“It is safe for most pregnant women to travel while pregnant, but there are some steps to take that help to ensure both mom and baby travel safely and comfortably,” says Dr Howard Manyonga, obstetrician and head of The Birthing Team, an affordable maternity care programme for women on selected schemes and who aren’t on medical aid.
“Good planning is an important part of a healthy pregnancy. A well-informed mom should be able to minimise her discomfort and reduce the risks during travel,” says Manyonga.
Travelling by air
It’s safe to fly during pregnancy and you will be allowed on a domestic flight if you are 36 weeks pregnant or less, but you will need a letter from your doctor declaring you and your baby are healthy and fit to travel.
International flights are slightly stricter. They usually don’t allow pregnant women farther than 32 weeks to make the journey. The fear is that a pregnant woman will go into labour during the flight, although attendants are prepared for these eventualities. This cut-off date varies from airline to airline and you should double check this with your chosen airline before booking an international flight.
Obstetrician and gynaecologist at Netcare Parklane Hospital Dr van der Griendt explains some people are concerned about the pressure in the cabin of the plane, therefore they’re reluctant to travel by air. “The ambient pressure is more or less the same as being at the altitude of Johannesburg – 1 700m above sea level – so this is not an issue. There is no oxygen shortage to the baby or the mother.”
Things to do before you fly
- Be sure to inform your travel insurance company of your plan to travel and double check if you will be covered in case your baby is born prematurely. Hospital care in a foreign country could cost a fortune.
- If you are pregnant, obese or at risk of thrombosis, ask your doctor if you need to take a blood thinner the day before and on the day of your flight. A blood thinner will thin the blood, making it less likely to clot.
X-ray scanners at the airport – are they safe?
It’s totally safe for you and your unborn baby to walk through the security scanners at the airport. Most, if not all, of the detectors you walk through in an airport are metal detectors that generate a current as you walk through carrying metal objects. This sets the alarm off. It’s not actually an X-ray. There would have to be a disclaimer warning pregnant women of the dangers at each gate if it were so.
Travelling by car
No matter how big your bump is, you can take a road trip during your pregnancy. Remember to wear your seatbelt, even if it’s uncomfortable as this will lower your and your baby’s risk of getting seriously injured in an accident. When putting on your seatbelt, position the part that usually goes around your stomach under your uterus just above your hips. Studies have shown that pregnant women who weren’t wearing seatbelts when they were in an accident were twice as likely to have excessive bleeding and were nearly three times more likely to lose their babies.
While there are no real guidelines to follow for a long car trip during the first half of your pregnancy, doctors do advise pregnant women to take a break every two hours to stretch their legs and get the circulation going again during the second half of pregnancy – that’s if your bladder doesn’t beat the clock.
If you’re pregnant and are at a high risk for clotting, previously suffered from thrombosis or were diagnosed with a blood clotting disorder, be sure to include some active leg exercises when you take a break. If possible, sit with your legs elevated in the car as this will assist blood flow back to your body.
Dr Manyonga offers additional festive season travel tips for expectant moms:
During long car, bus or plane trips, remember to stop, get up and move around regularly. Sitting still for long periods of time could be very uncomfortable and increases the risk of mom developing blood clots in her legs.
Wear your seatbelt right
Wear your seatbelt below and beside your belly, not across it. Never risk traveling on the road without a seatbelt.
Avoid heavy lifting
Carrying heavy bags and boxes is a bad idea when you’re pregnant, as your ligaments soften and you are more prone to injuries.
Plan bathroom breaks
While pregnant, you need to drink plenty of water and this will require more regular loo breaks. Take an aisle seat if you are flying, and plan to stop off at every garage to avoid discomfort if traveling by car.
Low blood sugar levels are bad for you and your baby – make sure you have healthy snacks to bridge the gaps between meals. This will also help if you start to feel nauseous.
Carry your prenatal records
Always have a copy of your latest antenatal record and test results from your medical team – just in case something goes wrong.
“We also recommend that pregnant women talk to their medical teams before taking long trips, especially by plane, to ensure they take adequate preventative measures, which may include medication if the trip is more than four hours,” says Dr Manyonga.
Our experienced editors work with trained journalists and qualified experts to compile accurate, insightful and helpful information about pregnancy, birth, early childhood development and parenting. Our content is reviewed regularly by our panel of advisors, which include medical doctors and healthcare professionals.