Although there are some special considerations for women who travel while pregnant— especially if they are going to a developing country—most pregnant women can travel safely with a little advance preparation. If you are pregnant and planning an international trip, follow these tips so that you and your baby stay safe and healthy.
Pre-Travel Care and Travel Health Insurance
The first thing you should do is make an appointment with a doctor who specializes in travel medicine, ideally at least 4–6 weeks before you leave. A travel medicine specialist can review your itinerary, make recommendations based on the health risks at your destination, and give you any vaccines you may need. You should also talk to your obstetrician about your trip, so he or she can make sure it is safe for you to travel. Your travel medicine doctor and your obstetrician may need to talk to each other about your care.
Next, consider how you are going to get care overseas, if you need it. Your health insurance in the United States might not pay for care you receive in another country, so check with your insurance company. Consider getting supplemental travel health insurance, and make sure the policy will also cover the baby if you give birth during your trip. If you are traveling to a remote area, an insurance policy that covers medical evacuation will pay for your transportation to a high-quality hospital, in case of emergency.
Before you book a flight, check how late in your pregnancy the airline will let you fly. Most will let you fly until 36 weeks, but some have an earlier cutoff. Your feet may become swollen on a long flight, so wear comfortable shoes and loose clothing, and try to walk around every hour or so. To reduce your risk of a blood clot, your doctor may recommend compression stockings or leg exercises you can do in your seat.
If you are going on a cruise, check with the cruise line to find out if they have specific guidance for pregnant women. Most will not allow you to travel after 24–28 weeks, and you may need to have a note from your doctor stating you are fit to travel.
At your destination, always wear a seatbelt on a car or bus. A lap belt with shoulder strap is best, and the straps should be placed carefully above and below your stomach.
Food and Water Safety
Travelers’ diarrhea is caused by eating or drinking contaminated food or water, and dehydration from travelers’ diarrhea can be more of a problem for pregnant women. In addition, other bacteria and viruses spread by food or water can lead to more severe illnesses that can cause problems for a pregnant woman and her baby. Therefore, if you are traveling in a developing country, you should carefully follow food and water safety measures:
- Eat only food that is cooked and served piping hot.
- Do not eat cold food or food that has been sitting at room temperature (such as a buffet).
- Do not eat raw or undercooked meat or fish.
- Eat fresh fruits and vegetables only if you can peel them or wash them in clean water.
- Do not eat unpasteurized dairy products.
- Drink only water, sodas, or sports drinks that are bottled and sealed (carbonated is safer).
- Do not drink anything with ice in it—ice may be made with contaminated water.
If you get travelers’ diarrhea, the best thing to do is drink plenty of safe beverages while you wait for it to go away on its own. However, your doctor may give you an antibiotic you can take in case diarrhea is severe. Do not take products containing bismuth, such as Pepto-Bismol or Kaopectate.
Pregnant women should avoid travel to areas with malaria. If you must go while you are pregnant, talk to your doctor about taking a drug to prevent malaria. Malaria is spread by mosquitoes, so you should also wear insect repellent for additional protection.