7 Tips for Traveling While Pregnant
An extra-large baby bag full of diapers, bottles and blankets is an essential part of any mom-to-be's future travel plans. But for now — since the only extra weight you're carrying is that in-utero bundle of joy — traveling can be a slightly easier undertaking. Whether you're planning a mind-clearing babymoon, a critical work trip or that four-hour drive to your in-laws, make sure to prioritize your comfort and health while on the go. Before you start squeezing your oversized maternity wear into your itty-bitty carry-on, read U.S. News Travel's seven tips for taking a trip when you're expecting.
[In Pictures: 7 Tips for Traveling While Pregnant]
Time Your Trip Well
For most women, pregnancy has its fair share of nausea, discomfort and fatigue. But the good news is all three symptoms won't usually span the full nine months. Take advantage of the second trimester when you've likely overcome morning sickness, but not yet felt the onset of increased fatigue. When possible, it's best to schedule your travel between the 20- and 30-week marks, according to Dr. Aron Schuftan, a California-based OB-GYN and co-founder of EmbraceHer Health's free Pregnancy Companion mobile app. (The app lets women check drug safety, track hydration, "Ask the Docs" pregnancy-related questions and follow the baby's daily growth through video and images). Regardless of whether you can schedule your travel for that hopefully asymptomatic sweet spot, try to avoid traveling after 36 to 38 weeks of pregnancy. And always consult with your doctor before you head off — women with higher-risk pregnancies may be discouraged from traveling. Most airlines require a note from your doctor if you are scheduled to deliver within 30 days of takeoff, but restrictions vary by carrier. Before you buy your ticket, determine your airline's pregnant flyer policy.
Choose a Domestic Destination
It can be tempting to visit a far-off destination before the yelps of a crying infant leave you in a perpetual state of sleep deprivation. But if you can reel in those vacation fantasies to domestic locales, you may face less discomfort on your journey. Stay closer to home and you'll reduce some ambiguity when it comes to contaminated food, unsafe drinking water and foreign medical care. If you do venture somewhere outside of the United States, steer clear of cities with extra high altitudes: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that pregnant women (especially those with complicated or at-risk pregnancies) avoid sleeping at altitudes higher than 12,000 feet. Even more important than where you go is what you do when you get there. "Scuba diving, for example, is absolutely a no-no while pregnant. Avoid high risk activities like skiing, snowboarding, skydiving," Schuftan said. "Don't do anything that could potentially hurt you or the baby." But that shouldn't stop pregnant women from staying active while away from home. Maximize your time in a new destination with brisk walks, low-impact swims or relaxing yoga on the beach. If you do plan to venture abroad — especially if your itinerary includes travel to malaria-endemic regions or destinations that require a vaccination — consult with your doctor well in advance of your trip.
Bring a Copy of Your Prenatal Records
No matter where your itinerary takes you, always bring along a copy of your prenatal records and medical notes. And while you're planning your trip, be sure to determine where the nearest hospital or medical facility is located. Should you need treatment from a local doctor during your trip, your records will provide an essential starting point for a medical professional to understand the circumstances of your pregnancy. If you have health insurance, keep proof of insurance with you at all times; however, medical expenses incurred abroad will likely mean hefty out-of-pocket costs. If you do receive foreign medical care, make sure you have a copy of all your health care receipts before you head home. For moms-to-be who are extra cautious, some travel insurance policies can be purchased to cover medical expenses while abroad. For more information about foreign medical coverage, see the CDC's website.
Travel By Car
Flying may be faster and traveling by boat may let you rock your soon-to-arrive neonate to sleep, but if you plan to travel while pregnant the best mode of transport is the good old-fashioned automobile. The reason? You'll have more immediate access to emergency medical care and you can make frequent pit stops to stretch, visit a restroom or take a break from any nausea-inducing motion. While you're on the road, be aware of your seat belt placement: Secure the lap belt below your belly so that it rests against your hip bones, and wear the shoulder belt across the center of your chest and to the side of your baby bump. Also, limit your travel to a maximum of six hours per day, making plenty of stops to stretch along the way. If you're the driver, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends that you move your seat as far back as comfortably possible and position the steering wheel at least 10 inches away from your breastbone so that if the airbag should deploy, it will do so without causing harm to your baby. Any moving vehicle or rocky ship can cause motion sickness, and that likelihood increases for pregnant women. Prepare yourself for wooziness by talking to your doctor about pregnancy-friendly nausea medications.
Request a Pat-down
So you've decided to fly the friendly skies, but forgot to consider a plan for navigating airport security. One tip: Avoid Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) scanners. "I tell my patients that it's OK for them to go through the metal detectors; however I ask them to avoid going through the new scanners that spin around you," Schuftan said, crediting his cautious approach to a lack of long-term studies on the device's effects. He suggests that pregnant women ask the on-site Transportation Security Administration agents for a security pat-down whenever possible. Once you've made it through the screening process, resist the urge to grab your suitcase off the conveyor belt. Instead, ask for help from a nearby passenger or airport employee to avoid any heavy lifting.
Stay Hydrated and Bring Healthy Snacks
An airplane's recirculated cabin air certainly doesn't leave you feeling hydrated. Add in your body's pregnancy needs, and it's likely you'll quickly become parched at 30,000 feet. While it's essential to drink plenty of water at all times during pregnancy, it's especially important during travel. According to the American Pregnancy Association, pregnant women should drink eight to 12 glasses of water per day in order to ensure that their amniotic fluid is renewed and breast milk production is on track, among other health benefits. Thankfully, some of that water can be used to wash down periodic snacks. When you're packing bites to eat — and it's a good idea to bring along quite a few — stick to healthy foods that are part of your usual diet. "You might want to avoid saltier foods which can contribute to retention of fluids and can cause your swelling to get worse," Schuftan said. Whole grain granola bars, mini-boxes of raisins and pre-cut carrots are some tasty, travel-friendly options.
Stretch It Out
Your days of seeking that coveted airplane window seat are over. Remember that hydration tip? Well, it turns out drinking a lot of water often means quite a few trips to the water closet. A seat adjacent to the aisle will not only grant you easier access to the bathroom, but it will ensure that you have plenty of room to stretch out your legs and take frequent strolls down the plane aisles to prevent blood clots. Pregnant women are in what Schuftan called a "hypercoagulable state," making them more susceptible to clotting, and this condition is more likely to worsen when sitting for long periods of time. In addition to those walks and stretches, consider wearing a pair of compression tights or socks to keep your blood flowing. And while you're in the neighborhood of footwear, Schuftan recommends packing a pair of loose-fitting shoes to keep your feet comfortable in case of in-flight swelling.
[In Pictures: 7 Tips for Traveling While Pregnant]