With the holidays on the horizon, many pregnant women are wondering whether they should alter their travel plans. Most healthy pregnant women can travel safely – and should go ahead and enjoy their last vacation for a while unencumbered by diapers and jars of baby food.
However, the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation advises pregnant women to discuss their vacation plans with their health-care providers. A pregnant woman may want to time her travel and activities for her own comfort and the well-being of her unborn baby. Here are some of the issues to consider:
Is there a “best time” during pregnancy to travel?
For most pregnant women, the safest and most comfortable time to travel is during the second trimester, from the fourth through the sixth month of pregnancy. During these months, morning sickness generally eases and energy levels are up. These are also the months that a pregnant woman is least apt to encounter pregnancy-related problems away from home.
You may want to postpone long trips during the first trimester when risk of miscarriage is greatest, and during the last trimester to avoid delivering in a hospital far from your health-care provider should early labor occur.
Travel may be unwise at any time while you’re pregnant if you have a history of miscarriage, premature delivery or if you’re expecting twins. Pregnancy-related complications, such as high blood pressure or vaginal bleeding, are other reasons to postpone travel.
If you’re planning an extended trip, ask your doctor for referrals to physicians in the area you are visiting – just in case problems arise.
Is air travel safe during pregnancy?
Air travel is safe for most pregnant women and their unborn babies. However, be sure to complete your travels before the last month of pregnancy. Domestic airlines prohibit women from flying after the 36th week of pregnancy, and most foreign airlines have a cutoff of 35 weeks gestation – to avoid the unpleasant possibility of giving birth en route.
When cruising at high altitudes, commercial jetliners maintain cabin pressure equivalent to that of 5,000 to 8,000 feet above sea level. This reduced air pressure – which causes a slight reduction in the amount of oxygen in the blood – poses no problems for most healthy pregnant women. However, if you’re slightly anemic, you may experience temporary drowsiness or impaired coordination. Even some non-anemic pregnant women experience slight changes in breathing and heart-rate patterns. Reduced cabin pressures can be harmful if you are seriously anemic or have sickle cell anemia. In such cases, use of supplemental oxygen may be necessary if you must travel.
While radiation from cosmic rays does increase at cruising altitudes, amounts of exposure from flights are extremely low and need not be a source of concern for the occasional traveler.
What can you do to ensure a more comfortable flight?
Take these precautions:
• Avoid sitting in a cramped position for extended periods of time to help prevent swelling of the legs and blood clots – an occasional complication of pregnancy, due in part, to hormonal changes. Request an aisle seat and spend about 15 minutes each hour walking around the cabin, when airline personnel indicate it is safe to do so.
• Prior to flying, avoid foods that produce intestinal gas. Expansion of intestinal gas in flight can be particularly uncomfortable during pregnancy.
• Drink plenty of fluids, such as water or fruit juices, to avoid dehydration caused by low humidity in the aircraft.
How can you make car travel safe and comfortable?
As with air travel, long hours of sitting can leave an expectant woman with a backache and swollen ankles and feet, and at increased risk of blood clots. You can avoid these problems by stopping and walking around at least every two hours. It’s best to plan a leisurely trip without too many hours of driving in one day because travel during pregnancy tends to be more tiring.
It is especially important that you wear a seat belt. The leading cause of death in pregnancy has nothing to do with pregnancy complications – it is automobile accidents. To protect your self and your growing baby, position the lap belt below your abdomen, as low as possible on your hips, and fasten the shoulder harness above the uterus.
By following these simple precautions – and any others recommended by your health-care provider – chances are that you will be able to travel with ease. If you’re traveling outside the country, be sure to ask your health-care provider if any vaccinations are needed. In general, live-virus vaccines should be avoided during pregnancy, though most inactivated vaccines are considered safe when necessary.
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Pregnancy precautions to keep in mind at home & on the road