Pregnant women travel daily to work, to the grocery store, or to the movies. They walk, run, drive, take the train, and fly on planes. Travel – whether short or long distance – is just part of modern life.
And now, as pandemic restrictions are relaxing across the nation, more pregnant patients will be traveling for holidays and the new year.
Along with the usual travel precautions – such as driving at a safe speed and wearing a seatbelt – you should remember to:
- Pay attention to how you are feeling, especially if you are in the first trimester. If you are having morning sickness, you may not find it comfortable to be a guest in someone else's home. Shared bathrooms, strange cooking scents, and difficulty planning your eating schedule can be stressful. The fatigue that’s common in the first trimester also can make traveling a challenge.
- Consider your previous pregnancies. If you had an earlier pre-term delivery or another high-risk condition, it may be best to stay relatively close to home.
- Wash your hands regularly. It’s still the most effective method of reducing the risk of catching and spreading viruses such as the flu, COVID-19, the common cold, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) – a virus that is already resulting in a steep increase in infant hospitalizations.
- Travel with an updated copy of your medical records. Or download UT Southwestern's MyCare app so you can access your MyChart information easily. If there is an emergency, a doctor can use your records to understand how far along you are, what medicines you’re taking, and how to contact your Ob/Gyn.
Here are a few more tips to have a safer, healthier travel experience when you’re expecting.
In general, it's a good idea to avoid being too far from home after the 36-week mark. Some airlines require pregnant passengers to provide medical documentation that they are cleared for travel if they are within two to four weeks of their delivery date. See specific requirements for Delta, Southwest, United, and American Airlines.
Many airlines and airports no longer require masking. However, with COVID-19 still circulating, flu, and RSV, and the potential for crowded holiday flights, you should consider masking.
Flight passengers are exposed to small amounts of cosmic radiation. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says the risk of associated pregnancy complications is negligible for infrequent travelers. Airline crew members and frequent travelers should talk with a doctor about their personal risk level.
Here are a few more tips about flying while pregnant:
- Wear support stockings, move your legs periodically, and stay hydrated to minimize the risk of blood clots.
- If possible, choose an aisle seat to make stretching and taking trips to the restroom easier.
- Buckle up when seated to prevent the risk of trauma caused by sudden turbulence.
- Bring snacks and any medications you might need in a carry-on bag. Delayed flights might make for long layovers, so keep what you might need with you.
- Use sunscreen if you will be outdoors, whether at the beach or in the mountains.
There are no restrictions on driving based on how far along you are in pregnancy, but there are things you can do to make longer road trips safer and more pleasant.
Secure your seat belt with the lap belt below your belly and the shoulder strap between your breasts and over the shoulder. Every hour or two of driving, stop to stretch your legs to reduce the chances of a blood clot.
Take precautions against respiratory illnesses like the flu, COVID-19, and RSV. Pack hand sanitizer, cleaning wipes, and disposable masks to use when you stop at high-traffic hubs, such as gas stations or travel plazas. Get more tips on road trip safety during pregnancy.
Taking a cruise
Since you’ll be at sea with limited medical staff, major cruise lines do not accept passengers during or past 24 weeks of pregnancy. On a cruise, there is also potential for seasickness, injury, or food-related challenges due to the abundance of not-so-pregnancy friendly foods, such as soft cheeses and deli meats.
Holiday treats and eats
Splurging a bit is fine – just take care not to overdo it. Avoid fatty or spicy foods if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or recurrent heartburn, because they can make symptoms worse.
Specific treats and snacks to stay away from include:
- Alcohol can have harmful effects on a developing baby and lead to fetal alcohol syndrome. We don’t know how much alcohol is safe during pregnancy, so it’s best to avoid it altogether. The same goes for cannabis products and tobacco.
- Eggnog: Many times this holiday beverage is made from raw eggs and alcohol so it’s best to avoid.
- Excess caffeine: In general, up to 200 milligrams of caffeine per day is safe during pregnancy. (That’s about 1 cup of coffee). Caffeinated drinks are often high in sugar, so if you have diabetes they can have dramatic effects on your blood sugar levels.
- Raw or undercooked foods (sushi, steak tartare, oysters, mayonnaise, cookie dough, etc.) and unwashed fruits/vegetables can harbor bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella that can lead to food poisoning. Because pregnancy weakens the immune system, these illnesses are more dangerous to pregnant women.
- Unpasteurized cheeses and deli meats: Brie, feta, and queso fresco are favorite soft cheeses, but they can harbor the bacteria listeria, which can lead to listeriosis, a serious infection that can cause flu-like illness in pregnant women and may lead to pregnancy complications.
The healthiest foods provide protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, such as:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Nuts are a good source of healthy oils and protein
- Lentils and beans add fiber to the diet, which helps with constipation – common during pregnancy.
- Fish is a healthy source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. But follow FDA guidelines and eat no more than two servings a week of high-mercury fish like swordfish and shark. Low-mercury seafood options such as salmon, light tuna, and shrimp are best.
- Water and staying hydrated is very important when you are pregnant.
Buying gifts and party supplies can be overwhelming – even when you’re not pregnant! To reduce some of the stress, shop online or go to the store at off hours. Stamina can become an issue when you’re pregnant, so if you’re visiting a mall that offers valet parking it may be worth it to save your energy. Once inside, take breaks to sit down, hydrate, and get something to eat.
Keep your budget in mind when you are buying gifts. That new baby will be expensive! For gifts, consider giving an “IOU” for a great baby photo after the baby is born. Family members will want one anyway, and you’ll save some money.
Related reading: Holiday gift ideas for pregnant women – and some presents to avoid
If your family or friends are local, it’s OK to attend festivities that are near your due date. Actually, it might be really nice to have someone else responsible for planning, hosting, and cleanup. If the get-together is farther away, consider staying home. This gives you a chance to start your own traditions or invite people over instead.
Limit houseguests to those who will be truly helpful and not a burden to you. You don’t have to entertain the whole time if you are feeling tired or anxious. Ask a loved one or your partner to take “shifts” hanging out with your guests or your older children. Delegate prep work or cleanup – many loved ones will jump at the chance to help you.
While traveling with a baby or newborn, ask family members to wash their hands prior to holding your little one. You have the right to ask about vaccination status, such as for whooping cough, flu, or COVID-19. If you don’t feel comfortable letting loved ones hold the baby, it’s OK to say so.
If you’re concerned about holiday travel, talk with your healthcare provider. It's better to ask than worry, and we’re happy to answer your questions. To talk with an Ob/Gyn, call 214-645-8300 or request an appointment online.