I’m no stranger to third trimester travel (or first, or second) and travelling while pregnant may be easier than you imagine.
Of course, every pregnancy is different so the number one rule as you continue to read this is ‘consult your doctor and/or midwife!’ I can only speak of my own experience, so please do not take off overseas without first checking with a professional familiar with you and your pregnancy that you are not putting yourself or your unborn child at risk.
Once you’ve established that it’s safe for you to travel while pregnant, you can then start planning your adventure!
Take letters from your doctor
When pregnant with T, we travelled extensively in Madagascar and Mozambique for our honeymoon and wedding, and made shorter stops in South Africa and Kenya. We flew home when I was exactly 36 weeks. I had asked both my midwife and my consultant obstetrician for letters to say that I had had an uneventful pregnancy and that I was considered ‘fit to fly’. These were a reassuring comeback to any raised eyebrows at my ever-expanding belly, but be warned that they are not necessarily a ‘get out of jail free’ card.
In Mozambique’s tiny Pemba airport, we were stopped and told that I would have to be cleared by a local doctor the following day before I could fly. This was not an option for us and it made absolutely no sense: “clearly I am not currently in labour so surely the sensible option is to put me on the plane to Nairobi and in a couple of hours I will no longer be your problem?!” We did eventually get on our plane but it took a lot of persuasion!
Check your travel insurance
Check with your travel insurance provider how far into your pregnancy you are covered. I found insurance that covered me until 36 weeks, but not all do. As well as repatriation, you’ll also want to be sure that you’re covered for all medical costs, childbirth and care of your newborn, If you’re carrying multiples or if your child(ren) were conceived with the assistance of fertility treatment, you should also note that not all insurance providers will offer cover so double check!
Check travel restrictions
Similarly, check with your airline what their restrictions and conditions are. Some will only allow travel until 28 weeks, others you’re fine until 36 weeks unless you’re carrying multiples in which case the limit is likely to be 32 weeks. Some will even let you fly right up until your due date for short haul flights! A number of airlines require you to download and complete a specific form if you’re travelling late in pregnancy. Requirements vary more than you might expect so it does pay to check your airline specifically.
Comfort is key
If you’re camping, opt for an airbed and any other items that will ensure you have the most comfortable sleep possible. A specially designed pregnancy pillow (I can recommend the BellaMoon, which will also be useful after baby has arrived, particularly if you plan to breastfeed) or, failing that, a spare ordinary pillow to put between your legs perhaps? If you’re flying, consider paying for the extra legroom. Likewise, don’t plan to be in the back of a car for long periods. It’s incredibly uncomfortable! Sitting with your legs and knees squished against your bump doesn’t make for a pleasant journey. I also cannot emphasise the importance of a comfy pair of shoes (sandals if you’re travelling somewhere hot…see tip 9) and comfy, breathable clothing enough!
Be aware of medications
Be aware of which over-the-counter medications you can/can’t take before you go, as figuring that out in another language is tricky. Buy anything you think you may need and know to be safe in advance (bonus tip: antacids are a good idea; heartburn is common in pregnancy!). If you’re taking a pregnancy supplement, remember to pack these (along with any other medications) in your hand luggage in case of lost baggage.
Get travel vaccinations
Speak to your doctor about any required travel vaccinations or medication that might be required for your destination. Some jabs and antimalarials aren’t considered safe during pregnancy; others are perfectly fine. Hopefully it goes without saying that you should also check the current zika map and avoid travelling anywhere with a current risk of zika.
Pack your midwife notes
Should you have any medical needs while you’re away, you’ll need to give your notes to your treating physician. It’s important that they have complete information of your pregnancy to date and that they update your notes for your health professionals at home.
Wear flight socks
You know those ever-so-sexy compression stockings? Wearing them will reduce your risk of deep vein thrombosis, varicose veins and swelling, all of which pregnant women are susceptible to. They may not be the most comfortable or attractive attire for your flight but wearing them for the duration and doing some light exercise (walking the aisles and doing some gentle stretches in or out of your seat) is recommended.
Keep swelling at bay
If you’re going somewhere hot, you’ll likely experience swollen hands and feet, and with this can come itchiness (of course, if you get rapid onset or extreme swelling or itchy skin, see a doctor straight away). Putting your feet up, bathing sore hands and feet in ice, and wearing flip-flops or sandals should help. Don’t forget to remove any rings before they get painful (and stuck!). As above, hang on to your compression socks following your flight and wear them if you’re doing any long drives or you’ll be seated for long periods.
Don't book activities in advance
Don’t book activities in advance, but don’t shy away from doing adventurous things if you feel up to it. It’s impossible to know exactly how you’ll feel in advance. We hear stories of unbearable sickness during the first trimester, relative ease during the second trimester, and pain, waddling, and general whale-ness during the third trimester, but this will not necessarily be your reality.
For me, I spend the first 15 weeks (first trimester and the first few weeks of the second trimester) with no nausea at all but also no energy. All I want to do is sleep. The second half of the second trimester brings the, thankfully short lived, organ crush. This is the magical part of pregnancy when I realise that most of my organs are now contained in my rib cage and I can no longer comfortably breathe, eat or lie on my back without receiving a shot of stomach acid to the throat. The third trimester is my favourite. My organs seem to stop their internal squabble and fight for space, I feel much more energetic and I’m lucky to have avoided any back or hip pain that’s anything more than fleeting. I love being pregnant, I’m lucky to have had two very easy pregnancies, and I happily travel and continue life as normal throughout, but those final three months are, for me, the best.
What you do during your trip will largely require you to listen to your body in the moment, so don’t lock down and pay in advance for too much in case it’s the last thing you want to do. Equally, don’t be put off by thrills. I’ve trekked, quadbiked, paddle boarded, scaled cliff faces and more all during the third trimester.
Hydrate and stay cool
If you’re anything like me, you’ll be knocking back the water throughout pregnancy anyway so this won’t be a problem, but when you’re having fun it can be easy to forget to drink enough. I recommend carrying an insulated reusable bottle with you so your drink stays cold (I like Klean Kanteen). Seek shade when you can and make the most of opportunities for a refreshing dip in cool water.
When I was 34 weeks pregnant with T, we’d had a couple of scorching hot days in Madagascar and I noticed that he’d been a bit quieter than normal. I’d been feeling excruciatingly hot during a long journey through the middle of nowhere with no easy way of cooling down, and my mood reflected this! The lodge we had just arrived at was exactly the type of place we love (so no fans or air conditioning) but they did have a small, unheated pool so I jumped (ok, canon-balled) right in and had a swim. T kicked into action almost straight away as if to thank me for turning the oven down. After that I made sure not to let myself overheat again.
If you’re headed off on a babymoon, I hope these tips help you stay safe, comfortable and stress-free during your trip. Have a wonderful time and all the best for your pregnancy!