I have learnt that pregnancy is a very personal experience and understandably so. You can't really think of anything more intimate or invasive (for want of a better word) than growing another human being inside you. Throw in a cocktail of mind- and body-altering hormones, a constant string of "what if" questions and a million and one potential setbacks or pitfalls and you're some way to explaining why I - a woman who has had a VERY easy, complication-free pregnancy - have felt somewhat overwhelmed over the last eight months.
However, one of the things that helped me - especially during the first and second trimester when strangely my anxiety about being pregnant seemed to be worse than it is now at the end of my final trimester (and pregnancy!) - was living my life as "normally" as possible. Yes, I gave up the booze, the coffees and the unpasteurised cheese but I didn't give up travel (at least not immediately) and following advice from my midwife and doctor, who should ALWAYS be your first port of call for advice on travelling when you're pregnant, I took great reassurance and incentive in hearing them both sort of saying "Go do it now because you may not get the same opportunities when the baby is here". Travelling while pregnant helped me feel "normal" when my body and mind made me feel anything but. It's for that reason that I want to offer other pregnant women some advice on how best to travel in a way that is safe and satisfying. I hope you find these tips for travelling while pregnant useful!
All being well, it's your choice if, when and how you travel.
Before I became pregnant I thought you could only safely fly in your second trimester, but a quick conversation with my doctor clarified this was complete rubbish. Essentially, if you don't have any problems or complications and you're not suffering from any unpleasant side-effects you can fly from Day 1 until around Week 36 of your pregnancy. As long as your medical professional is happy, it is your choice. But that doesn't mean you have to. After discussing it with NewMan I decided that I didn't want to do any work or blog-related travel because I couldn't predict my energy levels and I didn't want to commit to something and then only be able to do half the job. As much as I love press trips, they can be very demanding on your time and energy and I didn't want to disappoint any professional partners, or myself.
The reason some people warn off flying in your first 12 weeks is because of the higher risk of miscarriage and because many women suffer from nausea and sickness. These are considerations that you, and only you, have to factor into your own decision. As I mentioned above, I was first guided by my medical professionals and secondly by my own gut instinct and it has worked well for me.
Take it easy
My number one tip for any trip you're thinking about taking as a pregnant lady is to make that journey as easy and as uncomplicated as you possibly can. Of all the pregnancy symptoms I've heard of (and there seems to be hundreds!) only one seems to feature in ALL expecting women's accounts: tiredness. While I felt varying ranges of exhaustion every single day throughout my first trimester, my energy levels were generally much improved during my second and third, though still very unpredictable. Despite feeling full of energy and enthusiasm for most of the time I would almost definitely have at least one day a week where I felt wiped out no matter what I did. Your body and baby aren't going to let you off tiredness just because you're going on your holidays, and if anything the act of travel will only add to the likelihood of you feeling tired.
While my initial reaction was to see tiredness as an inconvenient side effect of pregnancy that I had to battle with, a firm but fair piece of advice from my midwife soon made me realise tiredness was my body's way of telling me it needed all the energy it could gather to put into growing my baby so I'd better rest up to gather more for it to use. From that moment on I stopped fighting the fatigue and added naps and early nights to my schedule. You should be extra vigilant in doing this when you travel by avoiding as much as you can the things that are guaranteed to tire you out when you travel e.g. early starts, late arrivals, back-to-back long haul flights and any kind of trip that leaves you no time for R&R.
Know the facts, but don't overdo the reading
I was quick to find out that there is a lot of information and "opinion sharing" online about any and every stage of expecting a baby, but I didn't quite appreciate how unreliable and subjective most of that content would be. While Google is great to quickly look up a new and interesting symptom (I have "bloodshot eyes pregnancy" and "snottier than usual nose pregnancy" in my search history) it should not be relied upon to make an informed decision about whether or not you should travel to X destination. Instead ask your medical professional and maybe also consult one of the leading books about pregnancy (I found What To Expect When You're Expecting to be a great source of mostly sensible information - and I review the book in more detail here). Check with the airline, if applicable, that they're happy for you to travel at your stage in the pregnancy (and be aware that all airlines have different guidelines). Then maybe, if you're still not sure, ask a friend or family member with some experience of travelling while pregnant or knowledge about the place you're considering going. But that really should be it. Don't overdo the research because you'll only end up reading contrasting things and definitely don't over-analyse the what-ifs or nightmare scenarios. If you're not confident after speaking with your doctor, I recommend just not going. Stress or anxiety over a prolonged period of time is much more damaging to you and your baby than a 12 long-haul flight, in my opinion.
Listen to yourself
Speaking of stress, I nearly drove myself half-crazy trying to decide if I should snowboard when we went to Austria when I was about 12 weeks pregnant, and as per usual the online forums didn't really help by offering pages and pages of conflicting (borderline nasty) opinions on either side of the argument. In principle, as I didn't have any sickness or pains, I wanted to do it because I didn't know when I'd next have the opportunity, but I was also very anxious about the possibility of me falling or getting hit by someone else no matter how careful I was. I was also aware how much more prone to injury you are when pregnant because of the way your ligaments are loosening up. While I knew I wanted to go to the Alps regardless - I love the mountains - I wasn't actually sure whether I'd snowboard myself until I got there. I went up one afternoon with NewMan and within two hours I knew I didn't feel comfortable enough to continue. Others would have persevered maybe, tried it out for a little longer. Me, I had no problem whatsoever in getting off that mountain and sitting in the apartment with a cup of tea patting my almost non-existent baby bump feeling reassured I'd listened to my body rather than strangers' opinions.
On planes and trains, always get an aisle seat, if possible.
Because nobody goes to the toilet more than a pregnant woman, trust me.
You'd be amazed how even in your first trimester, carrying too much can quickly knacker a pregnant woman out. It must have something to do with your heart pumping an extra 50% blood around your body, so don't expect to be able to haul your carry-on case, plus laptop bag, plus camera, plus handbag around an airport as quickly as you usually do. You'll only end up breathless, dizzy and sweating profusely. Yes, I speak from experience.
Tell the airline/taxi driver/other transport provider that you're pregnant even if you think it's obvious
A few months before I got pregnant, I went to Lisbon on a girls' holiday and on my way to the airport to fly home I got in a taxi. It was one of those taxis, you know the ones where you genuinely don't know if you're going to make it out of the car still breathing and in one piece. He was a terrible, dangerous and aggressive driver. When I got back to Amsterdam I told my partner NewMan about it and I said that had I been pregnant I would have stopped the driver and got out. From then on I've pretty much told every driver of every taxi I've gotten into, even in Amsterdam, that I'm pregnant and as ridiculous as it may sound the majority have responded by driving safely and slowly. Likewise, when flying, I found the airlines were glad I told them I was pregnant (even though I thought at six and seven months it was pretty obvious!) and it even earned me extra bonuses like first choice of meals and extra water being brought to me. I also found that at six months pregnant if I didn't wear my "Baby on Board" badge in London I wouldn't get offered a seat on the Tubes and trains... but hey, that's London! Don't be afraid of telling people you're pregnant; you're not asking for special treatment, just a little extra consideration.
You don't have to go far to travel
Although I have gone on two long haul trips and three short haul holidays during my pregnancy, I would definitely recommend thinking small before you think big. My first trip during my pregnancy (at 7/8 weeks) was to South Africa - an eleven hour flight away -and this was less than an ideal way to see how well I would travel with extra baggage, but it was a trip we really, really wanted to do (it was for a friend's wedding) and I wouldn't have missed it for anything. I would definitely recommend seeing pregnancy as an opportunity to explore destinations more closer to home, or to even see your home town or city as a new place to explore.
Stay hydrated and fed
Number one reason I had a bad flight to South Africa: I didn't eat enough so as the plane came in to land my blood sugar dropped, my already bad travel sickness got even worse and I nearly threw up.
Number one reason I had a taxi journey from hell in Thailand (even though he was driving sensibly after NewMan mentioned I was expecting) was because I hadn't drunk enough water and I started to get a headache which wasn't at all helped by the ice cold air conditioning.
Take snacks and water with you wherever you go. Always. And don't let your boyfriend eat them all.
Don't read pregnancy books on holiday.
No matter how calming, how informative or how insightful a book on pregnancy can be, it's still a book on pregnancy. Give yourself a break for at least that one week! (Psst, plenty of book recommendations here!)
Indulge and enjoy your own company
Travel is one of my favourite ways to spend time on my own and I suspect a pregnant woman knows best how it feels to know that your time alone is running out. One of the positives of my not snowboarding during that trip to Austria was that I got to spend 6-7 hours by myself everyday. It was me, my writing, a couple of good books and long walks in the mountain air. I really treasured that opportunity to be by myself, something I wouldn't have done if I'd spent that week at home. I highly recommend you see travel as an opportunity to do that too.
Do you also have tips for travelling while pregnant? What trips have you been on while pregnant?
And if you'd like more specific tips for flying while pregnant, check out this article I wrote for Travelettes.
For more posts about pregnancy check out the words I think you should really say to a new mum-to-be, the songs I've been playing to my unborn child and how pregnancy has given me lots of anxiety, but also tools to deal with it.
Frances M. Thompson
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