Pamela Waldrop Shaw was just three days shy of her due date when she got on a plane bound for Texas. A national sales director for Mary Kay Cosmetics who'd led her team to a million-dollar sales year, the Fort Lauderdale-based Shaw was determined to attend the company's annual meeting and be recognized for her achievement. She wasn't going to let a little thing like her due date stand in the way. Four hours after touching down in Dallas, her water broke. The next day, she gave birth to her son, Thomas. Two days later, she collected her laurels. Shaw has a newfound perspective when reflecting on this experience: "I realize that I could have had Thomas on the plane. Flying at that point was not very smart."
Sure enough, you'd be hard-pressed to find an ob-gyn who'd sanction unnecessary travel late in one's pregnancy. Indeed, even Shaw admits her own doctor had tried to dissuade her from going on her trip. Most ob-gyns will tell you that if you have a choice, the ideal time to travel is during your second trimester. That's typically when you'll feel your best, have the most energy, and the risk for complications is relatively low.
A caveat: If you're doing genetic testing and are expecting results back, you may not want to venture far, says Wendy Wilcox, MD, MPH, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine/Montefiore Medical Center, in New York City. "If you do travel, make sure your OB knows how to contact you and that you can come home if necessary," she says.
Playing It Safe
Of course, it's not that you shouldn't travel during the first trimester, but nausea and fatigue can often make it uncomfortable. Miscarriages are also more likely to occur during the first trimester. "Air travel doesn't cause miscarriage, but women who miscarry when they travel have a hard time believing it's not their fault," says Pamela Berens, MD, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Texas, in Houston.
And once you reach your third trimester, obstetricians prefer you stay closer to home, just in case there's a sudden, unexpected complication...or your baby decides to make an early appearance. Shaw's adventure notwithstanding, you probably don't want your baby delivered by an unknown OB in an unfamiliar hospital or in the aisle of an airplane. "All OBs agree with not traveling after 36 weeks, and many would argue that you probably shouldn't travel beyond 34 weeks," says William Rayburn, MD, chair of the obstetrics and gynecology department at the University of New Mexico, in Albuquerque.
If you're high risk, OBs are even more cautious. Edward Lazarus, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, in Memphis, recommends that his high-risk patients stay put after 24 to 28 weeks. "And if you're carrying twins, or more, you probably should not travel after 20 weeks," he says. Women with multiple pregnancies have a higher risk for preterm labor and c-section delivery, as well as other health ailments.