DEAR DR. FOULK:
I just found out I’m pregnant and have a summer vacation planned this year. Can I still travel?
As you know, every pregnancy is different. That’s why it’s so important you discuss with your healthcare provider whether traveling is safe for you and your baby. Many women are able to travel while they’re pregnant, and it’s likely that if you haven’t experienced any complications so far, then you can travel, too.
When to Travel
According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG), the safest time to travel while pregnant is during your second trimester – from 14 to 28 weeks. This is the time when you likely will feel best and are at the lowest risk for premature labor or spontaneous abortion.
Generally, women aren’t allowed to fly domestically after 36 weeks and internationally after 32-35 weeks. It’s also recommended you not travel to areas with high altitudes, malaria, a history of or ongoing outbreaks of life-threatening infections caused by food or insects, or where live-virus vaccines are required or recommended.
The decision on whether to travel and how far to travel at any time during pregnancy should be a joint decision between you and your healthcare provider.
I do recommend you take special consideration as to whether you should travel internationally. It’s important you research the availability of quality medical care in the country you’re visiting. Also, it’s worth noting that getting all of the required immunizations before becoming pregnant is preferred over vaccines during pregnancy.
According to the CDC, pregnant women with the following conditions may be advised against international travel that require pre-travel immunizations:
- Heart valve disease or congestive heart failure
- Severe anemia (blood clots)
- Chronic organ system problems that need to be treated
- Incompetent cervix
- Current or history of placental abnormalities
- Pregnant for the first time over the age of 35 years
- Threatened miscarriage or vaginal bleeding during current pregnancy
- Pregnant with multiples
- History of miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, premature labor or ruptured membranes
- History of toxemia, hypertension, or diabetes with any pregnancy
- History of infertility or trouble becoming pregnant
- History of thromboembolic disease
Healthy Tips for Traveling while Pregnant
If you and your healthcare provider have determined it’s okay for you to travel during your pregnancy, consider these tips to help you prepare:
- Plan ahead for any problems or emergencies that could come up. Check to make sure your health insurance is valid while you are abroad and whether the policy will cover a newborn, should you deliver while away. You may want to consider getting a supplemental travel insurance policy and/or medical evacuation insurance policy.
- Research medical facilities in your destination. If you’re in your third trimester, you should look for facilities that can manage complications of pregnancy, toxemia, and cesarean sections.
- If you will need prenatal care while you are abroad, arrange for this before you leave. Talk to your healthcare provider to figure out the best way to handle international care.
- Know your blood type and check to make sure that blood is screened for HIV and hepatitis B in the areas you will be visiting.
- Check on the availability of safe food and beverages, including bottled water and pasteurized milk.
- If traveling by air, request an aisle seat at the bulkhead. This gives you the most space and comfort. If morning sickness is a problem, try to arrange travel during a time of day when you generally feel well. Seats over the wing in the midplane region will give you the smoothest ride.
- Try to walk every half-hour during a smooth flight, and flex and extend your ankles often to prevent thrombophlebitis (blood clots in the veins).
- Fasten your seat belt at the pelvis level, below your hips.
- Drink plenty of fluids to counteract the dehydrating effect of the low humidity in aircraft cabins.
- Try to rest as much as possible while away. Exercise and activity during pregnancy are important, but try not to overdo it.
Special Considerations for Breastfeeding Mothers
It’s important for nursing mothers to watch your eating and sleeping patterns, and stress levels. This will affect milk output. Be sure to increase your fluid intake and avoid alcohol, caffeine, and exposure to smoke.
Typically, you can get immunizations for protection against disease if you’re nursing. However, there are certain diseases, like yellow fever, measles, and meningococcal meningitis that may be a threat to infants who cannot be immunized at birth. It’s important to discuss this with your healthcare provider and your infant’s care giver before you travel.
For women who are feeding their babies formula, powdered formula prepared with boiled water is the best solution. You may also want to carry a supply of prepared infant formula in cans or ready-to-feed bottles for emergencies.
Plan Ahead with Your Healthcare Provider
The decision on whether to travel and how far to travel at any time during pregnancy should be a joint decision between you and your healthcare provider. Don’t hesitate to ask questions and encourage your healthcare provider to help create a personalized travel plan for you and your baby.
Call us at (865) 331-1122 to speak with our physicians or nurses about traveling during pregnancy.
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Disclaimer: please note that this information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to serve as medical advice. If you have a specific medical question or issue, we encourage you to call our office at (865) 331-1122 and schedule an appointment.