Tips for Traveling During the First Trimester

Feb 3, 2015

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So you’re pregnant? Congrats! Now let’s talk traveling in the first trimester. It can range from “no big deal” to “I think I’m going to die from misery right now” as the symptoms in early pregnancy can range from person to person and day to day. A flight in your first trimester may end up being from virtually no different than any other flight you’ve taken, to feeling like you are flying with the worst nauseous hangover of your life.

Picky, Starving, Mommas Need to Travel with Snacks:

The first flight I took while pregnant this fall was before I think I actually knew I was pregnant.  I was on a mileage run to LA, and I really don’t like mileage runs to begin with, but I was feeling particularly dreadful about this same-day-turn.  We all know decent airline food is virtually non-existent in domestic coach, so I was super tired, kinda grumpy, and oh-my-god-so-hungry by the time we landed.  When I landed in LA it was still very much morning there, but I went on a mad search for real food.  Luckily, Counter Burger was open and serving up sweet potato fries and burgers.  Out of habit I went for the veggie burger, but I regretted that decision quickly when I was far from satisfied with ground up veggie mush and wanted real meat!  I survived clearly, but in retrospect, this was a good reminder that especially in the early stages of pregnancy, your normal travel rituals of just going a little hungry for a while, or making due with what’s around may not work well.

You need to travel with water and snacks, and if you are feeling particularly food sensitive, then research the food options at your destination ahead of time.  I had a whole week early on that I virtually lived on chicken noodle soup and another couple days where all I wanted were hush puppies.  I know how to obtain those items at home, but when you are on the road you will have to either do more research, or be more flexible.  And believe me, my stomach was not in a flexible mood for a while there…

Research and Make Choices about In-Flight Radiation and Other Risks:

I’m not a scientist, doctor, or expert on anything related to those fields, so I can only share what I do related to travel and radiation exposure and certainly not tell you want you should do beyond just encouraging research and informed decision making.  It’s possible many don’t think twice about this, and that’s cool, too, especially if you are only flying a handful of times.  Since I fly more than a couple of flights per year, I do give some thought to in-flight radiation exposure, especially during the early stages of pregnancy.

For pregnant flight attendants and pilots the FAA recommends a limit of 1 mSv during pregnancy, with no more than 0.5 mSv per month.  I don’t fly as much as an airline employee, but it doesn’t take much research to learn that the amount of radiation you (and your gestating baby) are exposed to in the air varies dramatically from route to route.  The highest are typically going to be your longer, higher altitude polar routes.  I do have one Europe trip planned during my second trimester where they may take a polar route, but you would not find me personally mileage running back and forth on polar or long-haul routes while pregnant.

I do obviously still fly and generally just live life mostly like normal while pregnant, but I don’t book unnecessary or extra trips (mileage runs were before I knew I was pregnant).  While I’ll save these exact details for another post, there are also places I will not travel to while pregnant, especially in the later stages of pregnancy when access to advanced medical care can have a direct impact on whether an infant delivered early has a good shot at survival or not.  Again, everyone will have to make their own risk assessment and decisions about those sort of issues for themselves (in consult with their healthcare provider), but for me, 9 months is a blip on the radar of my traveling life, so I’m okay adjusting my behaviors somewhat during that time out of an abundance of caution.  However, I don’t adjust to the point of never leaving my house.  We still go places, we just give it some thought before hitting the skies.

Tips for Flying in the First Trimester:

When you do hit the skies early on, I recommend choosing a seat where you will be the most comfortable, likely an aisle seat so you can access the restroom easily if you need to.  I also recommend getting up a little more than normal to walk around and stretch your legs.  As mentioned you also really need to carry your own snacks and be sure to stay hydrated!

Room Service to the Rescue

A little later on in the first trimester I went on a trip with my daughter and parents to New York City to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and I was met with another challenge.  I was no longer living on chicken noodle soup and hush puppies, but I was very much in the portion of the first trimester where you need food immediately upon waking in the morning or you are going to get queasy.  Since I was staying in a hotel room with just my daughter, this meant room service to the rescue.  I also had granola bars and fruit on hand, but that was not enough to really do the trick some of those mornings.

If you are in the trenches of dealing with queasiness or morning sickness while pregnant, don’t beat yourself up over doing what you need to do to feel okay.  My room service breakfast at the Park Hyatt was covered by my Diamond benefits, but the room service at the St. Regis wasn’t covered by anything except my wallet.  We ordered as conservatively as we could, and it did the trick until we could get ourselves dressed and out of the door.  Had my husband been there, he could have gone in search of a warm bagel and juice, but since he wasn’t on this trip, we had to improvise.

No One is Going to Feel Sorry for You

Whether right or wrong, once you are further along in your pregnancy and you actually look pregnant, you will sometimes get a little sympathy or at least empathy while traveling.  Strangers may offer to help with your bag and people may have more patience with you if you aren’t feeling 100% or are moving more slowly.  However, in the first trimester nobody can tell you are pregnant, and no one is going to feel sorry for you.  If you act queasy on the plane, you will pretty much be treated like you have Ebola, and any other issue or ailment you have will pretty much not interest anyone.

There are times in the first trimester that felt like the worst hangover ever, and flying in that state is not fun.  I’ve flown back from Cancun after taking way too much advantage of the all-inclusive bar, and this can feel pretty much like the same thing on a bad day.  This means you need to take care of yourself, don’t over-do it, and know when to say enough is enough.  You may be used to very busy travel days, but find yourself needing a nap during your first trimester, and that’s okay.  Listen to your body and adjust accordingly.  I didn’t have to cancel or postpone any travel plans in the first trimester with either of my little ones, but if you had a particularly bad time with some of the symptoms, I could see that happening.

If you are having a rough time early on and have some trips coming up, I would talk to your doctor and see if there are some approved meds or techniques that may make the symptoms more manageable.  Otherwise, load up on the snacks, crackers, etc. and hope for the best!

It Gets Better

Since most of us don’t know exactly when we will get pregnant, it is quite possible you will have travel planned in the first trimester before you ever know a little one is on the way.  However, once you do know you are pregnant, I would advise against adding extra trips in the first trimester until you know your symptoms.  Unless you have some medical issues, your doctor will probably give you the green light to travel in early pregnancy, but feeling extra tired, nauseous, and queasy doesn’t always make for the perfect travel experience.  The good news is that for most people it gets much better in the second trimester, so stay tuned for those tips!

What was your experience traveling in the first trimester, and what tips do you have for other traveling mommas?

Featured image by Aneese / Getty Images

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