Note: All travel is subject to frequently-changing governmental restrictions—please check federal, state, and local advisories before scheduling trips.
Travel can get stressful, and uncomfortable, especially when you add pregnancy to the mix. But it doesn’t have to be. The top piece of advice for pregnant travelers from Dr. Taraneh Shirazian, MD, a gynecologist at NYU Langone, is to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The CDC recently issued CDC issued “an urgent health advisory” urging “vaccination among people who are pregnant, recently pregnant (including those who are lactating), who are trying to become pregnant now.” Contracting COVID-19 while pregnant increases the risk of preterm birth, stillbirth, and “admission into the ICU of a newborn also infected with COVID-19,” according to the advisory.
But outside of COVID concerns, Shirazian says healthy pregnant women don’t necessarily have to cancel their travel plans, especially during the first two trimesters. “In general, pregnant women can travel; we don’t consider them rare animals,” says Shirazian who also runs a non-profit organization called savingmothers.org. “We like pregnant women to be up and about and do normal things.” Her top three things to be mindful of while traveling? Safe food, clean water, and mosquitos.
After 30 weeks, Shirazian advises pregnant women avoid air travel simply because so close to the due date, it becomes more likely something could happen that would require medical care. Or you could go into labor, which would not be ideal on a plane, or far from your chosen doctor and hospital. But aside from that, she says to go out and explore! “It’s just about being careful in a new environment.”
Of course, if this is your first pregnancy, you may not know how to anticipate your needs. To help, we asked Shirazian and women who have traveled while pregnant for tips—both big and small—for traveling with a baby in your belly.
Speak to your doctor
The number one priority when traveling is safety of mom and baby. And while for most women, traveling within the first two trimesters is totally safe, Shirazian says those who have experienced any type of complications during pregnancy should consult their OBGYN before traveling far distances.
Get up and move
The main reason air travel can be dangerous during pregnancy is simply because you’re sitting for a long period of time. Shirazian explains that during pregnancy, blood does not circulate through the body as rapidly as it normally does, leaving pregnant women at a higher risk for blood clots. For this reason, it’s very important to get up and walk the aisles during a long flight. If you’re taking a road trip, pull over every so often and stretch your legs to get the blood flowing. Compression socks can also help with this.
Be a picky-ish eater
Eating is often a big part of a trip. Especially when traveling abroad, you’ll want to indulge and sample the native cuisine. Shirazian says to be conscious when choosing your meals and snacks. Keep in mind the regular rules you abide by at home. Make sure your food is fully cooked because undercooked food is more likely to breed bacteria; avoid unpasteurized cheeses for the same reason and drink distilled water. And when it comes to seafood, avoid fish high in mercury like tuna and shark.
Pack your own snacks
Carrie Dino brought her own snacks when she traveled pregnant so she wouldn’t have to worry about the safety of her food. She recommends traveling with water, ginger ale, crackers, granola bars, and bananas. Jacki Maynard also advises bringing your own snacks so that you have something on hand if you wake up in the middle of the night hungry. “It’s no fun if you’re in a hotel and the only thing is an $8 bag of nuts,” she says.
Be ready for nausea
To combat the nausea and vomiting many pregnant women experience in the first trimester, Shirazian recommends packing natural supplements like ginger and vitamin B6. Staying hydrated and wearing comfortable clothing can also help stave off nausea in transit. Dino used motion sickness bracelets.
Maynard, who traveled to Mexico while pregnant, also warns women as to how their stomachs may react to food prepared outside the United States. “I usually have a stomach of steel but when I went to Mexico pregnant, I had a pretty bad bout of Montezuma’s revenge,” she says. “I feel pretty sure the pregnancy made it worse and made it harder to kick than it would have been otherwise.” She recommends traveling in your second trimester to avoid nausea. “I started feeling really great around week 16/17.”
Dino traveled from New York City to San Francisco at 15 weeks pregnant, to Anaheim, California at 20 weeks, to the Ozarks at 25 weeks, and to Miami at 30 weeks. After all that travel, one of her top recommendations is to pack comfortable clothing. She recommends wearing slip-on shoes for a plane ride. “Your already-swollen feet will swell even more, and when you can’t bend over, slip-on is key,” she says, She also opted for leggings and loose fitting tops for plane rides.
Be kind to your lower back
Shirazian says lower back pain is the number one discomfort issue for pregnant women. She recommends packing a pillow that helps you feel comfortable while sitting for long periods of time. She created a brand called Mommy Matters that sells pillows made especially for this. If you don’t have a lower back pillow, though, Dino suggests rolling up a scarf or jacket.
Ask for pre-boarding
Not all airlines offer preboarding for pregnant women. But they might if you ask. Dino suggests asking to board a plane early so you’ll have extra time to get situated and have a flight attendant help you with your luggage.
Book an aisle seat
Both Dino and Maynard recommend sitting in an exit row or an aisle seat. It will make frequent bathroom trips easier and you’ll be able to stretch your legs more.
Choose the right luggage
“Make sure you can wheel your luggage or prop your bag on top of your wheel luggage,” advises Dino. “You never know when you might have a far gate.”
Get to know the airport
To minimize unnecessary walking, Dino would do a quick study of the airport map to make sure she knew where she was getting picked up upon arrival.
Budget time for rest
“Your jet lag is likely going to be so much worse, especially if you’re in your first trimester,” says Maynard. So, it’s important to make time for rest and not pack your schedule full to the brim with activities. Shirazian adds to make sure you have a comfortable sleeping situation as getting a full eight hours of sleep becomes harder for pregnant women even at home in their own beds.
Read travel advisories
If you’re traveling abroad, be sure to read the health travel advisories, especially when it comes to Zika and other diseases. Shirazian says mosquitos are one of the top things to look out for, so be sure to pack insect repellent.
Don’t scuba dive
While Shirazian says most typical vacation activities are fine for pregnant women, there is one you should avoid: scuba diving. The change in pressure is not safe, she says.
If you’re going to the beach or plan on being out in the sun, use sun protection. Shirazian says sunlight can cause hyper pigmentation on stretch marks, leaving permanent discoloration.
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