Travel During Pregnancy
Frequently Asked Questions Expand All
In most cases, pregnant women can travel safely until close to their due dates. But travel may not be recommended for women who have pregnancy complications. If you are planning a trip, talk with your obstetrician–gynecologist (ob-gyn) or other health care professional. And no matter how you choose to travel, think ahead about your comfort and safety.
Before making any plans to travel while coronavirus (COVID-19) is spreading, talk with your ob-gyn or other health care professional. Together you can talk about whether your travel is essential or could be avoided. If it is essential that you travel, together you can make a plan to help you minimize risk.
For more information, visit the COVID-19 travel website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html. You also can read about COVID-19 and pregnancy at www.acog.org/COVID-pregnancy.
The best time to travel is mid-pregnancy (14 to 28 weeks). During these weeks, your energy has returned, morning sickness is improved or gone, and you are still able to get around easily. After 28 weeks, it may be harder to move around or sit for a long time.
Yes, you should have a prenatal check-up before you leave. At this visit, your ob-gyn or other health care professional can confirm your due date. You also may talk about whether you are up-to-date on vaccinations and symptoms to watch for while traveling.
If something goes wrong while you are away, your caregivers will need to know how far along you are and any other important information about your pregnancy. If you’ll be going far from home, take a copy of your health record with you.
Your ob-gyn or other health care professional may want to double-check that your vaccines are up to date, even if you reviewed them at an earlier prenatal visit. Also, you may need additional vaccines depending on where you are going.
Some symptoms could signal a health problem. Go to a hospital or call emergency medical services right away if you have any of the following:
- Vaginal bleeding
- Pelvic or abdominal pain or contractions
- Rupture of the membranes (your “water breaks”)
- Signs and symptoms of preeclampsia (headache that will not go away, seeing spots or other changes in eyesight, swelling of the face or hands)
- Severe vomiting or diarrhea
- Signs of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) (see Preventing Deep Vein Thrombosis)
DVT is a condition in which a blood clot forms in the veins, usually in the leg. DVT can lead to a dangerous condition called pulmonary embolism. This is when a blood clot travels to the lungs. Research shows that any type of travel lasting 4 hours or more—whether by car, train, bus, or plane—doubles the risk of DVT. Being pregnant is an extra risk factor for DVT.
If you are planning a long trip, take the following steps to reduce your risk of DVT:
- Drink lots of fluids without caffeine.
- Wear loose-fitting clothing.
- Walk and stretch at regular intervals.
- Special stockings that compress the legs, either below the knee or full length, also can be worn to help prevent blood clots from forming. Talk with your ob-gyn or other health care professional before you try these stockings. Some people should not wear them (for example, those with diabetes mellitus and other circulation problems). Also, compression stockings can increase the risk of DVT if they are too tight or worn incorrectly.
When taking a car trip, keep in mind the shortest route is often the best. Make each day’s drive as brief as possible. You also can follow these tips:
- Wear your seat belt at all times. The belt should sit low on your hip bones, below your belly.
- Plan to make frequent stops. Use these stops to move around and stretch your legs.
- Wear comfortable shoes and clothing that is not too tight.
- Wear a few layers of light clothing that can easily be added or removed.
- Eat regular meals to boost your energy.
- Drink extra fluids. Take water with you. You may need to pee more often—don’t hold it too long.
See Car Safety for Pregnant Women, Babies, and Children for more advice.
For healthy pregnant women, occasional air travel is almost always safe. Most airlines allow pregnant women to fly domestically until about 36 weeks of pregnancy. Your ob-gyn or other health care professional can provide proof of your due date if you need it. If you are planning an international flight, the cut-off for traveling may be earlier. Check with your airline.
Avoid flying if you have a medical or pregnancy condition that may be made worse by flying or could require emergency medical care. Keep in mind that most common pregnancy emergencies usually happen in the first and third trimesters.
Yes. Lower air pressure during a flight may slightly reduce the amount of oxygen in your blood, but your body will adjust. Radiation exposure increases at higher altitudes, but the level of exposure isn’t a concern for pregnant women. If you are a frequent flier, talk with your ob-gyn or other health care professional about how much flying is safe for you.
- Book an aisle seat if you can. This will make it easier to get up and stretch your legs during a long flight.
- Avoid gas-producing carbonated drinks before or during your flight. Gas expands at high altitude and can cause discomfort. Drink water instead.
- Wear your seat belt at all times. Turbulence can happen without warning during air travel. The belt should sit low on your hip bones, below your belly.
- Move your feet, toes, and legs often. Get up and walk around a few times during your flight.
One of the most common health problems for people taking a cruise is seasickness (also called motion sickness). Seasickness can cause nausea, dizziness, weakness, headache, and vomiting. If you have never taken a cruise, planning your first one while you are pregnant may not be a good idea. But if seasickness usually is not a problem for you, traveling by sea during pregnancy may not upset your stomach.
- Plan to wash your hands often with soap and water. Pack hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol for those times when you won’t be near a sink.
- Before you leave, ask your ob-gyn about which medications are safe for you to take to calm seasickness, if needed.
- Make sure a doctor or nurse is on the ship and that your scheduled stops are places with modern medical facilities in case you need medical attention.
Infection on cruise ships is a concern for everyone, not just pregnant women. You may have heard about noroviruses, which affect the digestive system. Noroviruses are very contagious and can spread quickly on ships. Symptoms include cramping, diarrhea, and vomiting. People can get infected by eating food, drinking liquids, or touching surfaces that are contaminated with the virus. If you have symptoms of norovirus while on a cruise, seek medical care right away.
Before you book a cruise, you can check whether your ship has passed a health and safety inspection conducted by CDC. The CDC performs periodic inspections of cruise ships to prevent widespread virus outbreaks. You can read these reports on the CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program website (see www.cdc.gov/nceh/vsp).
Visit your ob-gyn or other health care professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before a trip outside the United States. During this visit, you can go over your travel plans, get advice about specific health issues, and get any vaccines that are recommended for the area you will be visiting.
This also gives you time to call your health insurance. You should ask if you are covered outside the United States. If not, you may be able to buy travel health insurance.
Be prepared to carry a copy of your health record with you outside the country. Also, before leaving home, locate the nearest hospital or medical clinic in the place you are visiting.
Travelers in developing countries can get sick if they eat raw or undercooked food or drink local water. Serious illnesses, such as hepatitis A and listeriosis, also can be spread by contaminated food and water. These diseases can cause severe complications for a pregnant woman and her fetus. When traveling in developing countries, the best way to avoid illness from food or water is to follow these tips:
- Boil tap water for 1 minute before drinking it. Carbonated drinks are safe.
- Do not put ice made from unboiled water in your drinks.
- Do not drink out of glasses that may have been washed in unboiled water.
- Brush your teeth with bottled water.
- Avoid fresh fruits and vegetables unless they have been cooked or you have peeled them yourself.;
- Do not eat raw or undercooked meat or fish.
- Do not consume milk or foods made with milk that has not been pasteurized.
The CDC has health notices and travel recommendations by country on its Travelers’ Health website (wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel).
Zika virus was first found in Central, North, and South America, but now there are cases of Zika virus infection throughout the world. The virus can spread to humans:
- Through a bite by an infected mosquito
- From a pregnant woman to her fetus during pregnancy or birth
- During sex
Zika virus infection generally causes no symptoms. When it does cause symptoms, they may be mild and include fever, rash, joint pain, and red and itchy eyes.
Babies born to women infected with Zika virus are at risk of serious birth defects, including microcephaly. Microcephaly can lead to lifelong problems, such as seizures, feeding problems, hearing loss, vision problems, and learning difficulties.
There is no vaccine to prevent Zika virus infection and there is no treatment. You can reduce your chance of becoming infected if you cannot avoid areas where Zika virus is spreading by:
- Wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants to help protect against mosquitoes.
- Treating clothing and gear with permethrin or buy items that are treated with permethrin.
- Using EPA-registered bug spray with DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or para-menthane-diol. Used as directed, these sprays are safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
Also, use a condom every time you have sex if your male partner lives in or travels to areas where Zika virus is spreading.
Malaria is another serious disease carried by mosquitoes. Symptoms include fever, chills, headache, and nausea and vomiting. While you are pregnant, you should not travel to areas where there is risk of malaria, including Africa, Asia, and Central and South America. If travel to these areas cannot be avoided, your ob-gyn or other health care professional may prescribe an antimalarial drug that is safe for pregnant women.
Even if you are in good health before going on a trip, you never know when an emergency will come up. If you are traveling in the United States, locate the nearest hospital or medical clinic in the place you are visiting. You also may want to check whether they accept your health insurance.
The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT) has a worldwide directory of doctors who provide health care for travelers. You must be a member to view the directory of doctors, but membership is free. See www.iamat.org.
After you arrive at your destination, you also can register with an American embassy or consulate. This may help if you need to leave the country because of an emergency.
Complications: Diseases or conditions that happen as a result of another disease or condition. An example is pneumonia that occurs as a result of the flu. A complication also can occur as a result of a condition, such as pregnancy. An example of a pregnancy complication is preterm labor.
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT): A condition in which a blood clot forms in veins in the leg or other areas of the body.
Diabetes Mellitus: A condition in which the levels of sugar in the blood are too high.
Fetus: The stage of human development beyond 8 completed weeks after fertilization.
Hepatitis A: An infection caused by a virus that can be spread by contaminated food or water.
Listeriosis: A type of illness you can get from bacteria found in unpasteurized milk, hot dogs, luncheon meats, and smoked seafood.
Malaria: A disease caused by a parasite that is spread through mosquito bites.
Microcephaly: A birth defect in which a baby’s head and brain are smaller than normal. Babies with microcephaly may have seizures, developmental delays, mental disability, vision and hearing problems, and problems with balance and movement.
Obstetrician–Gynecologist (Ob-Gyn): A doctor with special training and education in women’s health.
Oxygen: An element that we breathe in to sustain life.
Preeclampsia: A disorder that can occur during pregnancy or after childbirth in which there is high blood pressure and other signs of organ injury. These signs include an abnormal amount of protein in the urine, a low number of platelets, abnormal kidney or liver function, pain over the upper abdomen, fluid in the lungs, or a severe headache or changes in vision.
Prelabor Rupture of Membranes (PROM): Rupture of the amniotic membranes that happens before labor begins. Also called premature rupture of membranes.
Preterm: Less than 37 weeks of pregnancy.
Radiation: A type of energy that is transmitted in the form of rays, waves, or particles.
Trimesters: The 3-month periods of time in pregnancy. They are referred to as first, second, or third.
Zika: A disease caused by the Zika virus, which is spread through mosquito bites.
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Published: August 2020
Last reviewed: August 2020
Copyright 2020 by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Read copyright and permissions information.
This information is designed as an educational aid to patients and sets forth current information and opinions related to women’s health. It is not intended as a statement of the standard of care, nor does it comprise all proper treatments or methods of care. It is not a substitute for a treating clinician’s independent professional judgment. Read ACOG’s complete disclaimer.
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