Pregnancy lasts nine months, so the odds are good that you will need or want to travel at least once during that time. You may be wondering whether it’s safe and how you can stay comfortable.
Whether you are travelling by car, plane, bus, or train, sitting for long periods of time in cramped spaces can make a pregnant person very uncomfortable. Here are some things you can do to make your trip more enjoyable:
● Drink water. Dehydration can cause fatigue, headaches, and lightheadedness, so it is important to stay hydrated.
● Bring healthy snacks. The motion involved with travel can make first trimester nausea worse, but you can help by eating small healthy snacks frequently and avoiding getting either too hungry or too full.
● Bring a pillow (assuming you are not the driver.): you will be more comfortable if you need a little nap.
● Wear loose-fitting comfortable clothes and slippers or shoes. It is also a good idea to dress in layers, so you can adjust to indoor air conditioning/heat and the outdoor elements.
● Wear support hose: both pregnancy and prolonged immobility increase your risk for blood clots. Support stockings put mild pressure on the blood vessels of the lower extremities to improve blood flow and help counteract this risk. They can also decrease swelling.
● Take breaks regularly: every 90 minutes or so try to get out, walk around, stretch your legs, and use the restroom. You can also do some seated leg exercises to keep the blood flowing.
If you are driving or riding in a car, always wear your seatbelt. If you get in a car accident, the risk for injury to you and the baby is far greater if you fly out of the car than any seatbelt injury you or the baby may acquire. However, it is recommended that pregnant women wear their seatbelts low across their abdomens below their bellies. The reason for this is that if it is worn higher, a sudden jolt could tear the placenta away from the uterus (although this is not common.)
Assuming you are having a normal healthy pregnancy, airplane travel is generally unrestricted during the first and second trimesters. If you have diabetes, high blood pressure, bleeding, placenta problems, preterm labor, a history of clots, or other complications it is a good idea to consult your doctor before booking your flight. Different airlines have different restrictions regarding flying during the third trimester, not because it is necessarily unsafe for you or the baby, but because they do not want you to go into labor while in the air. If you planning to fly in the third trimester, it is a good idea to contact the airline to make sure you are aware of their specific policies and to have a note from your doctor stating your due date and giving his/her permission for you to fly. Most doctors discourage flying after 36 weeks, but if you do, ask your doctor for a referral to another provider in the area so that you have someone to contact if you do go into labor or have other pregnancy-related problems. It is also a good idea to bring part of your chart containing things like number and outcome of previous pregnancies, lab and ultrasound results, a few recent blood pressure readings, any medical allergies, and current medications as well as a name and phone number for your doctor.
Airport screening is also considered safe in pregnancy. Metal detectors are still the most common screening modality and emit low frequency electromagnetic waves which are considered safe for everyone. However, there are also two newer technologies being used in some airports. Both create an image of the surface of the body to detect objects that might be hidden under clothes. The back-scatter machine emits low level xrays (about 1/1000 of the radiation of one chest xray or the equivalence of two minutes of a high-altitude flight.) The other is mm-wave scanners. These emit non-ionizing millimeter length radiation that does not have the strength to damage DNA. The radiation for both of these is minimal and considered safe even in pregnancy, but because the technology is relatively new, the effects have not been thoroughly studied. Typically these methods are used as a secondary screening, so you may be able to opt to go through the metal detector instead. If not, you can always ask for the pat-down if you or your doctor are uncomfortable with these newer scanners.