DEAR DOCTOR K:
My job requires a lot of travel, and I recently became pregnant with my first child. What do I need to know about traveling safely during pregnancy?
Being pregnant doesn’t mean you have to stay at home for nine months. There are exceptions; particularly in the last three months, some women develop complications of pregnancy that require them to be resting. But for most women, travel poses no threat to the mother or child.
But travel by car, train or airplane can be less comfortable when you’re pregnant, so you should take a few precautions to travel comfortably and safely.
First, check with your obstetrical care provider to find out when he or she considers it safe for you to travel. As I’m sure you know, pregnancy is typically divided into three trimesters, with each trimester a three-month period. Travel is generally considered safe during the first and second trimesters. In terms of comfort, the best time to travel is after your fourth month (when morning sickness is gone) and before your third trimester. But if you’re traveling for work, you may not have that much control over your travel schedule.
I do think it’s wise to avoid traveling long distances in the last month before your due date, as due dates can be uncertain and babies can come early. Ask your doctor if he or she recommends that you limit long-distance travel even earlier. Airlines also have their own rules. Most airlines prohibit international travel after 32 weeks of pregnancy and domestic travel after 34 to 36 weeks.
At the airport, don’t worry about passing through metal detectors. They have very low levels of radiation that will not be harmful to you or your baby.
What about airport scanners? You don’t need to worry about them, either. Let me put it in context. We are all constantly exposed to a low level of radiation from the sun. You would have to go through 25,000 airport scanners to be exposed to the amount of radiation that you are naturally exposed to in a year.
While the airport scanner doesn’t pose a risk, the airplane does. Once on the plane, don’t sit for more than one hour at a time if you can avoid it. Walk around and stretch your legs frequently to reduce leg cramps. If you must stay in your seat, move your arms and legs to improve blood flow and prevent blood clots from forming. (The same advice applies if you are driving: Take breaks every hour for a short walk.) And always wear a seat belt on an airplane, even if the captain has turned off the seat belt sign.
Finally, drink at least six to eight glasses of water each day. This will keep you from getting dehydrated and will also prevent you from retaining water. Carry a water bottle with you in the car or on the plane and drink from it frequently.
If you take simple precautions, you can have the benefits of traveling throughout most of your pregnancy.