How to Travel With Confidence When You're Pregnant

Having a baby? Plan ahead before jetting off on vacation and take these extra precautions to ensure you stay well, advises travel writer and mother of two, Joanna Tovia.


A pregnant woman in a lantern shop. Photo © Getty / Sara Monika

The benefits and challenges of a babymoon

Having already had one baby, I knew what I was in for during those first few exhausting months – the lack of sleep, the round-the-clock care, the hormonal upheaval – only this time I’d be doing it with a go-go-go five-year-old in tow.

A babymoon to Thailand during pregnancy number two seemed like just the thing for some pre-birthday fun and relaxation.

It was fun and relaxing and I’m glad we went, but traveling while pregnant (six months along, in my case) meant taking additional care to ensure we all stayed safe and well. I already knew to avoid raw fish and soft cheese (bummer), would obviously be avoiding alcohol (no beachside cocktails this trip), and my vaccinations were up to date – but there were some unexpected hiccups during the trip that dictated what I could and couldn’t do.

For starters, I’d forgotten just how hot and humid it could get in Thailand, so the gallons of water my body was already demanding I drink skyrocketed and I found it all but impossible to leave the cool (okay, cold) air of the hotel room during the hottest hours of the day. Even in the early morning or late afternoon, I needed to spend the majority of my time in the pool to stay cool.

I was right to be concerned about overheating. According to the American Heart Association, heat stroke, dehydration, and heat exhaustion can lead to fainting, headaches, muscle cramps, nausea, and dizzy spells in pregnant women, whose bodies are already working hard to support a growing baby. Dehydration during pregnancy can affect amniotic fluid levels, prompt the onset of Braxton Hicks (those pesky false labor signs nobody wants to worry about on vacation) and cause other problems for you and your unborn baby.

Flying while pregnant

If your doctor has given you the green light for air travel and you’ve checked the cut-off dates with your airline (some won’t allow you to travel past the 28-week mark, while others draw the line at 36 weeks), most pregnant women can travel safely by plane.

Pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, or placenta abnormalities are reasons not to travel, according to the Victorian Department of Health, which also advises against travel if you are over 35 and pregnant for the first time. Carrying more than one fetus, or prior pregnancy issues (miscarriage, premature labor, pre-eclampsia) are other reasons to reconsider travel.

Try to book an aisle seat for those extra trips to the restroom and request a bulkhead row for the extra legroom it provides. You won’t be seated in an emergency exit row if you’re pregnant, or will be relocated to another seat if a flight attendant sees that you are.

Pregnant women are more at risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) than others during long periods of sitting (whether on planes, trains, buses, or in a car), so walk around when you can, exercise your legs when seated, and drink plenty of water. Wearing compression stockings, as I did, during the flight keeps swelling down and reduces the risk of DVT.

Oh, and secure your seatbelt under your bump across your lap in case of sudden turbulence. Our ultra-low-budget, ultra-uncomfortable plane bucked its way through the sky on our return journey to the point that one flight attendant made a sign of the cross and said a Hail Mary.

COVID-19 precautions during pregnancy

The pandemic calls for caution not just on the plane, but in the line at the airport, trips to the restroom, and collecting your luggage at your destination too. Those who are pregnant face a higher risk of falling seriously ill if they contract COVID-19 than others, according to the CDC, and the risk of pre-term birth among women who have COVID-19 is also higher.

All COVID-19 variants are primarily spread via air-borne droplets “generated when people cough, sneeze, sing, talk or breathe”, according to the CDC. Wearing a mask is vital, but which mask is best?

Medical-grade respirators (known as N95) offer the highest level of protection and seal more tightly to the face. Wearing a surgical mask underneath a fabric mask is another way to enhance protection, especially if the fabric mask has straps that go around the back of your head, rather than loop over your ears.

A pregnant woman sits in an airport boarding area wearing a face mask.
Those who are pregnant face a higher risk of falling seriously ill if they contract COVID-19. A good face mask is vital for protection. Image credit: Getty/Antonio Sanchez Albacete / EyeEm

Whatever your mask of choice, go for one that fits snugly, allows you to breathe easily, and is comfortable enough to wear for long periods. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself taking it off regularly to give yourself a break. Wear it for the duration of your journey, including the airport, and skip the on-board food and drink on short flights if you can so you can keep your mask in place.

Washing your hands thoroughly, maintaining a distance of at least six feet between yourself and others when possible, and sanitizing your hands after touching handrails, doorknobs, and other surfaces are other stay-safe measures. It is safe for women to be vaccinated against COVID-19 at all stages of pregnancy, and do check if you’re eligible for a booster shot before your departure.

Staying healthy on vacation

If you’re still deciding where to go on vacation, we have some suggestions. Seek out destinations with high COVID-19 vaccination rates and low infection rates that offer easy access to high-quality medical care.

Avoid going to developing countries while pregnant if you can – the risk of traveler’s diarrhea, food poisoning, and other illnesses is higher, and it can be more difficult to find a high standard of medical treatment when you need it (especially when healthcare systems are dealing with the extra strain of COVID-19). Tropical countries with a risk of malaria, zika, yellow fever, and other mosquito-borne diseases should be avoided – pregnancy-safe prevention and treatment can be elusive.

Food safety precautions are extra important when you’re pregnant, especially when you’re traveling overseas. Avoid ice in your drink, skip the buffet, ensure chicken and meat is fully cooked, and take a pass on seafood, pate, and soft cheeses. Drink (and brush your teeth with) bottled water if you’re unsure of the water supply, or use a water purifier/filter.

Check with your doctor and travel insurer before taking part in sporting activities, especially those underwater or at high altitudes. This is not the time for high-octane adventure sports, no matter how energetic you may be feeling.

If things go wrong

Preparing for the worst before you leave home is the smartest approach, and that includes locating where you’d go for emergency obstetric and other hospital care, finding out what your travel insurance would cover you for, and what (if any) reciprocal agreements are in place for medical care between your home country and the destination to which you’ll be traveling.

If you’re taking medication, be sure you have enough and plan what you’ll do if you lose it while you’re away. Take medication on board in your carry-on luggage if you can, and pack a first-aid kit containing everything from painkillers and pregnancy multivitamins to pregnancy-safe treatment for diarrhea. Don’t assume medications available over the counter or by prescription are similarly available in other countries – what’s easy to access at home may be hard to come by or even illegal in another.

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