Your growing belly shouldn’t put a stop to travel plans. Just a bit of extra planning is required to help your vacation run smoothly.

Provided your pregnancy is normal, going to faraway places is perfectly possible. However, discomforts such as extreme heat, high altitude, and makeshift accommodations may be less tolerable, and in some cases may compromise the safety of your baby.

The best time to travel

In the first trimester, you may find that morning sickness and fatigue lessen your enthusiasm for travel. Most women feel at their best in the second trimester and this is also seen as the safest time to travel since your risk of miscarriage is low, energy levels are increased, and your due date is still some way off. After 28 weeks, the size of your belly, fatigue, and the looming birth date are likely to make home seem the best place to be.

Making plans

A little extra planning is the key to successful travel in pregnancy. However tempting brochures look, think carefully before you book. How will you get there and how long will it take? Pregnancy adds to the stress of a long-haul trip. If you want to fly, check with the airline about its policy. Some require a current letter from your doctor confirming your due date and your fitness to fly after 36 weeks. This is largely because of the possibility of going into labor mid-flight.

Taking precautions

Unless you have no choice, avoid visiting countries where disease is a high risk factor. Many doctors agree that protective drugs, such as certain vaccines and antimalarial pills, are not advisable in pregnancy or when trying to conceive. Check the internet for information about an area’s health hazards and local hospitals. If you have a condition such as diabetes that could cause complications, make sure you can get treatment while away.

Before you leave, try to get travel insurance. Some companies consider pregnancy a preexisting condition and won’t provide coverage for your trip.

Avoiding bugs

Pregnancy reduces the efficiency of your immune system, increasing your risk of an infection. When you’re traveling, “stomach bugs” caused by contaminated food and water are more likely to strike.

If you’re unsure about local tap water, buy bottled water (make sure the seal is unbroken) and use it when brushing your teeth as well as for drinking. Avoid drinks with ice and don’t eat salads or fruit you can’t peel since they may have been washed in contaminated water. A less obvious danger is fruit such as melon, which may have been injected with water to increase its weight

Avoid outdoor stalls or cafés where food might have been prepared hours in advance. Try to find restaurants where food is freshly cooked and standards seem high. Be scrupulous about hygiene, and carry moist wipes in case hand-washing facilities are inadequate.

On the trip

Sitting in a cramped seat for hours can cause your ankles and feet to swell. If you’re traveling by car, stop every hour to stretch your legs, have a snack, or find a bathroom. On a train or airplane, keep your circulation moving with foot and ankle exercises, and get up regularly to walk down the aisle when it’s safe to do so. Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water or juice, even if you do need to empty your bladder frequently. A few comforts, such as a cushion to tuck behind your back or a cooling water spritzer, can make a trip more bearable.

Vacation activities

There are some activities to forego in pregnancy, such as water skiing or horse riding, where a fall could harm your baby. Scuba diving is particularly dangerous because of the risk of air bubbles forming in the bloodstream. If you have children, ignore pleas to join them on amusement park rides.

If you’re used to exercising, there is no reason not to go swimming or walking, just don’t overdo it—hiking up hills under a blazing sun could send your temperature soaring, which is a bad thing in pregnancy. In the first trimester especially, extreme heat can affect fetal development. You might also become dehydrated, which later on can increase the risk of premature labor.

Be cautious also about less energetic activities. Hot tubs and saunas are best avoided since the heat could make you feel faint and may be harmful to your baby. An aromatherapy massage sounds like a treat, but some oils may be toxic to the baby, especially in the early months. If you want pampering, look for spas with treatments for pregnant moms.

In pregnancy, your skin becomes more sensitive to the sun, so whatever you’re doing be careful to protect against overexposure to the sun.

Trimester-by-trimester travel guide

Think about the implications of traveling at different times in your pregnancy when planning a trip.

1st trimester (weeks 1–12)
  • Period of highest risk for miscarriage and development problems in the baby. Be extra careful to avoid extremes of temperature and overly vigorous activities.

  • Motion sickness could make morning sickness worse.

  • Flying is allowed, provided you have no pregnancy complications.

  • Insurance is unlikely to be a problem.

2nd trimester (weeks 13–25)
  • You are likely to be feeling your best, and the chances of miscarriage or fetal development problems are greatly reduced.

  • Flying is allowed, but check to see whether you need to carry a doctor’s letter stating your due date.

  • Check with individual travel insurance companies to see if you can get coverage—policies vary.

3rd trimester (weeks 26–40)
  • Your belly is huge and travel may be very uncomfortable now.

  • Some airlines may not allow you to fly after 36 weeks without a letter from your doctor written within 72 hours of your flight that includes your due date and confirms your fitness to fly.

Advance planning

You’ve found your passport and put the tickets in your bag. However, when you’re pregnant you may also need to take the following items:

  • A note from your doctor stating your due date and giving you the all-clear to travel (helpful if you’re over 28 weeks).

  • Any special medical records regarding your pregnancy or general health.

  • A list of numbers for health-care facilities at your destination.

  • Remedies for heartburn or other minor pregnancy problems, such as hemorrhoids. You may not be able to buy your usual products abroad.

Q: I am five months pregnant and about to go on a beach vacation. I know that too much sunbathing causes skin damage, but can hot sun also harm my baby?
A: Experts are investigating a link between prolonged exposure to the sun and damage to the fetus. There is a possibility that ultraviolet rays could cause a deficiency of folic acid—a vitamin that helps prevent defects in the baby’s nervous system leading to spina bifida. Nothing is yet proven, but it’s not worth taking the risk. Enjoy the sun in moderation but don’t bake yourself or use tanning beds before you go on vacation.
Q: I’m worried about flying, because someone told me there is a high risk of DVT in pregnancy. Is this true?
A: Deep vein thrombosis (DVT), the formation of a blood clot in a vein (often in a leg), is sometimes caused by long periods of immobility, such as sitting on a plane . Although the risk factor may be slightly increased in pregnant women, because their blood tends to clot more easily, the chance of your developing DVT is still very low. To minimize the risk even further, you could purchase some special support socks, which are designed to improve blood flow in the legs.
Q: Are car seatbelts and airbags safe to use in pregnancy?
A: In the event of an accident, these appliances are far more likely to prevent injury than cause it—never travel without fastening your seatbelt. For comfort, position the straps above and below your belly rather than across it. Being hit by an inflated airbag will not hurt you or the baby, but to lessen the impact you should position your seat as far back as possible.

The position of your seatbelt may need adjusting to accommodate your belly.

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