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Travel Safety

The best way to avoid travel risks is to stay home, but what fun is that? (After all, a long weekend relaxing on the beach might be the best thing for you.) With a little extra planning, you can travel safely throughout your pregnancy.

For plane, train, or automobile travel of more than a few hours, put support hose on. You can buy support stockings from any medical supply store. The thigh-high or maternity support hose will be more comfortable and effective than knee-highs.

Car travel. The most important rule is to wear your seat belt. A recent study of more than 440 pregnant women in car crashes showed that maternal mortality was six times higher when the woman was ejected from the automobile, and their unborn babies were five times as likely to die. Using a conventional lap belt alone has been shown to cause some injury to unborn babies, so wear a seat belt with a shoulder strap passed over the shoulder and across your chest between your breasts.

When you're on a long car trip, stop every 2 hours or so to stretch your legs and find a restroom. You don't want to rely on road food, so pack nutritious snacks and lots of water to keep you going. Break that 12-hour trip home to see family for the holidays into two days because at this stage of your pregnancy fatigue will be a major factor. Be sure your air conditioner is in good working order for summer trips because it's easy for you to feel overheated.

Air travel. You may have heard somewhere that air travel during early pregnancy is unsafe because of the link between exposure to solar radiation during pregnancy and childhood cancers. However, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states that the risk from casual air travel is negligible. For example, one round-trip, cross-country flight delivers only 6 percent of the solar radiation exposure that the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements deems safe for pregnant women.

You will, however, want to book flights early to get the best possible seat. Look for flights that aren't full so you can put up your feet on an empty seat; choose an aisle or bulkhead seat for more legroom; and stand up and stretch or walk around during long flights. Pack lightly, roll your luggage on wheels, and bring a carry-on bag with energy-boosting snacks and bottled water.

Gas expands with altitude, so avoid eating any bloat-producing foods before you fly. Sip water during the flight to fight dehydration, which can be aggravated by the dry air in the cabin. Pack a pair of thick socks too and wear them instead of shoes while you're in the air. Your feet will likely swell whether you wear shoes or not, so choose comfortable footwear with expandable ties, adjustable straps, or elastic panels.

Traveling outside the United States requires extra planning during pregnancy. Check that your destination has a modern medical facility and ask your provider for a copy of your health records to take with you. For a physician referral for international travel, contact International SOS Assistance (1-215-942-8226; www.internationalsos.com) or the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (716-754-4883; www.iamat.org).

Find out your immunization status too, if you're leaving the country. Are your vaccines up to date for diseases that are common in the region? Avoid travel to any area where serious disease is a risk. If you have any questions about the health precautions that are currently being advised in a particular foreign country, call the Centers for Disease Control?s International Travelers Hotline (800-CDC-INFO; www.cdc.gov/travel/). Many immunizations are safe during pregnancy, while others are relatively safe only at certain times. Check with your doctor. In general, you must weigh the risks of having the vaccine against the risk of getting the disease it would protect you from. Certain vaccines, such as those for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, or tetanus, are considered safe even during early pregnancy.

This might also be a good time to contact your insurance company to find out what it covers if you're out of the country. Also consider buying traveler's insurance in case pregnancy complications arise and you can't use those plane tickets after all.

Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.

All content on this Web site, including medical opinion and any other health-related information, is for informational purposes only and should not be considered to be a specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Use of this site and the information contained herein does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.