Factors Affecting the Decision to Travel
According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the safest time for you to travel during pregnancy is during the middle of your pregnancy (weeks 14–28). This is when you usually feel best and are in least danger of experiencing a miscarriage or premature labor.
Problems that may arise during travel include:
- Preterm labor and delivery while travelling
- False premature labor
- Third trimester bleeding
- Deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolus
- Phlebitis —inflammation of veins, often in the legs
- High blood pressure and pre-eclampsia
- Vaginal discharge or bleeding
- Leg cramps
Regardless of the stage of your pregnancy, consult with your healthcare provider before making any travel decisions. Important considerations include the potential problems associated with international travel, such as the quality of medical care available at the destination and during transit.
Guidelines for Traveling
Once you have decided to travel, a number of issues need to be considered prior to departure. For instance, travel with at least 1 companion. Also, you should know that your level of comfort might be adversely affected by traveling. The following are some guidelines with regard to medical considerations when traveling during your pregnancy.
- Make sure that your health insurance is valid and that the policy covers a newborn in case you deliver during the trip. Also, a supplemental travel insurance policy and a prepaid medical evacuation insurance policy should be obtained, though most might not cover pregnancy-related problems.
- Check medical facilities at your destination. If you're in the last trimester, medical facilities should be able to manage complications of pregnancy, pre-eclampsia, and cesarean sections.
- Determine if prenatal care will be required abroad and, if so, who will provide it. Also, make sure prenatal visits requiring specific timing are not missed. Either bring records about your prenatal care or be familiar with the information.
- Find out if blood is screened for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and hepatitis B at your destination. And be sure you know your own blood type as well as those of your companions.
- Talk to your doctor about getting vaccines appropriate for the time of year and location of travel.
- If you will be at risk of contracting tuberculosis at your destination, receive skin testing before and after travel.
- Get advice from your doctor on how to avoid potentially contaminated water and food.
- Be aware of any other disease that you may be at high risk of getting at the destination, such as malaria. If you need preventitive medications, make sure you tell your doctor you are pregnant.
Traveling by Car
Motor vehicle accidents are a major cause of morbidity and mortality for pregnant women. Fasten safety belts at the pelvic area, below your belly. Lap and shoulder restraints are best. In most accidents, the fetus recovers quickly from the safety belt pressure. However, even after seemingly blunt, mild trauma, consult your doctor. Try to limit being in the car to no more than 5-6 hours a day. Stop frequently and get out of the car to walk—this will prevent the formation of blood clots in your legs.
Commercial air travel poses no special risks to a healthy pregnant woman or her fetus. Some conditions related to pregnancy do raise flying concerns, though. These include:
If you have any of these conditions, check with your doctor before flying. In some cases, supplemental oxygen can be ordered in advance.
Each airline has policies regarding pregnancy and flying. When booking your flight, check with the airline. Some airlines require that you complete certain medical forms before traveling. Domestic travel is usually allowed until your 36th week of gestation, and international travel may be permitted until the 32-35th week. Check with the airline for specific cut-off times for when you can travel. You should always carry documentation stating your expected date of delivery.
An aisle seat at the bulkhead will provide the most space and comfort, but a seat over the wing in the midplane region will give the smoothest ride. Other important guidelines during air travel include:
- Walk every half hour during a smooth flight.
- Flex and extend your ankles frequently.
- Keep the safety belt fastened at the pelvic level at all times when you are sitting.
- Do not drink carbonated drinks or eat foods that cause gas before your flight.
- Drink plenty of fluids; the low humidity in the aircraft cabin can cause dehydration.
- Talk to your doctor about anti-nausea medication if you are you are prone to nausea.
When You Need a Doctor
Signs and symptoms that indicate the need for immediate medical attention are:
- Passing tissue or clots
- Abdominal pain or cramps
- Ruptured membranes or a leakage of fluid from the vagina
- Excessive leg swelling
- Visual problems
The Travel Health Kit During Pregnancy
During pregnancy, you may want to add the following items to your usual travel health kit:
- Oral rehydration salt (ORS) packets
- Prenatal vitamins
- Insect repellent containing a low percentage of DEET
- Sunscreen an SPF of at least 30
In your third trimester, you may be advised to carry a blood pressure cuff and urine dipsticks so you can check for protein and glucose in your urine (proteinuria and glucosuria), both of which would require medical attention. Anti-malarial and anti-diarrheal self-treatment medications should be evaluated individually, depending on your trimester, your travel plans, and your health history. Most medications should be avoided, if possible.
American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecologists
Women's Health—Office on Women's Health
The Canadian Women's Health Network
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
ACOG Committee Opinion. Air travel during pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website. Available at: http://www.acog.org/Resources_And_Publications/Committee_Opinions/Committee_on_Obstetric_Practice/Air_Travel_During_Pregnancy. Published October 2009. Accessed January 25, 2016.
Frequently asked questions: Travel during pregnancy. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website. Available at: http://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq055.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20120702T1621385290. Updated August 2011. Accessed January 26, 2016.
Sunscreen FAQs. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/media-resources/stats-and-facts/prevention-and-care/sunscreens. Accessed January 25, 2016.
Sutton, M. Pregnant Travelers. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2012/chapter-8-advising-travelers-with-specific-needs/pregnant-travelers.htm. Updated July 10, 2015. Accessed January 25, 2016.
Last reviewed January 2016 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 10/20/2014