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Women's Health | OB/GYN

Traveling While Pregnant or Breastfeeding

Special considerations for traveling while pregnant

Although traveling during pregnancy is normal and a lot of women do it, it is important for pregnant women to consider potential problems that could come up during international travel. Pregnant women should also weigh the availability of quality medical care in the countries they are visiting, before traveling abroad. Getting all of the needed immunizations before becoming pregnant is preferred over vaccination during pregnancy.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the safest time for a woman to travel is in the second trimester of her pregnancy--from 14 to 28 weeks. This is the time when women feel the best and are at the lowest risk for spontaneous abortion or premature labor. During the third trimester (25 to 40 weeks), many doctors and midwives advise staying within a 300 mile radius of home because of problems such as hypertension, phlebitis, and/or false or preterm labor. Generally, women are not allowed to travel by air after 36 weeks for domestic travel, and after 32 to 35 weeks for international travel. The decision on whether to travel and how far to travel at any time during pregnancy should be a joint decision between the woman and her doctor or midwife.

According to the CDC, pregnant women with the following conditions may be advised against traveling to international destinations that require pre-travel immunizations. As the list below may be incomplete, it is important to discuss your medical history with your doctor or midwife before planning travel:

  • History of miscarriage

  • Incompetent cervix

  • History of ectopic pregnancy

  • History of premature labor or premature rupture of membranes

  • History of or current placental abnormalities

  • Threatened miscarriage or vaginal bleeding during current pregnancy

  • Multiple gestation (more than one fetus) in current pregnancy

  • History of toxemia, hypertension, or diabetes with any pregnancy

  • History of infertility or trouble becoming pregnant

  • Pregnancy for the first time over the age of 35 years

  • Heart valve disease or congestive heart failure

  • History of thromboembolic disease

  • Severe anemia (blood clots) 

  • Chronic organ system problems that need to be treated 

Pregnant women may also be advised against traveling to the following places that present additional hazards. As the list below may be incomplete, it is important to discuss your travel plans with your doctor or midwife before planning a trip.

  • Areas with high altitudes

  • Areas endemic for or with ongoing outbreaks of life-threatening food- or insect-borne infections

  • Areas where malaria is common

  • Areas where live-virus vaccines are required or recommended

Healthy tips for traveling while pregnant:

  • Try to plan ahead for any problems or emergencies that could come up before you travel. Check to make sure your health insurance is valid while you are abroad, and check to see whether the policy will cover a newborn, should you deliver while away. You may want to think about getting a supplemental travel insurance policy and/or medical evacuation insurance policy.

  • Research medical facilities in your destination. Women in the last trimester of pregnancy should look for facilities that can manage complications of pregnancy, toxemia, and cesarean sections.

  • If you will need prenatal care while you are abroad, arrange for this before you leave. Talk to your doctor or midwife to figure out the best way to handle this.

  • Know your blood type and check to make sure that blood is screened for HIV and hepatitis B in the areas you will be visiting.

  • Check on the availability of safe food and beverages, including bottled water and pasteurized milk, in your destinations.

  • If traveling by air, request an aisle seat at the bulkhead, which gives you the most space and comfort. If morning sickness is a problem, try to arrange travel during a time of day when you generally feel well. Seats over the wing in the midplane region will give you the smoothest ride.

  • Try to walk every half-hour during a smooth flight, and flex and extend your ankles frequently to prevent thrombophlebitis (blood clots in the veins).

  • Fasten your seat belt at the pelvis level, below your hips.

  • Drink plenty of fluids to counteract the dehydrating effect of the low humidity in aircraft cabins.

  • Try to rest as much as possible while away. Exercise and activity during pregnancy are important, but try not to overdo it.

Special considerations for traveling while breastfeeding

Breastfeeding gives babies the most nutritional start in life. It also gives them important protection against certain infections. However, traveling internationally while nursing can present challenges. Outlined below is information breastfeeding moms should consider when traveling.

For women who are breastfeeding only, there is no concern about sterilizing bottles or the availability of clean water. Nursing women may be immunized for protection against disease, depending on their itinerary. However, there may be certain diseases, such as yellow fever, measles, and meningococcal meningitis, which may be a threat to infants who cannot be immunized at birth. It is important to discuss this with both your doctor or midwife and your infant's care giver before you travel.

For women who are supplementing breastfeeding with formula, powdered formula prepared with boiled water is the best solution. You may also want to carry a supply of prepared infant formula in cans or ready-to-feed bottles for emergencies.

Breastfeeding helps lower the incidence of traveler's diarrhea in infants. If you should develop traveler's diarrhea, increase your fluid intake, and continue to nurse your infant.

It is important for nursing mothers to watch their eating and sleeping patterns, as well as their stress levels which will affect their milk output. Be sure to increase your fluid intake, and avoid alcohol and caffeine, as well as exposure to smoke.

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