Travelling while pregnant can be undertaken safely by most women, however, there are some important precautions to take and in some cases, travel may not be advisable. The best person to assure you of this is your Gynaecologist.
Generally speaking, the safest time for a pregnant woman to travel is during her second trimester, especially between weeks 18 to 24. This is the time when women usually feel their best and the early risks of miscarriage have greatly reduced. Also, in the second trimester the risks of complications seen in later pregnancy, such as high blood pressure or premature labour, are still low. If there are any complications at this stage, one is usually advised not to travel.
Some of these complications may include:
- Cervical problems, such as ‘incompetent cervix’
- Vaginal bleeding
- Multiple foetuses
- Being 35 years of age or over and pregnant for the first time
- Gestational diabetes, past or present
- High blood pressure, past or present
- Pre-eclampsia, past or present
- Abnormalities of the placenta, past or present
- Prior miscarriage/s
- Prior ectopic pregnancy
- Prior premature labour.
If you are pregnant, it is advisable not to participate in dangerous activities such as horseback riding and waterskiing, due to the risk of serious impact. Scuba diving should also be avoided as it causes changes in a woman’s blood gases that can adversely affect your foetus. Snorkelling, however, is quite safe. The benefits to mother and foetus of regular moderate exercise, during a normal pregnancy, are well documented. There is evidence to suggest, however, that very vigorous, high intensity exercise that elevates a woman’s body temperature for a sustained period of time may be dangerous to the health of the foetus.
A woman with a normal, low-risk pregnancy can stay safely for short periods of time at altitudes of up to 3000m (9842.5ft), however, all pregnant women should avoid altitudes higher than 4,000m (13,123ft). In addition, altitudes higher than 2,500m (8,200ft) should be avoided in late or high-risk pregnancy. To ensure that the oxygen supply to the foetus is maintained, all pregnant women who have recently travelled to a higher altitude should postpone exercise until acclimatised.
Air travel does not pose a risk to a healthy pregnancy, as the lowered cabin pressure has a minimal effect on oxygen supply to the foetus. Each airline has a policy regarding pregnancy and flying. Most airlines restrict international travel to less than 32 weeks of pregnancy and domestic travel to 36 weeks. In some cases it may be advisable for a pregnant woman to avoid flying.
Examples of these cases include: a history of miscarriage and premature delivery, heavy smoking, severe anaemia, heart and lung disease, history of thrombosis and a serious fear of flying.
An aisle seat at the bulkhead of a plane will provide the most space and comfort, but a seat over the wing in the midplane region will ensure the smoothest ride. It is important for a pregnant woman to drink plenty of fluids during flights as dehydration can lead to decreased blood flow to the placenta. Dehydration can also concentrate a woman’s blood, increasing the risk of thrombosis.
Malaria in pregnancy poses a significant risk to both the mother and the foetus. A pregnant woman should avoid travel to areas associated with malaria, if possible, and avoid travel to a region with chloroquine resistant malaria, at all cost. Chloroquine can be taken safely during pregnancy, however, other medications can only be used very cautiously. IA woman who does choose to go to a high-risk malaria zone can possibly reduce the risk of acquiring malaria by following several preventative approaches including:
- remaining indoors between dusk and dawn;
- if outdoors at night, wearing light-coloured clothing, long sleeves, long pants, and shoes and socks;
- staying in well-constructed housing with air-conditioning and/or screens;
- using permethrin-impregnated bed nets; and
- using insect repellents containing DEET as recommended for adults, sparingly, but as needed.
If a woman is breastfeeding it is advisable for her to carefully wash repellents off her hands and breast skin before holding and nursing her infant.
While there is no evidence that an inactive vaccine poses any risk during pregnancy it is still advisable for a pregnant woman to avoid immunisations, if possible, during the first trimester and to avoid live viral vaccines, particularly measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) throughout pregnancy. If there is a chance that you may deliver your baby in a developing country, it is important that you are vaccinated against tetanus.
As we always say, prevention is better than cure. So, before planning your trip, consult with your doctor to discuss your intended destination, the length of time you intend to be travelling, vaccination requirements, planned activities and any potential risks to your pregnancy. If you develop any worrying signs or symptoms while travelling, such as bleeding, abdominal pain, contractions, ruptured membranes, swollen legs, headaches, or visual problems, seek medical advice immediately. Avoid taking any over-the-counter medication, as certain drugs, such as those used to treat traveller’s diarrhoea, may cause complications during pregnancy. It is in your best interest to get the safest possible options for potential problems from your doctor or pharmacist ahead of time and to take it with you, in the event of any health issues occurring. That way you can be sure you’re taking the best possible remedy for your situation.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST – PREPARE WELL TO FINISH WELL:
- Check with your doctor or midwife that it is safe to travel.
- Organise to travel with at least one companion so that support is available at all times.
- Ensure that you and your travel companion are aware of the signs of serious pregnancy-related illnesses and decide on a management plan before departure.
- Take a copy of your pregnancy records and a document declaring your due date with you.
- Keep a record of your own and your companion’s blood type and determine, before travelling, whether blood is screened for HIV and hepatitis B at your destination.
- Check your airline’s policy on Pregnancy and Travel. Some companies accept passengers who are beyond 32 weeks of pregnancy.
- Make sure you have all the medicines or remedies you will need for typical pregnancy symptoms, such as heartburn, constipation etc.
- Make sure that your health insurance covers you for pregnancy and your baby, and remains valid while abroad. In the event of you delivering your baby at 24 weeks, specialised and expensive medical care may be required for your infant.
- Inquire about medical facilities at your holiday destination.
Our Durbell Pharmacists also recommend the following:
- Always take a first aid kit with you when travelling. There are some specific items, mentioned below, that should be included in this kit for Pregnancy and Travel.
- Medication should be avoided during pregnancy, if possible. Ask your Pharmacist for advice about medications that are safe to use during pregnancy. Medication to treat pain and common pregnancy complaints such as heartburn, thrush, constipation and haemorrhoids should be included in your first aid kit.
- Women in the third trimester may be advised to carry a blood-pressure cuff and urine test strips/dipsticks to check protein and glucose levels, both of which would require medical attention if elevated.
- Ask your Pharmacist to recommend an insect repellent containing a low percentage of the chemical DEET.
- Oral rehydration preparations are available from your Pharmacy to prevent dehydration in case of travellers’ diarrhoea.
- Include a thermometer in your first aid kit to monitor your temperature. Prolonged fever during pregnancy can be dangerous to the foetus.
- It is advisable to travel with sun protective clothing and a sunscreen with a high SPF to help prevent sunburn.
- If your diet is inadequate or you experience diarrhoea while t ravelling, consider taking some nutritional supplements. Ask your Pharmacist to recommend a multivitamin tablet formulated for pregnancy.
The gift of the life you’re carrying should always be your first priority and main consideration when attempting anything during pregnancy. It is a gift unlike any other and therefore not merely another situation that should be factored into whatever plans you’ve already made. So, make it easier on yourself and the precious life you’re carrying, to plan as perfectly as possible. There is so much to be enjoyed out there…especially when all is well in here.
We, at Durbell, will do everything possible to help you make the best of your travels and everything thereafter. It is our main priority to ensure the best possible health & wellness options. So if you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact us, wherever you may find yourself.