Traveling can be a big part of our lives from taking a trip for work, visiting family, or taking vacations. With a few exceptions traveling during pregnancy is no different than traveling when you are not expecting. The key is planning ahead. Whether you are hopping in a car for a road trip, getting on a train, or flying to another country this episode goes through some tips to stay healthy and be as comfortable as possible while traveling when you are expecting.
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For the most part, traveling during pregnancy is perfectly fine. Barring any major complications, there is no reason you should be confined to stay in the city you live in. Traveling can be a big part of our lives from taking a trip for work, visiting family, or taking vacations. If this is your first pregnancy it is a short time until your family of two becomes a family of three which is a great excuse to get out of town for a long weekend or a full vacation. Plus, the holidays are coming up which often involves a lot of travel for everyone. Once you have a baby traveling has some additional considerations and you have to bring a lot more stuff with you.
The Optimal Time to Travel
The optimal time to travel, if you are planning a vacation, is probably going to be the second trimester. This is generally the most well-liked trimester. If you had morning sickness, hopefully, that has dissipated by about week 13. In the second trimester your hormones even out a bit, and you have more energy. I say the second trimester is ideal because in the third trimester you are more prone to have less energy, everything is bigger which overall can make you more uncomfortable.
Remember, as you get closer to your due date you might be nervous about straying too far from home. That means you may not have access to your care provider, and the venue where you are planning to have your baby. Sometimes we have to travel on dates that are out of our control, but if you can pick the time, the second trimester is ideal. This is definitely the optimal time if you are planning a babymoon.
Is Air Travel Safe?
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has an official committee opinion on air travel and states that pregnant women can fly safely, observing the same precautions for air travel as the general population. They do address some precautions you can read in their committee opinion. These precautions are also included throughout this article.
Some airlines do not allow you to fly after 35 weeks. The biggest reason for this is probably because they do not want you going into labor on an airplane. I am sure you do not want that either. Although it would probably make for a good birth story. If you are not quite at 36 weeks, it still may be a good idea for you to travel with a note from your doctor stating your due date just in case the airline you are flying gives you a hard time.
Planning Ahead with Your Doctor or Midwife
It is always a good idea to talk to your doctor or midwife before you travel. They would be able to give you any recommendations particular to your pregnancy. This is especially important if you have any complications. Your doctor or midwife may advise you to limit travel if you have a high-risk pregnancy. This could include carrying twins or multiples, gestational diabetes, placental abnormalities, or if you are at risk for preterm labor.
You should take into consideration where you are going. If you are traveling to a third world country it would be a good idea to be cautious about things like drinking bottled water. Some areas may have an increased risk of exposure to the Zika virus. Depending on where you are traveling to your care provider may recommend vaccines for potential illnesses you could be exposed to abroad.
Bring phone numbers of your doctor or midwife. If you are close to your due date you may want to find a doctor or midwife in the city where you are traveling, or at least know where the nearest hospital is. If you are traveling to another state or country you may want to find out how your health insurance covers you while you are there.
When planning travel during your pregnancy you may want to consider trip insurance. I have seen this recommended for expecting moms especially if you are planning a trip way in advance. In the event, something comes up and you need to cancel your trip then the insurance would help you recover the costs. Some trip insurance may also help cover any health care costs in the event you needed to see a doctor while you were away from home. Generally, trip insurance isn’t too expensive but it is an added expense and you will want to make sure you know exactly what will be covered.
Tips to Stay Healthy & Comfortable
Your two main objectives during travel are to stay healthy and be as comfortable as possible. I am going to run through some tips to do this that you can keep in mind if you have any travel coming up.
Going Through Security
If you are concerned about airport screening machines, they are fine. I did not find any research showing negative effects on you or your baby. If you are concerned about it you can always request a pat-down to avoid any type of scanner. This may delay you a few extra minutes and those pat-downs are really thorough so be prepared for that. Usually, TSA will have a female pat you down, which may make you a little more comfortable.
Your Immune System
When you are pregnant your immune system is lowered slightly. This sounds like a bad thing but there is a purpose for this. Your immune system is lower to keep your body from rejecting your baby. Our bodies are designed to detect foreign substances and attack them to protect our health. The downside to this is that you are more susceptible to fighting off bacteria and viruses.
When you are on an airplane you are breathing circulated air that could be contaminated from a lot of people. The healthier you are before your flight the better. The best advice for this is to make sure you are not short on sleep, that you stay hydrated, eat well, and make sure you are taking your prenatal vitamin or any other supplements you take to keep your immune system running in tip-top shape. Anytime I fly I bring some packets of Emergency-C and pop one in a glass of water on the flight. I feel like it gives me some extra vitamin C and a little immune system boost. Maybe it is the placebo effect, but I swear by it.
The Wipe Down
The first thing I do when I get on an airplane is to wipe down every surface with sanitizing wipes. Not baby wipes, the ones with chemicals that kill 99.9% of germs. Yup, I am that person, even when I travel solo. I started this at the suggestion of my pediatrician and the habit stuck. Airplanes are not cleaned well in between flights and there could be a lot of germs on tray tables and armrests. I am a fan of reducing my exposure to bacteria and viruses as much as possible. Even if it makes me look like a germaphobe on a flight.
Wash Your Hands
Airplanes, airports, trains and any other form of public travel is going to expose you to a lot of surfaces that a lot of other people are touching. The number one thing you can do to stay healthy when traveling is to wash your hands frequently. This is going to be less of an issue if you are taking a road trip, obviously, wash your hands after hitting a gas station restroom. Especially if you are flying, wash your hands often. Airports, and especially airplanes are not the cleanest environments and there are so many people in a small space. Please, wash your hands.
There has been a lot of attention on the safety of hand sanitizers. There is concern over ingredients like triclosan, which should be avoided. If you do choose to pack a hand sanitizer in your carry on you can opt for one that is alcohol-based. In any case, hand sanitizers are not as good as just washing your hands with soap and water. The free and clear sanitizer from the Honest Company is my go-to.
The next thing you can do to stay healthy when traveling is to drink water. Drinking water is the easiest way to protect your health. It is crucial to stay hydrated. Airplanes and areas with air conditioning and recycled air can be dehydrating environments. Unfortunately, you cannot bring a water bottle through security but you could bring an empty one, then fill it up at a drinking fountain after you go through security, or buy a bottle of water once you are in.
When you get on a plane it will usually be an hour or more before refreshments are offered so plan ahead and have water with you. When the fight attendant comes by to ask if you want anything to drink, ask for two glasses of water. You totally can do that and those tiny cups don’t hold a lot anyway. Drinking a lot of water is going to make you have to hit the bathroom more often. The good news is that will be a good excuse to get up out of your seat, or out of your car and move around.
Swelling and Edema
Swelling can be an issue when you are pregnant so you could find it helpful to avoid really salty foods, like the pretzels they give you on airplanes. Foods that have high salt content make you retain more water which can contribute to edema, which is swelling that you may already be experiencing just as a result of being pregnant. Drinking plenty of water will also help with swelling. I know this seems counterintuitive but staying hydrated will actually help your body retain less fluid.
Food & Snacks
Airport food is terribly expensive and it can be challenging to find healthy options. You can bring a meal on the airplane with you. This way you know you have a good meal, that didn’t cost you $18.
Like meals, your best bet is to bring snacks with you. This is a skill you will master as a mom, so you might as well start now. If you bring your own snacks, then you know you have something healthy to munch on. This really comes in handy if it is taking forever to get a snack on the plane, if your flight is delayed, or if you are in the car and stuck in traffic. You know you can’t bring drinks through security but you can bring food. Airport food had improved over the years but it is always an option to pick up something to go from your favorite local spot before heading to the airport.
While you might feel like you really need those two suitcases, keep in mind that you should avoid heavy lifting. Suitcases have wheels for a reason. When you are packing keep in mind that you don’t want to be schlepping several suitcases through the airport if you can avoid it. With extra fees being charged for checked bags it is easy to try and jam everything into a carry-on. When you board and need to stuff a heavy suitcase in the overhead compartment do not hesitate to ask someone next to you to lift it up for you. People tend to be super nice when you are pregnant and I am sure they would not mind helping you.
When you are pregnant you are at a higher risk for blood clots. These form when your blood changes from a liquid to a solid. This is a good thing when your body needs to minimize blood loss during birth, but no so great for sitting for extended periods of time. When you are pregnant the blood vessels around your pelvis and other places are more compressed and as your uterus grows it puts pressure on your pelvis. This causes blood flow in your legs to slow, especially later in pregnancy.
Reducing Your Risk for Blood Clots
One of the best things you can do to combat the risk of blood clots is to get up and move around. If you are taking a road trip you can plan on making a few stops along the way. Get out of your car, walk around, stretch, and hit the bathroom. On an airplane, the most convenient seat will be the aisle seat. You will have a little more room to stretch out on the aisle. Plus an aisle seat makes it easier to get up to walk around or go to the bathroom. Don’t let a window seat keep you from moving around. On a longer flight, this is going to be even more important to get up and move around frequently.
Another thing you can do is wear compression stockings. Support hose or compression socks put mild pressure on your legs, with the most pressure on your ankles and decreasing pressure as they move up your legs. Try these on before you go on your trip and you want to be careful that they are not cutting off any circulation. Compression socks may make the work your veins have to a little bit easier.
Dressing for Travel
When you are expecting you definitely want to dress for comfort. Some people do this anyway, but if you are used to traveling in heels and a super fashionable ensemble, you may want to reconsider to dress more for comfort. Luckily most maternity clothes are pretty comfy and you don’t have to sacrifice style to be comfortable.
Another tip when planning your travel outfit is to have a few layers on. This will allow you to adjust if you are hot or cold. Wear comfortable shoes and if you opt for sandals throw a pair of socks in your carry on. Airplanes tend to run cold and socks can make a big difference if your feet are cold. If you normally like to dress to impress when you travel, do your best to think about how comfortable you will be on your trip and take into consideration how long your travel time is and what the weather will be like at your destination.
When traveling by car obviously wear your seat belt. Don’t sit closer to the steering wheel than you need to and if you are in the passenger seat scoot your seat back as much as you can. In the event of an accident, this gives you more room to limit the impact to your belly.
Entertainment During Travel
Like you would for any trip plan ahead for things to keep you entertained on the drive or flight. Podcasts are perfect for this and it may be a good idea to download podcasts before your trip. Especially if your phone will not be connected to wifi or will be in airplane mode in flight. If you want to be productive this could also be a good time to brainstorm some baby names or make a list for your baby registry. You could also binge watch that show you have been meaning to catch up on or enjoy a movie or stand-up comedy on a flight.
Thank you to the amazing companies that have supported this episode.
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