wash all fruits and vegetables well before eating them and wash your hands frequently while aboard. And bring that hand sanitizer!
Medical care: Make sure the ship travels with medical staff on board, and investigate what kinds of medical facilities will be available in the ports of call.
The major risk associated with pregnancy and air travel (or any travel where you are immobile, such as in a car) is the potential to develop life-threatening blood clots. “Pregnancy is what we call a hypercoagulable state,” explains Rebecca Shiffman, MD, director of maternal fetal medicine at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the South Bronx. “All the blood-clotting factors increase in pregnancy, which makes sense in terms of protecting the woman from hemorrhage at the end of the pregnancy.” But it also means that pregnant woman are more at risk for blood clots that can develop when your movements are restricted during travel and your blood circulation slows.
Follow these guidelines:
1. Get up and move about the plane as often as turbulence and the seat belt sign allow. If you are driving, make frequent stops and stretch your legs. Every two hours is a good guideline and limit the entire drive to no more than six hours.
2. Elevate your feet on a piece of carry-on luggage in front of you.
3. Drink plenty of water both to stay hydrated and to force yourself to get up often to use the bathroom.
4. Try the exercises recommended in some airline magazines to keep your blood flowing.
5. Purchase a pair of compression socks for air travel. These stop blood from pooling in your legs and feet and will have the added benefit of limiting bloating in those areas at the end of a long flight. Check with your doctor first, since some folks, such as those with diabetes, should not wear them.
Stay Safe and Healthy
No one wants to be get sick when they’re traveling—especially if you’re expecting, which limits the meds you can take to feel better. The same goes for accidents. These precautions are always important but be doubly sure to follow them when you’re traveling:
1. Always wear your seat belt in cars or airplanes.
2. Wash your hands often. Your immune system is weaker during pregnancy (to keep your body from reacting to your baby as a foreign presence), so you are more susceptible to sickness. Frequent hand washing will help you steer clear of bacterial and viral infections on the road. Pack along some hand sanitizer for when there is no sink or soap nearby.
3. Get your flu vaccine (this is important during pregnancy in general and especially when you plan to travel).
4. Scale back your activities: “Any type of amusement park rides with centrifugal force you want to avoid in early pregnancy,” says Puritz. “I’ve had patients ask about water skiing, horseback riding, playing softball, and my basic advice to people when they’re pregnant is that it’s a nine month investment and you can do a lot of fun things after and before, but a little bit of common sense and conservative activities never hurts.”
- Wavebreakmediamicrro for Veer
Dress to Stay Comfortable
The plane will be hot, then it will be cold; your home may be cool, but your destination warm; your feet will start the day small-ish and end it swollen. Packing a few key items can help you weather the ups and downs of pregnant travel.
Choose comfortable layers: “I love traveling in leggings or jeggings,” says Rosie Pope, a Manhattan maternity clothing designer and star of BravoTV’s Pregnant in Heels. Pope also likes a loose cotton tunic or shirt with a lightweight wool cardigan that can easily be bundled into your carry on.
Give your feet room to stretch. Pope recommends “steering clear of strappy sandals,” and choosing “soft, fabric flats” that will allow your feet to swell with less discomfort, and are easy to kick off at security. “If your shoes become too big,” says Pope, “you can dampen them with a wet sponge and find they’ll shrink a little when dried.” If you need heels for a romantic dinner, go for sling backs or open-heeled wedges, which are a little more forgiving to swollen feet than peep toes.
Remove jewelry before flying, advises Nesterov, so that swelling can’t keep your wedding ring captive on your finger. “I wear my rings on a necklace before flying,” says Nesterov.
Other items to pack along: Comfy socks or flip flops to change into on long flights or car trips, and a cozy cardigan or shawl to use as a layer, blanket or bunched up as a pillow.
Pack healthy snacks. With the limited food available on planes, it’s important to make sure you have nutritious, protein-packed snacks to keep you going. Pope recommends trail mix, granola bars, and small sandwiches like cheese and honey on whole wheat. Packing along some fruit is good too, since it can be harder to get all the fiber you need when you are dining out, and we all know what too little fiber can do during pregnancy.
Be extra careful of the foods you eat, especially if you travel out of the country. Pregnant women are more easily dehydrated by the diarrhea and vomiting that can accompany food poisoning, and a high fever can be dangerous for a fetus. Choose fruits and vegetables with thick skin, wash them well, and make sure that the water is potable. In areas where the water may not be safe, choose sealed, bottled water, and avoid ice in any beverages. Make sure meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood are cooked thoroughly.
“I am partial to vacations for pregnant women that both have a spa element to them (make sure they are certified in prenatal massage),” says Pope, “but also an interesting town within walking distance so you can keep up your exercise while taking in the local culture.” Meyers, who had to travel to Singapore for work during her first pregnancy, found the hotel pool an immediate relief after the long flight to get there. “It was great to give my body that break when I arrived,” says Meyers. “Whatever your physical activity of choice is, try and do that when you land to get your blood moving.”
- Corbis Photography for Veer
Ask for What You Need
Let the staff know you’re pregnant, advises Nesterov, who always told airline attendants when she wasn’t showing so she could get extra assistance with her luggage. Get as many pillows as you can so you can make yourself comfortable when you sleep. As soon as you check into a hotel, ask for extras or pack them along for car trips. Pope recommends sleeping with one between your legs and another under your breasts for extra support when you are lying on your side.
“Upgrade however you can,” suggests Nesterov. “If you have miles to upgrade the seat on your flight, rent a roomier car, or stay in a hotel with facilities such as a pool or spa, now is the time to use them! You’ll appreciate any extra comfort and will spend more time resting than you would on a typical trip.”
Remember: It’s So Worth It
Getting a note from your doctor or doing a little extra research on your destination will take a little time, but remember that it pays off. Meyers traveled to Paris during her second pregnancy to give her first child a chance “to do something special together before we became a family of four.” Her daughter, Madeleine, who was three at the time, still remembers and talks about it.
Nesterov, who travels internationally, likes how it starts conversations and gives insight into different cultures and how they treat mothers and babies. And Pope reminds her clients “how hard it is when you are in the thick of things to take a step back and truly reflect on the journey you are on.” Travel gives you a chance to do that as well as to take a moment and talk with your partner about the kind of parent you want to be and the future you want to have together. Of course, adds Pope, it’s also really important to take time to relax. “There won't be a lot of that in your future so take as much time to do so as you possibly can!”