Friday, March 30, 2012

Flying while pregnant

A recent story in my local paper was the stuff of which travel-nightmares are made: Australian couple faces $726,000 bill for baby born early in Vancouver. To quote the article,
The baby, born at 26 weeks, needed 90 days of neo-natal care, which resulted in a bill of $707,000. It cost another $19,000 for the labour and delivery of the baby, the hospital confirmed Monday.
The couple took out travel insurance and extra coverage for Evans’ pregnancy but didn’t realize the policy would not cover the birth of the baby.
There are so many frightening aspects of this story: going into labor when you're in an airport, at 26 weeks; caring for a premature baby in the hospital for 90 days (my son was preemie and in hospital for 1 1/2 weeks and that was bad enough); and of course that huge bill.

Once your baby is born, you'll be facing a new set of problems on board!
I never traveled by plane when I was pregnant. Part of the reason was just chance: my husband and I just didn't have any trips planned, and once I got pregnant, we chose to not travel for the next 9 months. Plenty of women however do fly while pregnant, whether it's for work or holidays or just to get from point A to point B.

Before you travel
Most physicians agree that it is perfectly safe for a healthy woman with a normal pregnancy to travel by plane. However, there are some things you should think about when booking and planning your trip:
  • Check with your airline what their policies are. Many airlines have no restrictions on travel by pregnant women until they're in the 35th week. After that, you may still be able to fly, but you might require a doctor's note. Some airlines will require a doctor's note as early as the 28th week of pregnancy. Mention that you are pregnant when booking your ticket to make sure there will be no issues on the day of travel.
  • Make sure you have the right insurance coverage. This is especially crucial if you're traveling abroad. And as the news story about the Australian couple demonstrates, you might need coverage for things you definitely did not plan on happening.
  • The second trimester might be the best bet for travel. According to what I've read online from various sources (including the Mayo Clinic), the second trimester is considered the safest time for air-travel: the risk of miscarriage is lower than in the first trimester, and the risk of premature labour is less than in the third trimester.
  • Talk to your health-care provider before traveling. This is a good idea even if you've had an uneventful and healthy pregnancy. They might also be able to give you tips and information that can help make your trip better.
  • Look into what kind of health-care is available at your destination. Even if you don't go into labor while away, you might still need medical attention. For example, going to a remote village with no doctors for miles around might not be advisable!

On-board the plane
Traveling by plane, especially in economy class, isn't always that comfortable even when you're not pregnant. However, there are some things you can do on board to make your trip less taxing on the body.
  • Move around during the flight. This helps with circulation and helps avoid muscle tension as well. If you're like me during pregnancy, you'll probably be visiting the bathroom frequently, so that helps get you up and about! Do some on-board exercises while sitting down as well: maybe even some airplane yoga.
  • Get more leg-room. If you can upgrade to a seat with more space, then that's an option. Otherwise you can always request an aisle-seat: this gives you a little more space to move, and also makes it easier to get in and out of your seat.
  • Drink lots of fluids. This is important for everyone traveling by plane, but even more so if you're pregnant. You can usually bring your own water bottle on board if you buy it (or fill it) after going through security.
  • Be extra vigilant about hygiene, food and drink. Most women are automatically a lot more cautious about what they eat and drink while pregnant so this is a no-brainer. I'd also recommend bringing a good supply of hand-sanitizer and anti-bacterial wipes, just to reduce the risk of catching something on-board.
  • Order a special meal. If you have certain dietary restrictions, or if you're experiencing some strong food-likes or dislikes during your pregnancy, it might be a good idea to see if your airline offers special meals that appeal to you more than the regular selection. On long flights, some airlines will offer vegetarian meals, meals for diabetics, low-sodium meals, and so on.
  • Make yourself as comfortable as possible. Wear your most comfortable clothes and shoes that don't pinch or squeeze you anywhere. Bring a neck pillow, maybe some travel slippers, and some favorite snacks to nibble on.

You can find more information about traveling while pregnant at these sites:

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