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Travelling when you are pregnant

 Are you wondering whether you can go for a holiday or a business trip during your pregnancy? Have your friends or relatives warned you not to travel just because you are pregnant?

“Can I travel?” is one of the most common questions I get from my expecting patients. There are a lot of misconceptions out there regarding the safety of travelling during pregnancy, so many women are confused and tend to err on the side of caution. While it is right to be cautious, you also need not overreact. There is no reason why you should not nail that sales meeting overseas or enjoy a relaxing beach holiday with your husband, as long as you do it within safe measures and take the right precautions.

When is a good time to go

The best time to travel is during the second trimester of pregnancy, which is from the 14th to the 28th week. At this point, you should not be experiencing anymore nausea or vomiting from morning sickness, as that will subside by the end of the first trimester. Your body will also have adjusted to carrying the baby, so you will not feel as fatigued as you initially did. Plan your travel around your prenatal checkups, so that you do not miss any of these important appointments with your obstetrician.

How about travelling during the third trimester? Conventional wisdom dictates that women cannot travel, particularly fly, during the last three months of pregnancy. Most doctors advise this because it is risky for the woman (there is a higher chance of going into labour prematurely), not to mention uncomfortable because the uterus is pressing on the bladder and she will get tired easily. However, some experts have different opinions regarding this. Some obstetricians give their patients the green light to travel if they are in good health and the pregnancy appears normal. But after week 32, women should not travel by plane, only by car. From week 36, women are encouraged to stay put.

Taking precautions

It is important to consider your travel destination and itinerary carefully. Avoid going to places where you cannot access good quality medical facilities (cities are generally fine, safari trips are out of the question!), just in case an emergency should occur. Bear in mind that language, cost and the standard of healthcare in your destination country may be an issue, especially if you are travelling to a less-developed country. Discuss this with your obstetrician, who may be able to give you the contact details of a trusted healthcare provider in that country.

You may need to get certain immunisation shots before you travel to some countries. Check with your obstetrician first whether these vaccinations are safe for your unborn baby. If your doctor deems it unsafe for you to receive the vaccination, you may want to reconsider your travel plans. Certain illnesses, such as malaria, that are endemic in some countries can cause serious harm to your pregnancy.

Always carry with you a copy of your medical records, especially information about your pregnancy, allergies, medications and any conditions you are being treated for. Keep these documents in your carry-on bag and with you at all times. Before you travel, check with your insurance provider whether your health insurance covers prenatal complications or delivery in foreign countries. Dress comfortably for the journey – wear loose clothing (several layers, if you are travelling in air-conditioned vehicles) and comfy shoes.

For long journeys, make sure you go to the bathroom whenever you need to. Stretch once every hour and take a 10-minute walk every two hours. If you’re travelling by car, make sure you wear your seat belt (even if you are sitting in the rear seat), with the bottom belt across your hips and below your abdomen. Drink plenty of water, especially if you are on a flight, and eat small, frequent snacks to prevent low blood sugar and nausea.

You should not travel if…

While travel is generally safe for most expectant mothers, there are some women who fit the exception. If you have a high-risk or complicated pregnancy (meaning if you are expecting twins, suffer severe nausea and vomiting, have placenta previa or other complications), travel may be out of the question for you, depending on your doctor’s advice. If you have a history of miscarriage, premature labour, high blood pressure, diabetes or bleeding, you should also postpone your travel plans. In all cases, it is always best to check with your obstetrician first.

Do’s and don’ts

If you are going on a holiday, these are some precautions you should take when it comes to vacation activities. Swimming, walking and moderate hiking are acceptable, but use your common sense to decide what degree of activity will be too strenuous for you. Remember, even though you used to be able to do the difficult stuff, it doesn’t mean that they are suitable for you right now. Certain activities are out of the question, including scuba diving, water-skiing, sun-bathing and saunas. Scuba diving is dangerous because going deep underwater exerts too much pressure on the womb, while water-skiing can force water into the cervix.

Sunbathing, saunas and hot tubs can raise a woman’s core temperature, which is bad for the unborn baby. You will also tire easily now that you are pregnant, so keep the activities to a minimum. Take the opportunity to relax and spend quality time with your partner or friends – these will come at a premium once the baby arrives! If you are travelling for work, you may be spending a lot of time in meetings, conferences or on site visits. Take frequent breaks to put up your feet, if you need too, or to stretch and move your limbs. Make sure that your site visits do not involve any hazardous activities, and that you will not be too far from medical facilities.

A much-needed babymoon

Many travel websites and agencies are now promoting “babymoon” packages – a pre-baby honeymoon for expecting parents who need to have one last break before the baby arrives. The term “babymoon” was coined by a British author and childbirth educator Sheila Kitzinger in 1996. It was initially envisioned as a period where new parents take time to bond together with their newborn baby and adjust to their new roles as mother and father.

Clever marketing by the travel industry has turned the babymoon into a commercial activity, with packages by luxury hotels and resorts. If you can afford the time and money for a babymoon with your husband, why not? Look at it this way, it will be your first ever trip with your child, even if he/she is still in your womb!

Star newspape. Feb 13, 2012
By Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar