Tips for Traveling During the Third Trimester of Pregnancy

Jul 9, 2015

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Pregnancy isn’t an illness or disease, it is for many families just a normal and natural 9-10 month phase of life that women go through before a new baby joins the family.  Assuming things are going well, it is not a time when you have to cancel all travel and stay confined to your home and your doctor’s office for the better part of a year.  However, once the third trimester rolls around, travel can get a little more complicated than in the previous two trimesters. Of course every pregnancy is different, talk to your doctor, etc.

Just like I did for the first trimester and second trimester I want to offer some tips for traveling during the third trimester.  I also have some advice for planning trips if you are hoping to become pregnant in the relatively near future in case that applies to your family’s current situation.

The Beginning and End of the Third Trimester Are Quite Different:

Just like there are a lot of changes that happen during the second trimester, this is perhaps even more true of the third trimester.  You enter the third trimester about 28 weeks pregnant and end it with a newborn.  This means that types of travel that are possible at 27 and 28 weeks pregnant may be very un-advisable, or even prohibited, at 37 and 38 weeks pregnant.

Do a Travel Risk Assessment

Just like towards the end of the second trimester, a very personal and important decision to make during the third trimester is where you are and are not comfortable traveling in terms of available medical care.  Many consider unborn fetuses to be “viable” beginning around 24 weeks, so by the time you reach the third trimester at around 28 weeks, babies generally speaking have around a 80-90% chance of survival if born at that gestation if (and only if) advanced medical care is available.

Personally, I also draw my own line for travel at 24 weeks when talking about destinations that don’t have the same level of advanced medical care as the United States, and for flights of a duration or flight path that could hinder prompt access to advanced medical care if I happened to unexpectedly go into labor, but obviously you need to make that risk assessment for yourself.  A baby born premature at any point in the third trimester would have a very good shot of survival, but for at least the first half of the trimester you would need prompt access to medical care to make sure their chances remained very good.  Also take into account that if your baby was born early in the third trimester they would likely have a NICU stay of at least several weeks, so you would need to stay put wherever you delivered.

Wherever you do decide to travel in the third trimester, become at least generally familiar with the medical care in that area, as well as how to access emergency services if needed.

Select Destinations and Activities Carefully

In the final months of pregnancy some activities are probably going to be more comfortable and enjoyable than others.  For example, roller coasters, bungee jumping, scuba diving, horseback rides, strenuous hiking or climbing, and skiing are probably off the fun or permitted list, but swimming and spa time may very well be pretty high on the list.

For those reasons, I personally give strong preference to visiting beach and resort destinations in the final trimester.  Trust me when I say that few activities are as comfortable in the third trimester as floating in the water!  We went to The Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona, when I was about 31 weeks pregnant and even with my big belly it was the perfect mix of spa, swimming, and also fun activities for our five year old.

Travel in the Third Trimester

You Are Going to Get Uncomfortable

Maybe this isn’t universal and there are some magical creatures out there who never get uncomfortable during their pregnancy, but every mom I know eventually hit a point in their pregnancy when they just aren’t comfortable any more.  For many, this means that sitting for extended periods of time in a small airline seat, standing in long lines, or trekking around in the heat exploring a city all day eventually become pretty miserable activities.

No one can tell you when you will hit that point that things become uncomfortable, but it will likely happen in the third trimester.  For me, my back started giving me a bunch of trouble at around 30-31 weeks, and I was incredibly grateful that was about the same time as our last flights of this pregnancy.

The fun of travel simply wasn’t worth the pain of sitting and being uncomfortable at that point, so we shifted our focus to adventures that were much closer to home for the final weeks of the pregnancy.

If you are going to fly further into your third trimester and have the ability to secure a more comfortable seat up front, or at least one with extra legroom so you can stretch out, it may well be a pretty good investment in your comfort.  I also brought a tennis ball with me when I flew that I used to give myself a bit of a “back massage” against the airplane seat in the third trimester.

Bring Your Own Pillows

Another thing that happens for many in the third trimester is that sleep becomes a challenge, and a pillow fort of sorts becomes a necessity at night to get some good shut-eye.  I drew a diagram of my own pillow fort (shown below) for a friend who was having trouble getting comfortable in the third trimester.  Yours may not be as involved as mine, but at the very least many pregnant moms find that they use some sort of special body pillow or pillow arrangement to keep their belly supported and comfortable at night.  You can’t assume that the hotel you visit will have similar pillows, so bring your own if they become essential to good rest as you get into your third trimester.  I had no shame in hauling my pillow fort with me on our last road trip at 8 months pregnant!

See If You are Allowed to Fly

Even if your doctor okays it (and of course check with them), many airlines have rules about women in the third trimester flying that you need to be aware of as it may impact when, where, and how you are allowed to fly.  I dedicated a post to Airline Rules for Traveling While Pregnant that I encourage you to read, but very generally speaking most US airlines don’t have many flight restrictions until the last month of pregnancy, but many international airlines do have restrictions and documentation requirements beginning at 28 weeks.  If you are pregnant with more than one baby, the restrictions kick in even earlier (as do many of the tips in this post).

Pack Snacks, Drinks, and Keep Moving

While you are still traveling during the third trimester, you want to be sure to take extra care of yourself.  You never know when there may be a delay, or you will otherwise find yourself in an area that doesn’t have food or beverages that will work for you, so pack your own healthy snacks and water.  It is also even more important than normal to be sure and stay hydrated on flights and get up and move around at least every hour or two to help prevent circulation problems.  Having an aisle seat, preferably with extra legroom, will help with getting up frequently and stretching out.

Check Your Health Insurance Policy

If you aren’t already familiar with what you medical insurance will cover when you travel, it is essential to brush up on those facts if you travel during the third trimester. Look at in-network and out-of-network benefits as well as the procedures for medical emergencies in other countries.  Most likely, if you do have coverage in other countries through your own health insurance you will still be on the hook to pay the medical facility you visit up front and then submit for reimbursement, so plan accordingly.

Also be sure to check and see what your own health insurance coverage provides if you deliver at another facility later into your pregnancy.  I have had an insurance plan in the past that specifically did not cover out-of-network deliveries after 36 weeks, so that is certainly something you would want to be aware of before venturing away from home late in pregnancy.

Consider Travel Insurance

Travel insurance can be helpful if you are traveling while pregnant, but you are going to have to really read the fine print of the plan you are interested in to determine what might be covered and whether it is covered if you knew you were pregnant when you purchased the plan.  Typically a normal pregnancy or normal delivery itself would not be covered, but if there unexpected complications with the pregnancy then related trip cancellation or trip interruptions coverages may kick in on certain plans.

Decide When to Stop Traveling

I’m all for travel while pregnant, but realistically most women will want to stop traveling at some point in the third trimester and stick closer to home.  Not only does it get uncomfortable, but most women have a medical caregiver and birth plan/location selected that probably don’t involve just giving birth on the side of the road, on an airplane, or in the woods somewhere.

Obviously when you decide to stop traveling is up to you (and your medical team), but I would imagine by about 36 or 37 weeks most women will probably decide to stay closer to home.  I personally went on a road trip about 3 hours from home at 35 weeks and then called it quits for the rest of the pregnancy.

During this pregnancy I went on 12 trips, 28 flights, visited 4 countries, and I’m very glad I had the opportunity to stay that active.  I’m also very glad that I grounded myself from flight after 31 weeks and from road trips at 35 weeks because those were the right decisions for my comfort level.  Right now at 39 weeks pregnant the only bag I am packing is my overnight bag for the hospital where I will get to meet our second little traveler and begin a lifetime of traveling with her in the very near future.

So, stay tuned for infant related travel posts including a story about how I recently purchased her first airline ticket before she was born!

Did you travel during your third trimester?  If so, I’d love to hear your tips or answer any questions that I can!

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