I'll carry your backpack; you carry the baby
April 22, 2011 8:13 AM   Subscribe

Long-term travel during pregnancy. Should we go? And where?

My new wife and I will both not be working from June until October, and were planning on backpacking around for a few months. The initial sketch of our trip was hiking the Alps in Switzerland and doing Kilimanjaro/safari in Tanzania, then spending a few months backpacking around in Turkey, Bali, and China.

However, surprise (!), she's pregnant, and while we are very happy, it looks like we will have to postpone some of the more adventurous parts of our travel plans. She's about nine weeks along now, so our time off will correspond to roughly weeks eighteen to thirty-two, smack in the second trimester. I've read that of the nine months, this is the most optimal time to travel-- which is fantastic-- but am a bit lost on what a good long-term itinerary would be with a bun in the oven. We don't want to overextend ourselves, but it would be a bummer to stay home entirely while we have all this free time sans baby.

We're both ~26, based in NYC, of good health, adventurous and fairly well-traveled now, and fortunate enough to be fairly generous in our budget (so nicer places are OK, although we're not the type to be cooped up in a resort for a week). My wife holds a Taiwanese passport so we are also considering spending a month or so in Taiwan where she has access to health care, and staying with her dad there, who's also a doctor and presumably has lots of doctor connections. Taiwan will be hot & stuffy in the summertime though, and I'm not sure how she'll hold up.

We'd rather not spend too much time in the mainland U.S., although we haven't been to Seattle/Vancouver nor Hawaii, so one idea we had was heading to Taiwan for the bulk of our time and buffering it with two weeks in Hawaii and two weeks in Seattle/Vancouver on the ends. This would help reduce flight times from New York too. We still would be up for exploring Switzerland, maybe even adding Germany or places in France to the picture. My wife speaks Mandarin, and we'd love to do China outside of Beijing/Shanghai too, but access to reliable health care might be tricky. Presumably we'd have to buy some maternity clothes along the way wherever we go, as well?

Any advice from seasoned travelers, especially with the pregnancy angle? Thanks in advance!
posted by gushn to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Air travel, while minimally risky, is likely to be very uncomfortable. I did a 13-hour trip in coach from NYC to Fairbanks, AK, at 5.5 months pregnant, and it was misery. (There were multiple stopovers, and the longest leg was 7 hours. I am pregnant again, and have already cancelled a second-trimester trip to Singapore and Australia for exactly this reason.) If you can swing business or first class, this may be less of an issue, but be forewarned that economy-class air travel can mean suffering for two. I will certainly never do that again.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:20 AM on April 22, 2011


I'm a seasoned traveler, and my wife is pregnant (24 weeks currently), but I have never combined the two. I'd imagine that you're going to have to go at a much slower pace than you would if she wasn't pregnant. Travel wears you out, and pregnancy wears you out even more. If I were you, I'd spend longer amounts of time in less places. Pick somewhere cool and park yourself there for a few weeks before moving on.

Also consider that most pregnant women in the western world visit the doctor once a month for check ups, with that getting more and more frequent as you get closer to the birth of your kid. You also are not supposed to fly after, say, 34 weeks, but our doctor told us not after 30. So figure that in as well.
posted by nitsuj at 8:21 AM on April 22, 2011

I think adventurous travel is totally within reason while pregnant and you're probably right to scale back some of the challenges. However, as nitsuj notes, while it's not required, thereare quite a few medical appointments that are suggested for pregnant women during the time you'd be away and having a consistent provider for the visits would be preferable. Again, they're not necessary but there are also scans and screenings and various tests that are recommended as well. Also, it is entirely possible, though not likely, that her pregnancy could require her to be restricted to some form of bedrest if there are any complications. If it were me, and things got complicated with my pregnancy, I'd want to be home ASAP. Is there any way you can do the travel in chunks, say a week or two at a time, using your home as a base?
posted by otherwordlyglow at 8:34 AM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I really like otherwordlyglow's idea about doing week-long trips with a week or a few days at home between. That way, your wife can keep her OB appointments, and you can use the downtime to start start preparing the nursery, stuff like that.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:38 AM on April 22, 2011

You may struggle to get adequate travel insurance for long trips if she's pregnant. Just another thing to consider.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:29 AM on April 22, 2011

As for air travel, one of my best friends flew to Europe from Seattle at 36 weeks pregnant, and delivered her baby two weeks later. She was uncomfortable but OK; she had to do a lot of edema management (walking around &C) on the plane.

The consistency of prenatal appointments is a big deal. The "standard" schedule in the US is that they want to see you to confirm pregnancy, at 14 weeks or so (this is the time when they do the NT ultrasound and genetic counseling, at 18 weeks, at 20-22 weeks for the Level II ultrasound, at 24 weeks, at 28 weeks for the glucose tolerance / gestational diabetes test, at 32 & 34 weeks, at 36 weeks (with a possible ultrasound for growth and positioning), 37, 38, 39, and 40 weeks. There are those who argue that this schedule is unnecessarily dense, but for a first pregnancy that's pretty standard. Twins or any high-risk anything will mean more appointments. You really, REALLY want all of those to be with the same clinic or practice.

Talk to your OB or midwife about what they think is an appropriate appointment schedule, and buy travel insurance in case circumstances change while you're away. And then go have a good time!
posted by KathrynT at 9:44 AM on April 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

Does it matter to you if your child is born in the U.S.? Because if not, that opens your options a lot.
posted by cyndigo at 9:53 AM on April 22, 2011

Yes, we'd like our child to be born in the US.

Thanks for the replies so far everyone. =) My wife left for work but I'll read through them with her when she gets home.
posted by gushn at 10:03 AM on April 22, 2011

I'd consider the quite real possibility of complications arising during your trip which will leave your wife grounded and unable to travel home. In addition some airlines have their own restrictions and won't transport women after a certain week, thus mundane delays might also leave you grounded.

You might also want to consider the impact her pregnancy will have on travel vaccinations and malaria prophylaxis which you might need, depending on destination.

In addition common health problems such as traveller's diarrhea (plaguing an est. 30-50% of travellers to Bali for example) might give a greater cause for concern if pregnant.
posted by abx1-se at 10:22 AM on April 22, 2011

I follow a travel blog called Almost Fearless about a family traveling and working remotely (they're in India now with a one-year old). She had the baby in the U.S. but traveled some while pregnant. I saw a post about hiking in Belize while pregnant so some activity is probably doable. Maybe you can find some advice if you look through the archives.
posted by Bunglegirl at 11:08 AM on April 22, 2011

I think that it will be challenging for you to travel and get the regular check ups and testing that is required during pregnancy.

And if she isn't feeling well, that might be tougher to deal with while traveling.

I spent the majority of my pregnancy in a "developing" country, but my American doc had given me specific tests and things to have done while I was there AND I had an English speaking doctor that had come recommended by multiple American/Canadian friends.
posted by k8t at 11:20 AM on April 22, 2011

Of course, we won't be traveling to Africa, Indonesia, or anywhere necessitating additional vaccinations.
posted by gushn at 11:24 AM on April 22, 2011

One thing to consider is how you'll both cope if something does go wrong. I began to miscarry at 18 weeks after a previously perfectly normal, healthy pregnancy while on an international flight on my way home from a fairly vigorous and long work trip overseas. It was a terrible, frightening experience and a year later, I still can't help but wonder if the outcome would have been different if I hadn't been overly ambitious about keeping my pre-pregnancy travel plans and, more importantly, if I hadn't been stuck on a plane for 6 hours waiting to land before getting to the hospital. YYMV of course, but good, and quick, access to medical care is not something to take lightly.
posted by mmmcmmm at 11:27 AM on April 22, 2011

I have some experience hiking in the Swiss Alps (hut-to-hut) and was in pretty good shape after six weeks of European hiking and walking. However, I don't have a lot of experience with grueling hikes in general. For me and my husband, this was the most challenging hiking we've ever done. Those alps, they are big. You are at altitude. We weren't carrying a ton of stuff as we had reservations at the alpine huts which provided food and even a sack lunch to take with us. But you need to, of course, carry water. It rained on us the entire hike in and was fairly miserable. However, in retrospect, we decided that a warm, summer day would have been worse as there was no shade anywhere once you are above the treeline.

Having just been pregnant, here's what I'd say about that -- you need to think about water and rest. I'll assume you two are in much better shape than I and want that adventure. If I were to set out while pregnant, I'd bring a pair of walking sticks, adequate water plus a filter and alternate plans. We hiked in to a hut first night, hiked to another hut second night and hiked out on the third day. If I were pregnant, I would stay two nights in one spot and do a bit of day hiking/wandering instead of continuing on.

I was fairly fit at the start of my pregnancy and got surprised by bouts of extreme tiredness. You are supposed to drink a ton of water and that seems like it could pose some difficulty where either the water isn't very safe or where you would need to carry or find it. Later on in my pregnancy, my balance was a bit wonky. Although, I did tiptoe across a creek on a log when I was about six months in.

However, what everyone says about pregnancy being different for everyone is true. Lots of things people told me that was true for them wasn't for me and vice-versa.

Since you are so healthy and well-traveled, I think you should go for it but really think through each stage and think about exits and changes of plans. The worry about being pregnant in a risky situation isn't that different from just being in a risky situation on your lonesome. But, the effects of pregnancy may or many not contribute to the risk (dehydration, nausea, exhaustion, hunger) and you might not want to take those risks at this time. I'd scale your ambitions down by about half and intersperse high activity with things that are more relaxing. Like, for every intense day, take 1.5 - 2 off. Stay in a location for a longer period of time so that you can be flexible. But, enjoy it. She's not fragile like an egg but, it's hard work making a baby and hiking for two is tougher than hiking for one.
posted by amanda at 11:42 AM on April 25, 2011

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