Traveling When Pregnant

By Sharon Perkins
Travel in pregnancy is safest in the second trimester.
Travel in pregnancy is safest in the second trimester.

The normal discomforts of pregnancy can seem magnified when you're traveling by air or long trips in the car. Being confined and not eating and drinking normally can make travel an uncomfortable experience for a pregnant woman. In some cases, prolonged travel can pose hazards during pregnancy, including the risk of going into preterm labor or developing blood clots. You can take steps to travel safely in pregnancy, including traveling between week 14 and 28, if possible -- the safest time to travel, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the ACOG.

Stay Hydrated

Dehydration in pregnancy can cause uterine contractions that can lead to preterm labor. The air inside a plane contains less moisture than outside air, so it is normal to become somewhat dehydrated when you fly. You might hesitate to drink sufficient water on the plane or during a car trip, knowing the inevitable consequence will be multiple trips to the bathroom or stops at rest areas. But not drinking enough -- which leads to not urinating enough -- also increases your risk of developing a urinary tract infection, another common complication and cause of preterm labor in pregnancy. Drink 10 to 14 glasses of fluid per day to keep hydrated when traveling.

Avoid Blood Clots

During pregnancy, blood flow from your legs back to your heart is slower than normal, because the pressure of the uterus on blood vessels slows blood return. This creates an ideal setup for development of blood clots in your legs, with pregnant women having five times the risk of developing blood clots as non-pregnant women, as reported in a December 2012 American Society of Hematology educational program. Immobility is the second most common risk factor for blood clots, especially for women with a body mass index greater than 25. Blood clots that break loose can lodge in the lungs, a potentially fatal complication. To prevent these potential complications, get up and walk every half hour, elevate your legs if possible, and move your feet and legs frequently. When traveling by car, schedule frequent stops so you can get out, stretch your legs and walk around for a few minutes.

Stay Healthy When You Arrive at Your Destination

Although it might seem as if your immune system would be on hyper-alert during pregnancy, the opposite is true. As a result, your immune system is less effective at protecting you from infectious diseases and viruses, including those that cause traveler's diarrhea and other illnesses. Wash your hands frequently or use hand sanitizer frequently -- carry a small bottle with you for frequent use. Stick to bottled water or bottled drinks; remember that ice cubes are made with local water and should also be avoided. Eat only well-cooked meat. Avoid raw vegetables and dairy products unless you're sure they're made with pasteurized milk. If you are out in the sun, slather on the sunscreen to prevent a painful burn.

Be Safe While Traveling

You might worry about harming your baby by wearing your seat belt, but doing so helps keep you and your baby safe. Wear your seat belt low across your hips, beneath your abdomen, and use the shoulder belt as well; never tuck it behind your back. ACOG recommends riding in the car for no longer than 5 to 6 hours at a time. Check airline regulations for flying while pregnant. Airline regulations vary. Some require a medical certificate if you plan to fly in the last month or two of pregnancy.

Prepare for the Unexpected

While planning helps you have a problem-free and enjoyable trip, be prepared in case things go wrong. Always carry your doctor's name and phone number, along with a copy of your medical records, particularly if you've had any type of pregnancy complication. When you talk to your doctor about your travel plans -- which you should clear with him before making them -- ask if you can access to your records electronically if necessary and if so, know how to do so. Carry any pertinent information, including your doctor's contact information, with you. Scout out the local hospitals online before you reach your destination. While you're unlikely to need to use this information, you can rest easier knowing you and your baby can get the care you need if necessary.

About the Author

A registered nurse with more than 25 years of experience in oncology, labor/delivery, neonatal intensive care, infertility and ophthalmology, Sharon Perkins has also coauthored and edited numerous health books for the Wiley "Dummies" series. Perkins also has extensive experience working in home health with medically fragile pediatric patients.