Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Traveling while pregnant: When to go & how to manage

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Welcome to the July 2014 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Family Vacation

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared their family-travel tips, challenges, and delights. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

Traveling while pregnant: When to go & how to manage == Hobo Mama
19 weeks at Buckingham Palace — 
don't let pregnancy keep you from traveling
like the royalty you so clearly are.
When you travel during pregnancy, there are some unique challenges. I've traveled by plane domestically and internationally during my first and second trimesters of previous pregnancies, went to London in May during my second trimester of this pregnancy, and will shortly be traveling by boat and car on two separate trips during my third trimester this summer, plus going on a camping trip. (Wait, I am? What was I thinking?)

Here's a breakdown of some of the downsides of travel in each trimester and why you might want to pick one over another if you have a choice of when to go. If you don't, I also have ideas for how to make travel more comfortable for you no matter when you leave town.

Obviously, trimesters are a rough guide, and your experiences at the start of a trimester versus the other end might be quite different. Plus, every pregnancy is individual, and people have different experiences and tolerances of common pregnancy discomforts. So I invite you to share your own stories and advice in the comments!

This post is not intended to serve as medical advice. You and your health care professionals know best about your particular pregnancy and whether travel is advisable for you at certain or any stages. Please check with someone knowledgeable about your condition if you're not sure what's best for you and your baby!

First trimester

The pluses of traveling in the first trimester is that you're not weighed down yet by much in the way of a belly. In fact, if you travel early enough, you might not realize you're pregnant at all! (That happened to my sister-in-law, who ended up at a theme park on a roller coaster before the positive test. Whoops! Don't worry, my twelve-year-old niece is totally fine — and still likes adventurous rides.)

Traveling while pregnant: When to go & how to manage == Hobo Mama
12 weeks during Alrik's pregnancy
& enjoying some outdoor time with the in-laws.
Plus, drinking lots of ginger ale & forgoing
my mother-in-law's amazing cooking (sob).
If you're not ready to tell people about the pregnancy, you'll be more able to keep it a delicious secret early on, particularly if it's a first pregnancy. On the other hand, you might have bloating and swelling right away that make all your clothes — both maternity and non — fit like total crap. I swear, with this pregnancy (for my third child), I started showing as soon as I peed on a stick. My abdominals were just like: "Phwoop." If you have more refined musculature, kudos to you! And on the other, other hand (you have three, too, right?), if you do want people to realize you're pregnant, it can be aggravating to think, "Oh, my gosh, I'm so huge and I feel so awful and everyone should know, already!" and have no one notice. Btdt.

But by far the biggest downside of travel during the first trimester is morning sickness. Or, as I think we all prefer to call it, all-day sickness. If you're anything like me, and part of the fun of travel is sampling local cuisines or enjoying home-cooked meals from talented loved ones, it's such a bummer to go on a trip when all you feel like eating is mashed potatoes, hold the gravy, thanks. Try some of these gentle, natural remedies: eating frequent snacks of protein (nuts are a popular and usually palatable go-to); choosing whatever caloric options you can stomach, as healthful as you can manage; sucking on hard candies such as peppermints; eating ginger or drinking ginger tea; and just plain waiting it out. If you have severe nausea and vomiting, you might (or you know you do) have hyperemesis gravidarum, which will need to be treated medically and will likely put any travel plans on the back burner.

Another element to consider, and this might just be because I'm gun-shy myself, is that the risk of miscarriage is highest early on in a pregnancy. It's not that travel would cause a miscarriage, but you want to consider if you're physically and emotionally prepared to handle such a potentially devastating outcome on the road. I started miscarrying my first pregnancy on our flight back from London at ten weeks, and it will forever color that trip for me. I guess I'm just glad we were able to enjoy London before it happened, since I was miserable and recovering physically for awhile afterward. I'm not trying to scare you — it's just another possibility to be aware of. (Want to hear something awesome? I started bleeding on my last day of our London trip this time around, too, eight years later. Déjà-oh-heck-no. I had my scheduled ultrasound just after I returned, the bleeding stopped by then, and all is well. But, seriously. Just…seriously. Don't do that to me, London.)

This part really belongs to any trimester, but remember when planning your vacay that there are certain things off-limits to pregnant folk. I actually did ok at Legoland UK hanging out with Alrik all day, because Alrik didn't want to go on any rides contraindicated for pregnant visitors, anyway, so we had a lovely time together while Sam and Mikko whooped it up on the park's roller coasters. But I did breathe a wistful sigh that I'd been to a theme park and hadn't been on anything at all adventurous. The same cautions go for water slides and other potentially dangerous high-impact activities. Now, every person gets to decide, with the help of any wise advisors, what precisely is too dangerous for her; I know of experienced horseback riders and rock climbers who continued on during pregnancy, for instance, but if you're a novice, probably now is not the time to begin. Scuba diving is not recommended, and hot tubs paste warnings, though I always pretty much ignore those (not saying you should…). There are even strict recommendations against risking listeria, such as not eating any food of questionable refrigeration or underheating, such as one might find at a family cookout. (I've always ignored that, too, but I live on the edge.) My point is, you might want to consider before planning a trip during pregnancy if you'll get to enjoy it the way you want to. Maybe now isn't the time for the weeklong once-in-a-lifetime Disney vacation that you'll be sitting on the sidelines for, or the Hawaiian adventure where you were going to bike a volcano but now feel too off-balance or weary to try.

Speaking of which, you might experience fatigue in your first trimester, so take it easy on your trip if you can. The other symptoms you might have in the first trimester are not deal-breakers for travel. Increased urination? You'd be peeing more at home, too. Insomnia? Yeah, that stinks. Tender breasts? Travel doesn't really do much more to them than staying home. Nasal congestion and runniness? Bring along some hankies. Bloody nose or gums? Adds excitement to your trip! Excess gas? (Was that just me?) Let someone else enjoy it for awhile. It's just too good to keep all to yourself.

For fatigue, try not to be too go-go-go with your itinerary, and allow for plenty of rest times and sleep. For that newly minuscule bladder of yours, keep on keeping hydrated, but insist on plenty of pit stops. Taking an aisle seat if you're on an airplane (or long-haul bus or train) can really help with getting to the lav, and taking along an empty bottle through security and filling it with water while you're waiting for your flight can help with the hydration.

For that in-between phase of being too big for your regular clothes and too small for maternity clothes, try some of these tips:
  • Unbutton the top button of too-tight jeans and pants and slip a rubber band around the button and through the buttonhole to allow extra room. Then, or instead, wear a belly band to keep your pants up and your modified waistband covered. A belly band can also help keep up maternity pants that are still roomy.
  • Take advantage of flowy, waistless, stretchy, and/or longer tops. Loose-fitting tunics can work well, as can anything with an Empire waist or an A-line shape.
  • Rock jersey knits. They stretch. Let the structured, fitted pieces take a break.
  • Enjoy maxi dresses and stretchy skirts. They were made for early pregnancy!
  • Try leggings (stretch! notice a trend here?) under a tunic or short dress instead of forcing your tender tummy into tight jeans.
  • If your belly or you are not yet in show-off mode, flowing tops and loose layers can help disguise the fact that your waist is slowly disappearing.
  • Beach vacation in the works? In the first trimester, your normal swimsuit might fit you just fine. If not, a tankini or bikini (assuming you like to work a bikini) might give your expanding stomach more play. Because swimsuit material is so stretchy, it's not silly to try on some maternity suits even if you don't yet have a sizable belly — you might find one that will fit you well all pregnancy long.

Second trimester

Traveling while pregnant: When to go & how to manage == Hobo Mama
19 weeks at the Tower of London,
this pregnancy
In a lot of ways, the second trimester is the golden period for traveling during a pregnancy. For many, morning sickness is finally a thing of the past (oh, glory be), a cute belly is finally emerging, and the discomforts of later pregnancy have not yet made themselves too obnoxious. We planned our recent London trip specifically for my second trimester for that reason.

There are a few challenges, however, many carried on from the first tri. For one thing, fatigue can continue, particularly if you're now also facing pregnancy-induced anemia (commonly diagnosed during the second trimester). If you are, make sure you take your iron supplements faithfully even on the road — it will help you feel better and make it through long days of travel and sightseeing. I typically take an easily absorbed liquid iron supplement (this cinnammon-flavored one), but had to switch to something that didn't need to be refrigerated. I ended up with these chewables, which ended up being so tasty I had to be extra careful my kids never discovered them and overdosed!

I did find that during our first several days in London, I was really dragging. We were walking six miles a day or more, and I often felt as if I were moving through Jell-O. Fortunately, as my legs and lungs got used to the pace, I felt much more spry. Just be aware that pregnancy places its own demands on your body, even apart from how fit (or not) you were to begin with, so take it easy if you need to (says the woman who did not).

If you have pregnancy-related hip, pelvic, or back pain, this can begin or ramp up in the second trimester. If possible, bring extra pillows with you for sleeping — one between your knees as you lie on your side, if nothing else. It can also help to tuck one under your expanding belly if the weight is growing uncomfortable, and one behind your lower back to help support you to stay on your side as you sleep. A body pillow can handle at least two of these tasks at once, if you have room to bring one. I love my Dreamland body pillow because it's super plush and fluffy, but I admit it would take up a lot of room in a suitcase. If you can't bring extra pillows, request pillow generosity at your destination.

Make sure you stay hydrated, and enjoy the end of morning sickness — within reason. Eating a bunch of junk while traveling will do you no favors, and can further clog an already sluggish digestive system. Prioritize whatever fresh veggies and good sources of protein you can source to keep yourself feeling well and your baby healthy. If you're still in the throes of all-day sickness, continue finding whatever you can tolerate, and try to enjoy your trip around the yuckiness.

Traveling while pregnant: When to go & how to manage == Hobo Mama
20 weeks during Mikko's pregnancy,
next to the old bed in my brother's room
I managed to break with my
apparently enormous preggo self,
and, no, that was not one of the most embarrassing
experiences of my life, why do you ask?
Travel can lead to a lot more walking and other activities than you're used to. There's generally no reason to curtail what feels comfortable to you, though stop and seek medical advice if you experience cramping or bleeding or, even more ominous, cramping with bleeding. For more minor concerns, such as swollen ankles without any accompanying high blood pressure, make sure you take time to relax and put your feet up as you need to.

Airplane travel can become more uncomfortable the further your pregnancy progresses. Swelling feet and changing body dimensions can make the oh-so-comfy confines of coach even less bearable than usual. Try to get up and walk around and do stretches at your seat. Again, an aisle assignment will help you out.

Oh, and wear comfortable shoes for your trip. Flats. Your feet will thank you.

Third trimester

Traveling while pregnant: When to go & how to manage == Hobo Mama
I don't yet have a picture of
travel during the third trimester,
so I've cobbled together this handy image
to convey how smart I am to consider tent camping.
Traveling can get harder as your pregnancy wears on. In fact, some forms of transportation will refuse to even carry you onboard — the cutoff for airlines can be as early as 36 weeks, and cruises can be much more restrictive, with cutoffs at 23 weeks. I haven't found any restrictions for trains or buses, and of course, it's up to you when you go if you drive your own vehicle. To be safe when you're within a permitted timeframe, carry a letter from a doctor or midwife saying how far along you are and that you're cleared for travel (there and back). And, of course, use common sense: Unless travel is a necessity (and I grant that sometimes it just is), you're going to want to avoid it within at least the last few weeks before your due date, and stay within easy reach of civilization in case a medical emergency crops up. You don't really want an unassisted birth at a highway rest stop, right?

Travel often occurs during summer months, and pregnancy exacerbates how uncomfortable you'll feel in the heat. Ankles swell, and your blood volume and therefore internal temperature are already up. Seek shade, stay hydrated (a common theme), wear sun-protective gear like a wide-brimmed hat (I have this one in Toast), and put your feet up when you can. Preferably somewhere air-conditioned. Movie theaters with an empty row of seats in front of you are nice. Just saying. (Your feet go on the armrests in front of you, not on top, blocking the view of those behind you. You're not uncouth.) The plus of summer travel is plenty of opportunities for getting into the water. Ah, cool weightlessness! Enjoy.

To help with the strain of extra walking, a belly support belt (I have one similar to this) can be a lifesaver. As can resting a lot! If you're suffering from varicose veins, support hose can be your friend.

You'll want to revisit the pillow advice from the second trimester section, because you'll really want that added comfort now. If you anticipate a lot of hip or back pain from crummy hotel or sofa beds, and you're not in a position where you need to pack light (road trip vs. plane travel), it might even be worthwhile to carry along a thin mattress topper, such as one made from memory foam. You could get one in a twin size and use it just for your portion of whatever bed you're in, as long as you're not sharing the bed with an infant (particularly one under a year) who might be in danger from the uneven edge. (Here's one option with decent reviews.) I personally love the joint cushioning of my 3" latex topper (similar to this) but see no way to carry the topper along, even on our upcoming short trips. Sadness. I'll bring my body pillow, though!

Be aware of any warning signs of preterm labor (or just regular ol' labor if you're far enough along!), and call a health professional if you're concerned. Regular contractions or cramping, the release of bloody mucus, and unexplained bleeding are all worth running by someone qualified. If you are feeling crampy, often just drinking a nice, tall glass of water and lying on your left side can help it pass.

As you're in the weeks nearing your birthing time, remember not to let travel interrupt any needed birth preparations you want to make: preparing your birthing space, doing preparatory exercises such as squatting and pelvic tilts, practicing childbirth-hypnosis scripts, and so on. Keep in mind, too, that most health practitioners will want to see you more often in this stage of pregnancy, often every two weeks from weeks 28 through 35 or 36, and every week thereafter until the baby is born (or more often if there are concerns). Any travel away might need to be short and sweet to keep up your appointments, which can be a good thing.

I'm serious about those comfortable shoes! Which might at this point be some sort of expansion-friendly sandal. I wore my water sandals pretty much exclusively my last couple months last pregnancy.

Make travel during pregnancy work for you!

Traveling while pregnant: When to go & how to manage == Hobo Mama
Along the Thames in the second-trimester glow
You can successfully and joyously travel at any stage during pregnancy (assuming an all-clear on any health concerns). If I had my druthers, I'd pick early to mid-second trimester again as ideal, but any time can work if you put in a little preparation, remember to listen to your body, and manage the expectations of any traveling companions that you might need to take it a little easier than usual.

Later on, you can tell your little one just where he or she went while tucked safely inside!

What have your experiences been of traveling during pregnancy? Any challenges you had to overcome or tips to recommend?

Read more of my special HAVE KIDS, WILL TRAVEL series for advice and wisdom on traveling with kids along with some fun reviews of travel-friendly items.

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • Favorite Family Vacation Recipe: Staying at Home — The best family vacation Laurie Hollman at Parental Intelligence could ever recommend requires minimal packing, no hotels, unrushed travel, easy meals to everyone’s taste without a bill, no schedules, everyone’s favorite interests, and three generations playing together.
  • Scared of toilets and other travel stories — Tat at Mum in search is an expert at flying with kids. She shares some of her tips and travel stories.
  • Staycation Retreat for Busy MamasLydia's Handmade Life gives Budget-friendly, eco-friendly staycation ideas for busy work-at-home moms.
  • How We Leave It All Behind — At Life Breath Present, they don't take traditional vacations — they go on forest adventures. Here are some tips in planning for an adventure, if you don't just go spontaneously, as they have before. Plus, many pictures of their latest adventure!
  • Traveling while pregnant: When to go & how to manage — Lauren at Hobo Mama discusses the pros and cons of traveling during the different trimesters of pregnancy, and how to make it as comfortable as possible.
  • Our Week in Rome: Inspiration and Craft Ideas for Parents, Teachers, and Caregivers — If anyone in your family is interested in learning about Ancient Rome, if you enjoy crafts, of if you're a parent looking for a fun staycation idea, check out Erin Yuki's post for a Roman-themed week of crafts, food, and fun at And Now, for Something Completely Different.
  • The Real Deal: A behind the scenes look at our "Western Adventure" — Often Facebook and blog posts make vacations look "picture perfect" to outsiders. If you only looked at the pictures, Susan's recent family vacation was no exception. In this post at Together Walking, she takes readers "behind the scenes" so they can see the normal challenges they faced and how they managed to enjoy their vacation in spite of them.
  • Welcome to the Beach House! — Kellie at Our Mindful Life is in love with her family's new "beach house"!
  • Road Trip to Niagara Falls — Erica at ChildOrganics writes about her first trip out of the country with just her and the kids.
  • 5 Essential Things to Take on Vacation — Five things Nurtured Mamas should be packing in their suitcase for their next trip, in a guest post at Natural Parents Network.
  • The Many Benefits of Camping with Friends — Do you want to go camping, but the very thought of it seems daunting? Make your life easier - and your kids happier - and go camping with friends! Dionna at Code Name: Mama discusses how much better camping can be when you join forces with others.
  • My Natural First Aid Kit for Camping, Travel, and Everyday Use — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama gives us an insiders looks at her natural first aid kit for camping, travel, and everyday use. These natural remedies have saved her hide and those of others many times! You might be surprised what made her list of must-haves!
  • Traveling Solo and Outnumbered — Alisha at Cinnamon and Sassafras shares lessons learned from a recent trip with two toddlers and no co-parent.
  • Compromise and conviction on the road — Jessica of Crunchy-Chewy Mama shares the reality vs. the dream of travel and dishes on the compromises she makes or won't make while traveling.
  • Camping Trauma — Jorje of Momma Jorje offers why she loves camping and why she and her family are a little gun shy about it, too.
  • First in our Books — Writing fresh from her first family vacation, Laura from Pug in the Kitchen has realized that helping pack her parents' station wagon made for a smooth and pleasant trip that was more than she hoped for!


Kendall said...

While pregnant with Baby Boy, we did 2 notable trips. One wasn't overnight, just a simple walk in the mountains. It was fun. We relished in the fact that it was Baby Boy's first adventure ever, I was about 5 months along. We took it easy, I stopped and rested as needed, Hun supported me when getting back to the top, where we'd parked not knowing it was the top.

The next trip I was further along (about 7 months) and big. I wasn't incredibly uncomfortable, though we knew we needed to watch for swelling and other issues. We traveled by car to visit family about 9 hours away. We left in plenty of time for multiple stops so I could use the restroom and stretch a bit. The getting out was also to help decrease any swelling that was likely going to occur. My legs and ankles did swell, though not unmanageably so and I ended up taking the next day off from work, just to rest more and keep those feet up, too.

The next time we're pregnant, I'm sure we'll do some travel stuff (health consciously) and many of your tips and ideas are those I'd use as well! :)

Jessica said...

What a thorough and helpful post! Congratulations on #3, by the way! :-)

I was starting to show at just 7 weeks with my first and decided that not telling family when we were together for a wedding would feel weird later, like lying. We never see them, and plus I ate a TON at dinner and then left the party early to eat more in the hotel room. So we told them the next morning after having told my brother-in-law the night before first, since he and his wife had recently miscarried and I didn't want to spring the news on him in front of others.

With my second pregnancy, we drove to visit family when I was about 32 weeks, and my legs swelled so much I had to spend part of the planned getaway while the grandparents watched my son getting bodywork. Thank goodness Ann Arbor has so many talented massage therapists. The one who fit me in was amazing, but I am bummed that I wasn't able to fully enjoy my solo time with my husband. I hadn't been swelling at all until then! But I still made it a few weeks later on a trip with just my son down to Polyface Farms for a tour with Joel Salatin, and my biggest regret is not getting a photo of the two of us with my big belly just a month before his sister arrived! Good for you for taking photos!

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

When I was pregnant with Kieran, Tom and I decided to take a trip to Colorado late in my second/early in my third trimester. And we decided to sleep in the car the first night to avoid the cost of a hotel. zomg. Never doing that again. You are a brave, brave woman going camping in your third trimester :)

Susan May said...

Congratulations on Baby #3 - so exciting!!

What a great post for women and families who are considering travel when mama is pregnant. I honestly don't remember traveling much while pregnant either time - except for a visit to my hometown that was when I was almost 8 months pregnant! It's a 7 hour drive and I ended up having my son a week or so after getting back home - that was cutting it a little close I guess! But all's well that ends well I guess. :-P

Laurie Hollman said...

Laurie at Parental Intelligence
Your tips are so helpful yet I must say the favorite part of your post were your great pictures of your evolving pregnancy!You're one beautiful pregnant woman!Best wishes to you.

Tat said...

Oh, I didn't even realise you were pregnant. Congratulations!

I travelled to Europe during the first trimester and I must say I didn't enjoy it much... I was tired and sick all the time.

Something I can recommend to take into account is whether or not you can get travel insurance that will cover you for pregnancy. most travel insurance companies here in Australia have cutoffs around 20-26 weeks. Any complications can get very costly if you don't have insurance.

Lyda LaRae said...

These are some really good tips. I've always been a little too cautious to travel in the third trimester, like after 36 weeks, because I don't want to be too far from home if labor starts, but camping is a great idea. I loved your improvised photo by the way!

Erin Violet Taylor said...

OMG XD That Photoshopped photo of you in the tent currently has me dying XD I am with my extended family on vacation, and they all think that I am crazy now XD So hilarious.
I can't believe that you are camping! I am super impressed. It is admirable and awesome that you are dedicated to spending time with your kiddos in that way. You seriously rock. I hope that you have a ton of fun!
This article was really interesting to me. I remember when my Japanese teacher was in her third trimester, she was considering traveling home to Japan for Christmas, but ended up vetoing it, for logistical reasons. Her kiddo was born in February, and he'll be six this coming year. Time flies! But, ever since then, I was somewhat curious about the logistics behind traveling while pregnant. Your post has answered any question I could have possibly had! Thanks :) Will be sending it to Mamas for whom I work who might need it :)

Meegs said...

I'm early in my second trimester, and we just went camping. It was fun, but sleeping in a sleeping bag on the ground was noticeably more difficult/uncomfortable then previous trips. Make sure you bring extra pillows/padding for sure!

Laurie Hollman said...

Laurie Hollman from Parental Intelligence http://lauriehollmanphd.com/blog

I think the blow up beds are more comfortable for a camping pregnant mom should you try this adventure again! You're certainly a great mom for doing this! Hope you're feeling really good.

Best wishes,

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