Traveling while pregnant has its ups and downs. Some will swear that it depends on the trimester; however, I disagree. In fact, I’ve had ups and downs on trips during all three trimesters.
The first trimester: On the train headed to Nice.
I’ve traveled during the first trimester (Paris, Beauchamps)…
I was pregnant when this picture was taken and I didn’t even know it.
…during the first-second trimester (Stockholm, Copenhagen, Amsterdam)…
The first trimester: Freezing in Stockholm.
The second trimester: Trying not to fall into the canal in Amsterdam.
…and during the third trimester (Beauchamps, the U.S.).
The third trimester: Lunch at Cracker Barrel in the U.S.
When I decided to travel while pregnant, I was full of questions: How will the amniotic fluid react on the plane? Will I experience nausée and throw up in front of everyone? Will flying affect the baby negatively? Is it even safe to fly while pregnant? The questions go on and on. I ended up consulting my Dr. (to make sure that I had the “ok” to fly) and researching “flying while pregnant” just to see what other pregnant women had experienced. It’s easy to fall into the ‘worry wort’ trap when pregnant because, after all, we’re building a life inside of us. So, in hopes of easing others with similar concerns as myself, here’s my travel experience split up into trimesters:
Travel During the First Trimester
The rule of thumb for traveling during the first trimester is simple: If you experience a ton of nausée, don’t get on that avion, or airplane. Chances are that you’ll have the nausée throughout the whole trip and, honnêtement, traveling while nauseous is not fun. However, if you know how to combat your nausée and/or your nausée doesn’t affect you 100% of the time, then I suggest you hop on that avion and make the best of vacationing before the little one arrives.
Paris: My first trip while pregnant, though I didn’t know I was pregnant at the time.
I experienced some nausée during the first trimester, but I knew that as long as I had some water and a heating pad, I could combat it. So, I made sure to have those two things and voila! I ended up having a wonderful trip!
Stockholm was freezing but fun!
Not everything was all rainbows and butterflies; however. There was a moment in Stockholm when we returned to the appartement and I couldn’t do anything but lay in bed with the heating pad. This worked out perfectly, though, because it was already late at night, so, it didn’t impede on our travel plans. Also, it started after our arrival at the appartement. It turned out that I ate too much, so, once the food finished digesting, I was myself again.
Who knew that an entire bowl of soup and two grilled cheese sandwiches would be too much to eat at once?
One thing that I was slightly worried about was how my body would react on the avion.
On the flight from Nice to Stockholm.
During the first trimester, I felt the movement of little bubbles as the plane ascended and descended. Maybe this was the fetus starting to move around; maybe this was the amniotic fluid…whatever it was, it was weird. It was nothing to be concerned about, but it was definitely a sensation I had never felt before. Aside from that, I felt no other bizarre sensations.
5 Common fears of flying during the first trimester (with vrai and faux to hopefully lessen the fears)*:
- The screening machines will cause harm to the fetus. Faux. Apparently, these machines use a “low-frequency magnetic field,” not radiation, to detect weapons. In fact, even when the security notices you’re pregnant, they congratulate you and urge you on through the machine.
- Cabin pressure and altitude changes will make morning sickness worse. Vrai. Cabin pressure and altitude changes can dehydrate the body (add throwing up to the mix and you’re even more dehydrated). So, it’s important to drink plenty of water during the flight. Usually, this nausée levels off once the body gets used to the change. Also, the cabin pressure is known to reduce a very small amount in the oxygen levels, so, this can cause a slight increase in blood pressure and heart rate. Normalement, this doesn’t pose any problems in healthy pregnant women. I have normal blood pressure and I didn’t notice any changes in my blood pressure nor in my heart rate. Also, my mild nausée wasn’t affected by these changes either.
- The pressure will cause the placenta to detach from the uterus. Faux. I took a total of 4 flights during the second trimester and the placenta did not detach itself nor did it seem like it would.
- The radiation from the sun will harm the fetus. Faux. First of all, there’s the protection from the Earth’s atmosphere – even in areas where the atmosphere is thin, there is no risque of harmful radiation exposure. Second, commercial flights are not the same as flying in a rocket. So, really (and fortunately), the chances of radiation harming the fetus are pretty much nil (unless you are a frequent flyer).
- Flying, in general, will 100% negatively affect the fetus. Faux. First of all, if this were vrai, there would be a lot more babies born with disabilities and/or a lot more miscarriages. Flying does not increase the risque for miscarriage. In fact, miscarriages are common during the first trimester: There is a 22% miscarriage rate during the first trimester (whether or not you fly). By avoiding the avion, you do not lessen the miscarriage risque . Second, if this were vrai, ‘flying while pregnant’ would most likely end up on the list of things that pregnant women should avoid. Normalement, flying is not on this list. In fact, at each OB-GYN rendez-vous, my gynécologue mentioned several times that my baby is in perfect, healthy condition. She also ‘proved’ this perfect-ness by explaining the ultrasounds.
Travel During the Second Trimester
The rule of thumb when traveling during the second trimester is important: Make sure to have an aisle seat. This goes for any of the three trimesters; however, during the second trimester, I found that having an aisle seat on the train and on the avion meant that I had more leg room and an easier time going to the toilettes. Having an aisle seat also made it easier to move around, which was important because I ended up walking around every 2 hours for about 15 minutes. It would have been such a hassle to make people move every 2 hours just so that I could walk around.
When I began my research on whether or not traveling while pregnant was a good idea, I discovered that most people recommend traveling during the second trimester. I couldn’t help but wonder: Pourquoi?, or Why? Normalement, during the second trimester, nausée has passed and some energy has returned. Plus, there’s no threat that the baby can come any minute (like there can be during the third trimester). However, if you don’t experience much nausée during the first trimester, then travel during both the first and the second trimesters is perfectly enjoyable.
Enjoying the canals in Amsterdam.
I traveled at the start of the second trimester and at the end of the second trimester. Travel at the beginning was similar to travel during the first trimester. In fact, I started out traveling during the end of the first trimester and then I returned from my travels during the beginning of the second. On the return flight back to France, I felt the same bizarre bubbly sensation on the avion as I experienced during the first trimester. Aside from that, I felt nothing different until I traveled at the end of the second trimester.
Aside from lack of sleep (and some turbulence), the flight from Paris to Chicago went smoothly.
Travel at the end of the second trimester was interesting. I no longer felt any bubbly sensation, instead when I put my hand on my belly, it was hot! This was so strange. I have yet to find a scientific explanation for this sensation. Perhaps, this was my body making sure that the baby stayed nice and warm during the cold flight… Whatever it was, it was “normal” (according to my gynécologue). Aside from that, I didn’t experience any other weird sensations.
5 Common fears of flying during the second trimester (with vrai and faux to hopefully lessen the fears)*:
- The pressure and altitude will change the fetus’ normal movements. Faux. During the 4 flights I took, I didn’t notice any change in fetal movements. Honnêtement, being on the plane did not change the baby’s movements at all; however, her movements changed as I entered a time zone that was 7 hours in advance. Obviously, if the baby moves at 9:00pm every night, that’s going to change with the time difference (9pm in Chicago is 4am in France). There’s often a raison the baby moves at specific times of the day. For example, the mother’s sleep and eating habits dictate a large part of the baby’s movements. I’ve discovered that the baby moves more when I’m relaxed and/or sleeping (according to mon chéri) than when I’m doing housework.
- Flying will give my unborn child cancer. Faux. If this were vrai, there would be a lot more babies born with cancer. The risque of radiation poisoning is so slim that Doctors and OB-GYNs don’t even question whether or not a healthy pregnant woman can fly during the second trimester.
- I will end up with a blood clot (DVT-Deep Vein Thrombosis) from sitting too long. Faux-ish. There’s no “guarantee” that you’ll end up with a blood clot; however, the risque for developing blood clots during long flights (flights over 4 hours long) is increased for everyone, not just for pregnant women. Though, pregnant women should take more precautions when flying because the weight of the fetus puts more pressure on the veins. This added pressure can prevent the blood from properly circulating in the legs thus increasing the risque for clots. So, wearing compression tights on long flights is recommended for pregnant women. I bought some compression tights from the pharmacie since I knew I would be flying during both the second and third trimesters. They aren’t cheap (about 40€), but they help with blood circulation, so, for me, this justified the cost. Also, the pharmacienne took all of my measurements – compression tights really only work if they are perfectly fitted to your size. Not everyone who’s a size medium has the same size calf and ankle, for example. Even with this added clotting risque, the probability of ending up with a blood clot from a long flight is slim, so, don’t let this slight risque of clotting talk you out of traveling. As long as you wear the compression tights and walk around/stretch your legs for about 15 minutes every hour or two, you should be fine, though here’s a list of signs and symptoms just so that you know what to look for. I was on one 8 hour flight and I did not develop any blood clots; however, I wore compression tights and I stretched my legs every 2 hours.
- I will have a miscarriage. Faux. Normalement, the risque for miscarriage drops to about 5% after 12 weeks of gestation and then it drops even further – to 3% – during the second trimester. As long as you’re having a normal pregnancy, traveling on an avion will not increase the miscarriage risque. I was on 4 flights during the second trimester and I did not have a miscarriage.
- Airline meals will harm the baby. Faux. Normalement, the airline food will not harm the baby. At worst, it will make you gaseous (cheese and beans can expand in your stomach thus giving you gas), which has nothing to do with the baby. At best, it will give you and your baby nutrients. When choosing an airline meal, keep in mind: protéine, fibre, complex carbohydrates, and vitamines. After all, you want something that is full of nutrients as this will give you energy, which is necessary when traveling, and it’s good for the baby.
Travel During the Third Trimester
The rule of thumb when traveling during the third trimester is more important than sitting in an aisle seat: Be sure to have that Dr.’s note. Picture this: You started your vacation during the second trimester. Your return flight was set during the third trimester. The last thing you need is to be stranded in a foreign country because you never got that note from the OB-GYN for the return flight. Normalement, travel during month 7 is completely fine; however, once month 8th hits, most airlines require a Dr.’s note.
Enjoying a nice pause at the zoo!
I started my trip to the U.S. to visit family and friends at the end of the second trimester; however, I knew I would be returning to France during the third trimester. So, I made sure to get a note from my gynécologue. I had the “OK” to fly up until 33 weeks.
At the aéroport for the return trip: 3 generations saying, “A bientôt.”
5 Common fears of flying during the third trimester (with vrai and faux to hopefully lessen the fears)*:
- I will have the baby at 40,000+ feet. Faux. The risque for preterm labor brought on by the stress of flying is low; however, it is advisable to have a Dr.’s note that explains that you pose no flight risque. Especially since most airline companies require a note that says that you are ‘ok to fly until X date’ for travel after the 8th month. I had my gynécologue write a note like this; however, the airline company never asked for it. At one point, I mentioned that I was pregnant and that just sprouted a lovely conversation with the flight attendant about his wife and kids. Éventuellement, he mentioned that this type of note is good to have in case of an emergency on the avion. So, while it was good to have ‘just in case’, I didn’t really need it.
- The seat-belt will squish the baby and/or will be too small for my belly. Faux. The seat-belt will not harm the baby. In fact, the seat-belt should be strapped just under the belly, so, it should fit perfectly fine and it shouldn’t bother the baby at all. I didn’t have any issues with the seat-belt not fitting.
- The flight will be inconfortable for me and for the baby. Vrai. If the flight is longer than 4 hours, it will most likely not be very confortable. Of course, this depends on the class section. From my experience in economy class, the flight was fine for the first 4 hours. After that, I was restless because it was hard finding the right position. I walked around and stretched every so often, but even that didn’t make a normal economy seat feel like a fluffy cloud. I ended up sitting on my pillow and putting a second pillow at the lower part of my back. The pillows seemed to make the rest of the flight bearable. In addition to pillows, wearing loose, confortable clothing helps make the flight more enjoyable. I ended up forgoing the bras and opting for a loose tunic top with stretchy shorts.
- I will suffer from diarrhée on the avion. From my experience, this one is faux; however, during the third trimester, I did not travel to any “new” countries. I traveled to and from the US/France, so, I experienced food and water that my body was already used to. Thus, the food and water on the flight did not give me diarrhée and I did not experience any problems with food and water consumed in the US and in France. Diarrhée is not a pleasant thing to have, especially on a flight; however, if you take proper precautions, you can avoid it or at least minimize the risque of getting it. Even if you must travel to a country where you’ve never been, you can avoid diarrhée if you make sure your food is thoroughly cooked and you drink water from thoroughly sealed (and not-tampered with) bottles (or, if you’re That worried, you can boil the water before you drink it).
- The cabin pressure and change in altitude will make me dehydrated and will make my heartburn worse. Vrai and faux. Cabin pressure is known to be very drying; however, drinking plenty of water during the flight will help combat this issue. The cabin pressure does not affect heartburn; however, the food on the plane can make your heartburn worse. If you know what triggers your heartburn, then I suggest you avoid eating those types of foods. I did not have any issues with heartburn on the avion; however, I made sure to go easy on the cheese, lay off the beans, cabbage, spicy foods, and spinach, and drink only water.
Honnêtement, as previously mentioned, there are positives and negatives for traveling during each trimester. I love traveling, so, I wasn’t about to let a little nausée prevent me from exploring the world. However, I still listened to my body – when I felt tired, I took a pause; when I was hungry, I ate, etc… I took things slow; however, I still made the most of my trips. If there’s anything to take away from this post, it’s this: Listen to your body. Your body will tell you when you need to sit down for a bit, take a nap, or eat something. Honnêtement, you’ll know when you’ve over done it because you’re body will let you know – whether it’s in the form of leg cramps, pain in the feet, etc… So, just take it a little slower than normal and enjoy the trip. During a normal, healthy pregnancy, flying does not pose any risques, so, get on that avion! ♦
*These lists are geared towards pregnant women who are not frequent fliers and who are otherwise in a healthy condition to fly as deemed by a Dr.
This is part of a series on my pregnancy in France. You can follow my pregnancy and gain helpful insight on what pregnancy is like in France by reading these blogs:
For more insight on what raising a bilingual baby is like in France, check out these posts: