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Travel When You Are Pregnant

Is it safe to travel during pregnancy?
Usually it is safe to travel during the first 7 to 8 months of pregnancy. The main concerns with travel during pregnancy are access to medical care, discomfort, getting enough exercise and fluids, and having a healthy diet. If you have any medical or obstetric complications, such as poorly controlled diabetes, placental problems, or pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, your provider may recommend that you not travel at any time during your pregnancy.

If you plan to travel, discuss the trip with your healthcare provider. Talk about:

  • the distance and length of the trip
  • the mode of travel
  • any suggestions for things you should or should not do before, during, and after the trip

Generally, the safest time to travel during pregnancy is the second trimester (13 to 28 weeks). At this time you probably feel your best and you are in the least danger of having a miscarriage or premature labor. Avoid traveling any long distance later in pregnancy. If labor starts early, you will want to be close to home.

What are the general guidelines for travel during pregnancy?

  • See your healthcare provider just before you leave on your trip.
  • Ask your provider if you will need any prenatal care visits while you are traveling, and if so, where you might go for prenatal care. Take a copy of your prenatal record with you.
  • Wear comfortable, low-heeled shoes and loose-fitting clothes.
  • Eat healthy meals and snacks. Meals may be unpredictable while traveling. Carry snacks with you. Eat enough fiber in your meals to avoid constipation.
  • Drink plenty of water. Carry a water bottle with you. Do not take any medicines, including prescription and nonprescription medicines, supplements, and herbal remedies, without your healthcare provider's permission.
  • Get up and walk often while you are traveling. Stop walking when you are tired.
  • Get enough sleep and rest to avoid tiredness. Sleep on a firm mattress. Take your own pillow with you. It may help you sleep better. Make sure you and your baby's health insurance will be accepted where you are traveling.
  • If you have to sit for a long time, alternate pointing and raising your feet often. Walking and moving your arms improves blood flow in your body. This prevents blood clots from forming in the legs and pelvis.
  • After a long flight or other travel, try to lie down for at least 30 minutes with your feet raised if you had to sit for a long time.
  • If you have a large amount of baggage, then be sure and bring a wheeled luggage carrier to help you with your load. This will avoid the extra strain on your body from carrying heavy weight and will allow you to get around much easier.
  • Keep your travel plans as flexible as possible. Problems might develop at the last minute and you might have to cancel your trip. Unless it is absolutely necessary, do not plan any trips during the third trimester of your pregnancy.

What are the guidelines for traveling by car?

  • Do not ride in the car more than 6 hours each day. Stop every 1 to 2 hours for exercise, such as walking.
  • Always wear a seat belt. A seat belt is safe for both the mother and baby when worn properly. If the seat belt is only a lap belt, place it below your abdomen. If you have a shoulder and lap belt, place the lap portion under your abdomen and the shoulder belt across your shoulder and between the breasts. Be sure that the seat belt fits snugly. Air bags are safe but you must also wear the seat belt. The gas used in air bags won't hurt you or the baby. If you are in an accident, you should go to an emergency room immediately to get checked and make sure you and your baby are fine.
  • Adjust your seat as far from the dashboard or steering wheel as possible.
  • Motorcycle travel should be avoided during pregnancy.

What if I am traveling by bus or train?

  • You may have less opportunity to walk every couple of hours when you travel by bus. Take advantage of any stops the bus makes to get exercise. When you are traveling by train, get up and walk every hour or two. Remember that there are fewer restrooms on a bus than a train. Consider taking an extra cushion to use for back support and maybe a cushion or pad to place under your feet so that your knees are slightly elevated.
  • Are there special concerns for traveling by air?
  • Flying is usually a safe way to travel. Most domestic airlines will allow a pregnant woman to fly up to the 36th week of pregnancy if there are no problems with the pregnancy. Each airline has policies regarding pregnancy and flying. Check with your airline when you reserve your tickets to see if you need to complete any medical forms.

Suggested guidelines for traveling by air are:

  • Try to get an aisle seat at the bulkhead (the wall that separates first class from coach) or exit aisle to have the most space and comfort. If you are more concerned about a smoother ride, you may prefer a seat over the wing in the midplane region.
  • Wear layered clothing because the temperature in the cabin may change during the flight.
  • Drink plenty of fluids because the air in the plane can be very dry.
  • If you want a special meal on the plane, you can usually order it in advance on most flights.
  • Eat small meals to help avoid air sickness. Avoid foods and drinks that may give you gas.
  • During smooth flights, walk every half hour and flex and stretch your ankles often to avoid swelling. Support stockings can also help.
  • Wear a seat belt below your abdomen whenever you are in your seat.
  • Get extra rest after long flights to help avoid jet lag.

Are there any problems with traveling by sea or ship?
Seasickness is a concern for many people traveling by sea. Your healthcare provider may recommend medicine that helps prevent motion sickness and is safe during pregnancy. You might also consider trying acupressure wristbands.

Be aware that the medical services on a ship are very limited. Check with the cruise lines to find out what types of regulations and restrictions there are for pregnant women, and what kinds of medical facilities are available on the ship. Also find out the ports of call and what kinds of medical facilities are available there.

What are the guidelines for traveling internationally?
You should not travel out of the country without discussing it first with your healthcare provider. Your provider may decide foreign travel is not safe for you. If it is safe, your provider will let you know what should be done before you leave and when you arrive at your destination. You may want to register with an American Embassy or Consulate after you arrive. It is important to make sure you have had all the shots you need for the countries you are planning to visit. Some immunizations cannot be given to pregnant women.

Make sure your health insurance is valid abroad and during pregnancy. Also check that the policy covers a newborn if you were to give birth during your travels.

Be especially cautious about what you eat in countries where traveler's diarrhea might be a problem. Diarrhea can cause dehydration, which reduces the blood flow to the placenta and your baby.

  • Do not drink untreated water, including ice cubes in drinks.
  • Avoid food and beverages from street vendors.
  • Eat only foods that are cooked and still hot, or fruits and vegetables that you peel yourself.
  • Do not eat raw or partially cooked fish or shellfish, including such dishes as ceviche. Fully cooked fish and shellfish are safe.
  • Brushing your teeth with untreated water is usually safe. Most toothpastes contain antibacterial substances. Do not swallow the water.
  • Carbonated soft drinks and water, bottled water, wine, and beer are usually safe without ice. Do not add ice that has been made from tap water.
  • Avoid uncooked dairy products. Make sure the milk you drink is pasteurized.
  • Ask your healthcare provider what medicines are safe to take to help prevent traveler's diarrhea when you are pregnant.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has an International Travelers Hotline for information on disease and world travel. The phone number is (800) 232-4636. The CDC travelers' health Web site is http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.

Written by Anthony Angello, MD.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2008-08-11
Last reviewed: 2008-05-05
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Women's Health Advisor 2009.1 Index