15 Tips on Staying Safe and Comfortable
Still, traveling when you're pregnant can be exciting -- a chance to get away before the baby changes your life forever. Here's what you need to know to stay safe and comfortable.
- Get your OB's okay. Before you go, be sure your pregnancy is progressing without complications. If you're late in your second trimester, have an ultrasound to make sure the placenta isn't covering the cervix (a condition called placenta previa, which occurs in fewer than 1 percent of births). "You may not have had any trouble with your pregnancy, and then you reach 27 weeks and begin hemorrhaging," says Dr. Lazarus, who still vividly remembers when his wife began hemorrhaging from a placenta previa at 2 a.m. -- while they were in Yellowstone National Park.
- You might also discuss your mode of transportation. Airport security checkpoints and jets' pressurized cabins pose no dangers to pregnant women, and motion sickness (in a car or on a boat) is unlikely to worsen just because you're pregnant. However, your doctor may recommend skipping cruises: Norwalk virus, a common cause of vomiting and diarrhea that's spread by poor bathroom hygiene, proliferates aboard ships. "You can get sick and dehydrated pretty quickly," warns Dr. Lazarus. "The baby wouldn't be at risk, but you'd be miserable."
- Consult a specialist. If you're planning a jaunt to less-developed regions, see a doctor or nurse practitioner who has travel-medicine expertise about food and water safety precautions, endemic diseases, and requisite vaccinations, advises Kip Baggett, MD, medical epidemiologist in the travelers' health section of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in Atlanta (to find a travel health specialist near you, go to www.cdc.gov/travel/travel_clinics.htm). The general rule on vaccinations is that killed virus vaccines, like Hepatitis A or flu shots, are safe during pregnancy, but live virus vaccines, such as yellow fever or tuberculosis, are not. Live vaccines contain small amounts of the weakened virus; killed vaccines are considered safer because the disease-causing viruses in them are inactive. (For more info on vaccinations, go to www.cdc.gov/travel/vaccinat.htm.) If the risks for both the disease and the vaccinations are too great, your OB will recommend you rethink your travel plans.
- Call your airline. Surprisingly, airlines don't have consistent rules about when pregnant women can fly, so check your carrier's policy before buying any nonrefundable tickets. You may also need a note from your OB stating your due date and verifying that you're fit for travel.
- Pack a copy of your prenatal record. It has information about your due date, blood type, blood pressure, and ultrasound results. "If you need to go to an emergency room in a different city, having your record on hand can save you extra phone calls as well as blood work and ultrasounds; plus, your record can help ensure that you get the critical care you need sooner," says Susan Warhus, MD, author of The Countdown to Baby (Addicus Books).
- Check your health insurance. Make sure your policy covers you if you need emergency care when traveling. Many insurance companies cover emergency care within the U.S. but not abroad. However, some companies allow you to purchase additional travel policies that cover you and your baby, should you deliver out of state or in another country.
- Find an alternate OB. Prior to leaving for her trip, Pamela Waldrop Shaw made arrangements with a Dallas OB to deliver her baby if she went into labor at her conference. It's a good idea to have the name and number of another OB if you get into trouble in a distant city, affirms Dr. Rayburn. Ask your OB for a referral.
- Don't be a hero. Airports are huge and when you're pregnant, you're often achy and tired, so don't be too proud to request a wheelchair to help you get around. And check your bags. "Even if my bag fit in the overhead, I'd check it so I didn't have to ask someone to put it up for me," says Brooklyn writer Caroline Kaye, who recently gave birth to her first child.
- Wear your seatbelt. That means in the car or on an airplane (if the seatbelt won't reach across your belly, ask the flight attendant for an extender). And if you're in an automobile accident, be sure to go to the emergency room. "Even if you have no cuts or bruises, if you've been significantly jostled, it's worth getting checked out because you could be at risk for preterm labor," says Dr. Lazarus.
- Get your fluids. Dehydration can lead to preterm labor, so drink the recommended eight 8-ounce glasses a day. When flying, don't be shy about asking the flight attendant for plenty of water.
- Move frequently. With all that water you'll be drinking, there's no doubt you'll need the bathroom often. If you're traveling by car, stretch your legs at rest stops; if you're flying or going by train, stroll up and down the aisles. Not only will frequent bathroom trips help prevent UTIs and bladder infections (which can lead to preterm labor), but moving around every hour or so helps prevent blood clots in your legs. A clot can cause a deadly pulmonary embolism if it reaches your lungs. "Pregnancy hormones make your blood clot more easily, and when you're sitting still, your blood tends to stay in your lower extremities," explains Dr. Wilcox.
- Pack healthy snacks. Carrying fruit, nuts, energy bars, or yogurt means you won't be trapped on a runway sans food or at the mercy of fast-food joints -- plus, snacks help keep nausea at bay.
- Wear comfortable clothes. Stretchy knits and spandex are comfy to travel in, and comfortable shoes are a must because feet tend to swell when you're pregnant. Celeste Ribbins, a Cleveland communications consultant whose daughter is now 7 months old, kept two pairs in the car when she was pregnant -- wide, comfortable slides for quick bathroom stops and shoes with good arch support for walking.
- Change your bag. Using a backpack helps cut down on back strain, notes Michelle McLaughlin, an Orlando pediatric occupational therapist who traveled often when she was pregnant with each of her three boys.
- Pack a travel health kit. Good things to include: acetaminophen, Imodium, Dramamine, Preparation H, Tums, Tylenol PM for insomnia, Cepacol for sore throat, a thermometer, and some packets of Gatorade powder to mix with bottled water in case of dehydration.
Remember, these journeys are preparing you for the one that is right around the corner: the journey of motherhood.