I was on a press trip in St. Kitts when the thought that I might be pregnant occurred to me.
I got home, took a pregnancy test, confirmed my hunch, and began remapping my life as a traveler and travel writer.
The travel wouldn’t–couldn’t–stop, that much I knew. I’d been traveling forever and had never viewed pregnancy as a show-stopper in any aspect of my life.
By month two, I was in Brazil (during Carnaval, no less). After that, it was off to Mexico, Puerto Rico, and home to New York City.
I’ve just crossed the seven month mark. Later this week, I’m headed to South Carolina and back to Puerto Rico, where I’ll be working on a guidebook assignment.
Along the way, I’ve learned that among the many lessons of pregnancy there’s a whole chapter on travel. It’s not something your doctor or midwife is likely to discuss with you unless you bring up your travel plans and questions.
What follows is not intended to replace medical advice, but to serve as a guide for you to get the care you need by learning how to ask the right questions and plan for certain changes.
1. Let your provider know that travel is important to you.
You’ll have lots of questions at the beginning of your pregnancy, especially if this is your first child. Among the many issues you should address with your doctor or midwife are any travel plans you already have or any you’re likely to make. Your provider will be able to tell you whether you can travel, when, and up to what point during your pregnancy.
Don’t rely upon friends who have been pregnant to counsel you: whether you can travel and when is largely dependent upon the specific circumstances of your pregnancy. Some women are considered to have high risk pregnancies and will have medically indicated reasons why they can’t travel. Your provider will monitor you throughout your pregnancy to assess your risk; if you plan to travel extensively or frequently, be sure to ask your provider to keep you abreast of any changes in your risk profile.
2. Respect your body’s changes.
Pregnancy is a physically powerful experience from beginning to end, and each trimester offers you the chance to get to know your body in a new way.
In my first trimester, I was frequently sick and was more inclined to nest at home than to go out exploring. I already had a few trips planned, though, and I was reluctant to cancel them. Instead, I learned to respect my new pace. I didn’t force myself to take advantage of every experience as I might under other circumstances.
During my second trimester, I was blissed out– feeling energetic, healthy, and adventurous. Toward the end of month six, though, I began noticing that my feet and ankles swelled after lots of walking; it was time to intersperse activity with periods of feet-up resting.
Your body’s changes will be unique to you, but will certainly affect your travels, from what you eat to what you need to pack and how you’ll travel (you won’t, for instance, be hauling around a heavy pack). You may notice, as I did, that your beloved pair of tennis shoes or hiking boots no longer fit, and your feet take up residence in sandals for three months. Don’t resist the physical changes; adjust to them accordingly.
3. Realize that an emergency plan is more important than ever.
It’s always a good idea to have an emergency plan in place when you travel, but it’s even more important when you’re pregnant.
Does your insurance cover you abroad or do you have adequate travel insurance? Where is the nearest provider or hospital, what are the services available, and in what kind of setting are they performed? Where can you get medicine if you need it, and how much will it cost? How would you get home quickly in the event of an emergency? And–critically–can you communicate in the local language?
Now is not the time to take that remote Himalayan trek or to climb the pyramids in Mexico.
4. Recognize that the rules change.
I’m headed to Puerto Rico next week; I’ve already bought my ticket. Imagine my surprise when a nurse friend said, “Are you sure the airline will let you travel?” After a moment of full-on flip out, I did a quick Internet search to review the airline’s policy for pregnant travelers.
Yes, there is such a thing.
Policies vary from one airline to another, though the general rule on flights originating in the United States is that no woman within seven days of her due date is allowed to travel by air. Some airlines restrict third trimester travel and require a letter of authorization from the woman’s health care provider before she’ll be cleared to board. Be prepared, though- these travel authorizations generally need to be signed within 72 hours (no earlier!) of your departure day.
It’s a good idea to have multiple copies of the letter (one for the return trip, at least, just in case the airline lost your original), as well as a printed copy of the airline’s policy for pregnant travelers. Don’t wait until you get to the airport to cry foul with an agent who is telling you something different from what you read on the airline’s website.
5. Prepare for your little traveler.
During the last couple months of pregnancy, you may find yourself itching to be on the road. But when it’s time for you to hunker down until your due date (and in the last two months of pregnancy, you’ll likely have medical appointments every two weeks), use the time to research infant travel regulations, passport application requirements for babies, or to put your creativity to work on a journal of all the places you’ve been while you were pregnant.
Once your baby’s born and you’ve settled into a new routine, be sure to consult Deanna Niles McConnell’s article, “Backpacking After Baby” for some practical travel tips.