During pregnancy, you can still do many of the things you enjoyed before you were pregnant, including travel. Here, we want to share some tips on how to make your traveling experience during pregnancy safer and more comfortable. All recommendations are based on a position statement by the European Board and College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (EBCOG).
When Is the Best Time for Traveling During Pregnancy?
The best time for a trip is the second trimester. During the second trimester, the nausea of the first weeks of pregnancy has passed, you won’t have the fatigue that can come in the later stages, and your belly will still be small enough to get around fairly quickly.
Most airlines would ask you to carry a letter from your doctor or midwife stating how many weeks pregnant you are when flying. EBCOG recommends that such a message also include:
- The expected date of delivery
- Risk factors for preterm labor or obstetric complications, if any
Note that most airlines allow pregnant women to fly only up to 37 weeks of gestation (32 weeks for twin pregnancies).
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Aircraft, Train, or Car: Which Is the Best Option for Traveling While Pregnant?
Generally, you can use any transportation when traveling during pregnancy. However, for long distances, it may be best to opt for a short flight rather than a long car, bus, or train ride, as the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT)(1) is higher when seated for extended periods.
When wearing a seatbelt, make sure that it doesn’t press on your uterus. You can wear the upper belt above the belly and the lower belt across the upper thighs.
Pregnancy and Travel: Are There Any Risks to Be Aware Of?
Traveling during pregnancy doesn’t increase your risk of developing complications such as bleeding or going into preterm labor. However, should these occur while mid-flight or mid-crossing on, for instance, a ferry, it may take considerably longer before you can get to a hospital.
Although, in most cases traveling while pregnant will be safe, there are additional risk factors to be aware of.
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Is Radiation Exposure a Risk?
The exposure to cosmic radiation during flights is too low to cause any problems when combining pregnancy and travel. A dose you would receive in a 10-hour plane roughly equals 0.05 millisieverts.
To put things into perspective, 0.1 millisieverts is a typical chest X-ray (0.00007 millisieverts of which will reach the fetus), and three millisieverts are the dose you get every year from natural sources. The amount of radiation you get during security scanning is negligible, roughly equal to 2 minutes of flight, which is why pregnancy isn’t a reason not to go through a security scanner.
Low Pressure in the Airplane Cabin
Because of the reduced weight outside, your blood carries less oxygen during flight. This is not a big deal if you are entirely healthy. However, this risk factor may be necessary for pregnant women with a hemoglobin (Hb) level of 4.65 millimoles per liter or less and those who have a severe respiratory or cardiac condition or had a sickle cell crisis recently.
The reduced barometric pressure in airplanes can also lead to nasal congestion(2), which can cause discomfort and problems within the ears, particularly if you have sinusitis or an ear infection. If you’ve undergone recent bowel surgery, the sutures on your intestine can come under stress.
Reduced mobility increases the risk of blood clotting. The following can improve blood flow and reduce the risk of developing clots:
- Wear well-fitted compression stockings when traveling during pregnancy.
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
- Avoid drinking caffeinated beverages and alcohol, as these can lead to dehydration.
If possible, try to exercise or walk every 30 minutes. If you’re traveling by car, arrange rest breaks and take short walks. When traveling by bus, train, or plane, it’s best to choose an aisle seat to be able to get up and walk and have easier access to the toilet.
You may want to consider taking blood thinners such as low-molecular-weight heparins (LMWH) if you have additional risk factors for developing blood clots and if your doctor approves this.
[ Read: Natural Ways to Get Rid of Blood Clots ]
When traveling to specific destinations, it is possible to contract infections endemic to those regions. You can get vaccinated in advance to prevent some infections. However, it’s best to avoid traveling to such countries during pregnancy.
Health organizations such as WHO and ACOG accurately advise against visiting countries where one can contract the Zika virus. This virus is dangerous for the fetus, and there’s still no vaccine against it.
In areas where malaria exists, it is essential to try to prevent mosquito bites by covering your skin between dusk and dawn, by applying a DEET repellent to exposed skin, and by sleeping under an intact mosquito net treated with DEET.
It’s important to tell your doctor or nurse about your travels and inform them of any illnesses you had while traveling.
If you are conceiving, the safest time for you to travel, generally speaking, is during the 2nd trimester, provided you aren’t undergoing any problems. If you are child-bearing and considering travel, you must contact your physician, especially if your pregnancy is high risk. Consider the standard of medical care at your chosen destination, just in case you need medical help.
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Traveling during pregnancy is generally safe. When planning your trip, think about your comfort first and choose options that will make your experience smoother. Pregnancy and travel are combinable, and following simple safety rules will only help you enjoy your journey!