Travelling while pregnant
Travelling during pregnancy can be stressful, especially when you’re going to a developing country where prenatal care is limited or not available. Travel to these areas may increase your risk of contracting infectious diseases, insect-borne diseases, and food- and water-borne illnesses. Your body will also respond to travel and stress differently while you’re pregnant.
Before you travel, research the health care situation at your destination in case of an emergency. It’s also important to consider vaccinations, malaria prevention, and travel insurance when planning your trip. Make sure you understand the restrictions placed on pregnant travellers by airlines, cruise lines, and insurance companies. Discuss your travel plans with your physician and if possible, always travel with a companion.
Pre-travel check-up and vaccinations
Your pre-travel check-up should include:
- A discussion about your destination, activities, accommodations and the sanitary conditions you will encounter
- An ultra-sound to make sure you have a normal pregnancy
- Tests to determine the immunities you have from previous vaccinations
- If needed, an up-date on routine immunizations (inactivated vaccines) such as Hepatitis A and B, Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis and Influenza. Inactivated vaccines are considered safe during pregnancy.
- Live attenuated vaccines such as Measles, Mumps, Rubella and Yellow Fever should not be given during pregnancy. Travel to Yellow Fever areas should be avoided during pregnancy. If you are trying to get pregnant, delay conception until one month after receiving any live vaccines.
Ask your physician to recommend items for your personal medical kit, including:
- Medications for gastrointestinal infections and diarrhea
- Personal prescription medications carried in the original container
- Copies of your medical records and a letter from your physician confirming your fitness to travel and your due date
- Insect repellents
- Sun screens
Always keep your personal medical kit in your carry on luggage.
Malaria is especially severe in pregnant women. Contracting malaria during pregnancy is an emergency and can have serious consequences for both mother and baby.
Avoid travel to malarious areas for the duration of your pregnancy. If travel is unavoidable, meet with your physician to discuss which suppressive regimen is best suited to your needs. This will depend on the area you are visiting and duration of your stay in the malarious area. Make sure to use meticulous anti-mosquito measures from dusk to dawn as the carrier of malaria is the nighttime-biting Anopheles mosquito. This mosquito does not hum and you will not feel its bite – so you are vulnerable during your sleep.
Anti-mosquito measures include sleeping under a mosquito bed net, using insect repellent with DEET, staying indoors between dusk and dawn, and covering exposed skin with lightweight clothing. Repellents containing up to 50% DEET are safe for use during pregnancy.
Did you know that you may not be covered by your insurance policy if you need emergency medical care for being pregnant? Many insurers have exclusions and limitations when it comes to pregnancy, which the insurance industry views as a risk to your health.
Here are some events that may not be covered by travel health insurance:
- medical emergencies relating to your pregnancy
- premature labour, delivery, or planned birth
- routine pre-natal care
- high risk pregnancies or complications like pre-eclampsia or gestational diabetes
- medical care for your newborn
Do your research before booking your trip and call the insurance company if you have questions about how their policy applies to pregnant travellers. If you’re asked to fill out a medical questionnaire, disclose everything and ask your physician for assistance with filling in medical details.
More key info for pregnant travellers
- If you need to travel, the 2nd trimester is the best time to do so. Avoid travel after 36 weeks.
- Long distance air travel increases the risk of deep vein thrombosis. The plane cabin pressure is equivalent to an oxygen level at an altitude of approximate 2440 m.
- Avoid travel from low to high altitude areas above 2500 m as the oxygen levels are lower.
- Avoid vigorous exercise, hot tubs, saunas, scuba diving, and sports that could cause injury or a fall such as waterskiing and skiing.
- Food and water precautions are of utmost importance during pregnancy. Diarrhea must be avoided as it can cause dehydration, leading to miscarriage or shock due to the loss of electrolytes. Avoid uncooked or undercooked meats, fish, and seafood; unpasteurized dairy products; raw vegetables or fruits you cannot peel yourself; dairy-based sauces and mayonnaise. Make sure your drinking water is safe and that you are using safe water for brushing your teeth. If travel to rural or developing areas is unavoidable, your physician may prescribe an appropriate antibiotic to be used in case of diarrhea. Ask your physician about oral rehydration solutions for mild diarrhea.
Guide to Travel Health Insurance – IAMAT
Advice for Pregnant Travellers – NHS Fit for Travel
Pregnancy and Travel Factsheet – NATHNAC
Photo courtesy of FreeImages.com/Simona Balint.
By Tullia Marcolongo and Assunta Uffer-Marcolongo.
This post is part of a series on travelling while pregnant.