Information about travelling abroad when you are pregnant can often be confusing and you probably would wish to continue to live as 'normal' a life as possible during this time. For many women this will not pose a problem but a number of considerations need to be looked at before you decide to travel. Take a look at our information and find out the answers the to common myths.
With the proper precautions, and armed with information on when to travel, vaccinations and insurance, most women can travel safely well into their pregnancy.
Wherever the destination find out what healthcare facilities are available in case urgent medical attention is required.
Ensure that travel insurance covers for any eventuality, such as pregnancy-related medical care during labour, premature birth and the cost of changing the date of the return trip if you go into labour.
When to travel
Some women prefer not to travel in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy because of nausea and feeling very tired during these early stages.
If there are no complications with the pregnancy then there is no reason not to travel at this time, however if you have any worries discuss them with your midwife or doctor.
Flying is not harmful to the mother of the baby, but you should discuss any health issues or pregnancy complications with the midwife or doctor before air travel.
Check with the airline for their policy on travel towards the end of pregnancy. The likelihood of going into labour is naturally higher after 37 weeks (around 34 weeks if carrying twins).
After week 28 of pregnancy, the airline may ask for a letter from your doctor or midwife confirming the due date, and that you aren't at risk of complications.
Long-distance travel (longer than five hours) carries a small risk of blood clots (deep vein thrombosis, or DVT). It is important to drink plenty of water and move about regularly if flying – every 30 minutes or so. Support stockings which can be bought in the pharmacy over the counter will reduce leg swelling.
The general advice is to avoid travelling to countries where immunisation is required. Vaccines are not recommended because of concerns that the virus or bacteria in the jab could harm the baby in the womb.
If travel to areas requiring inoculation is essential then vaccinations are advised - the risk of catching an infectious disease far outweighs the risk from vaccination.
You can take some anti-malaria medicines safely during pregnancy but should avoid others. For example:
· chloroquine and proguanil (usually combined) can be used in pregnancy but may not offer adequate protection against malaria in many regions, including Africa. You’ll also need to take a 5mg supplement of folic acid if you’re taking proguanil (if you’re in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, remember to continue with your usual 400 microgram folic acid supplement after you stop taking the proguanil – while you’re taking the 5mg supplement, you don’t need to take the 400 micrograms as well)
· mefloquine should not be taken during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy
· doxycycline should not be taken at all during pregnancy
· atovaquone-proguanil should not be taken at all during pregnancy
Fatigue and dizziness are common during pregnancy so it’s important to eat and drink regularly and stop regularly for a break.
Keep the air circulating in the car and wear the seatbelt with the cross strap between the breasts and the lap strap across the pelvis under the bump, not across the bump.
Travel by boat
Ferry companies have their own restrictions and may refuse to carry heavily pregnant women (often beyond 32 weeks). Check the ferry company's policy before booking. For longer boat trips, such as cruises, find out if there are onboard facilities to deal with pregnancy and if there are medical services at the docking ports.
Food and drink
Avoid food- and water-borne conditions, such as stomach upsets and travellers' diarrhoea (TD). Some medicines for treating stomach upsets and TD aren’t suitable during pregnancy.
Always check if tap water is safe. If in doubt, drink bottled water. If you get ill, keep hydrated and continue eating for the health of your baby, even if you may not be hungry.
Use of medicines
If you know that you may suffer from travel sickness check with your doctor before travelling about the best medicine to use, generally cyclizine or promethazine are safe.
Diarrhoea on holiday
Avoid loperamide which is the active ingredient in medicines such as Imodium. However cophentotrope (brands like Lomotil) is safe. If possible check with your doctor before you travel and take the appropriate medicine with you as a precaution.
Insect bites and allergies
Generally oral antihistamines should be avoided in pregnancy, especially in the first trimester, but if you do suffer from allergies, for example from insect bites, hay fever or heat, then chlorpheniramine (brands like Piriton) can be used but you should increase your intake of water if taking antihistamines whilst pregnant. As an alternative for bites and rashes anti-allergen and anti-itching creams can be used. For more severe itching you might want to use a steroid cream and we are currently funding a project looking into the safety of topical steroids in pregnancy.
See the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists website for more information on travelling whilst pregnant.
Pregnancy can be a stressful time and with the need to relax it can be an ideal time to take a break.
Flying is harmful to the unborn child
Not true. There is no medical proof that flying is harmful to the unborn child, nor to the mother if you take the right precautions.
You can’t take any medicines when pregnant
Not true. There are many medicines you can take but you should consult your doctor to check. If travelling to a malarial region the malaria would potentially be more dangerous to your unborn child than taking medication. Some anti-malarial medications are safe in pregnancy, while others are not; check with your doctor.
You can’t get DVT in pregnancy when travelling by car
Not true. In fact you can get DVT when travelling by car so it is important to stop frequently, move around and drink plenty of water.
Strong sunlight can give you permanent brown patches on your skin
True. The skin is more sensitive to sunlight during pregnancy and can develop patches of brown pigmentation which may not fade afterwards.
You shouldn’t sunbathe topless when pregnant as it affects your ability to breastfeed
Not true. There’s no evidence of this. But you do need to be extra careful to avoid sunburn in sensitive areas so make sure you use a high factor sun cream and don’t stay out too long.
Page last updated February 2013