A 6.5 month preggo flying 18 hours to Turkey – yea/nay?
July 29, 2011 2:36 PM   Subscribe

I love traveling, but is taking an overseas trip to Istanbul at 6.5 months pregnant ill-advised?

My husband has an opportunity to head to Istanbul for several days early this fall – his airfare will be paid. Exciting! So he had the super-fun idea to extend his stay another week, get a ticket for me, and have a bit of an adventure together in Istanbul (he has old friends there who may be able to show us around some and get us off the beaten tourist path), or alternately meeting up with me somewhere in Greece. Basically, it's a chance for us to have an exciting trip at 50% off the usual airfare.

I would be in the 27th week of my first pregnancy at that time. So far everything has been free of complications. Travel is really important to me (planning on another trip to Iceland with the new family next year), but I am also generally a very cautious person... the latter, of course, is what brings me here.

1. 18-hour flight (he will be on a business class ticket but economy is what's in my/our price range). Pregnancy-wise, I wonder how much of a factor edema and general discomfort would be.
2. Despite being a lover of travel, I have an intense flying phobia. Obviously Xanax (my usual security blanket, even if I don't take it) is not an option in any way whatsoever.
3. If a pregnancy-related medical complication arose, I'm not sure how I would best handle it.
4. Would I need a fresh round of vaccinations? Most of my travel has been focused in Western Europe and Scandinavia, and I never bothered before. The last time I had shots was probably 15+ years ago.
5. Jet lag added into the general mix of pregnancy tiredness.

1. Taking advantage of a great vacation opportunity at a seriously discounted price!
2. Seeing someplace new and someday being able to tell the kiddo about his first vacation!
3. My husband and I are extremely close (best of friends), and I feel incredibly sad thinking about missing out on a new adventure with him – he said the same earlier today.

So really the overall question is: would you advise going or staying, given the above? Any additional factors worth considering? Thanks, everyone!
posted by allisonrae to Travel & Transportation around Turkey (27 answers total)
Talk to your care provider.

You can find out info. about recommended vaccinations for travel to various places on the state department website.

But also, note that a lot of airlines frown upon women flying that far along in pregnancy. I mean, women fly for a lot of reasons that far along in pregnancy, but a lot of airlines don't like it. You'll probably need to be cleared by your care provider and have a note stating such before you'd be able to board the plane.

That said, I think primarily it's your choice to make once you have your care provider's professional opinion on the matter. Some people feel great and up for anything at that point in pregnancy. Others are starting to feel slowed down and groggy. I would imagine how you're feeling in the weeks before would play apart in your decision to go or not. So, keep it on the table as a possibility for sure.
posted by zizzle at 2:54 PM on July 29, 2011

I would really talk to your OB and look at the airline's policy. They might not allow you to fly that far along, or require a doctor's clearance.

My general thought is that 27 weeks is a time when the quality and immediate availability of medical care is a game changer in terms of survival and quality of life for a pre-term infant. For that reason, I would personally be very hesitant.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:55 PM on July 29, 2011 [6 favorites]

I think the general cutoff for international air travel is 7 months, so you're under the limit but pushing up against it. In my pregnancy, 27/28 weeks was when I transitioned from the Golden Age of feeling great to being increasingly uncomfortable. I think you can't predict how tired you'll be, how ready to be off your feet, what particular aches and pains you've got in which positions. You also might not be as up for a lot of walking and sightseeing. And number 3 is a very important one to consider.

Personally, I'd decline this trip but plan something more local and more low-key with your husband for before the baby comes. And look forward to Iceland with the new bebe next year!
posted by handful of rain at 2:55 PM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Will your husband be in business and you in economy, but on the same flight? I'd be really surprised if the FAs didn't let you switch after take-off, particularly if your husband asks charmingly. If business is not full, they might just bring you up and you'd both be there.

I wouldn't worry about vaccinations, it's not like you're going to a remote rural area.

Good luck if you decide to make the trip!
posted by cyndigo at 2:55 PM on July 29, 2011

What does the doctor say? Listen to her.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:00 PM on July 29, 2011

I flew from Armenia to the west coast at about that pregnant.

I'd first check to see if you could fly at that time on whatever airlines.

And, of course, you need to be okay with the remote possibility/risks you're taking.

For me, just for a vacation, I wouldn't do it.
posted by k8t at 3:04 PM on July 29, 2011

I was just going to suggest what funding wrote- I just flew on a flight where my boyfriend got upgraded and I did not and, although the gate folks wouldn't upgrade me (I was flying on miles), they did offer to let us switch seats. So, if you're on the same flight and he's chivalrous, that at least might give you some additional room/comfort.
posted by charmedimsure at 3:07 PM on July 29, 2011

Thanks to all for your advice so far. Just to clarify, we wouldn't be on the same flights, as appealing as switching seats sounds! I definitely will be asking my midwife about this very soon – the opportunity just came up this afternoon. And if I end up doing it (far from certain at this point), I'll be sure to post an update as to how brutal (or not) the travel aspects were.
posted by allisonrae at 3:16 PM on July 29, 2011

Realistically, at 27 weeks the travel wouldn't have been horrible (except maybe using the bathroom), but I wouldn't have had much fun on the vacation because walking and standing for long periods of time were uncomfortable and I was really into napping. I would have found it depressing and frustrating to be so close to new cool stuff and not really be able to explore. I also hate it when my partner wants to do something active and I have to say no because then his choice is to leave me alone or sit around and do nothing. If he were to miss out on something special or exciting I would feel bad about it, but sitting in a hotel room alone sounds really crappy, too.

So, something else to think about.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:35 PM on July 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

A lot of airlines frown on travel at that time. You should check trip cancellation insurance, too - you could end up with all sorts of minor inconveniences that prevent travel at that point. You might also consider how your emotions may be up and down at that point and that some upsets may feel really upsetting. Also, if anything went wrong, would you be okay with being in a country where you don't speak the language, know how the system works, and have to deal with an insurance provider long distance to get everything coordinated? If something went wrong, would this upset you long term (even if the outcome were the same in your home country?) and would you want that sort of stress at that point in your pregnancy? Those are some questions it would make sense to consider.
posted by acoutu at 3:39 PM on July 29, 2011

I just flew internationally on a 5 hour flight at 24 weeks. What I didn't realize was that pregnancy and plane travel can exacerbate underlying issues. I have lower back pain that is normally pretty managable but combine that with hours of sitting and swelling due to air pressure and it was excruciating. I was literally having to shift positions in my seat every 2 minutes. Being trapped in a middle seat made getting up to walk around regularly extra annoying.

On top of that, in Australia anyway, after 24 weeks it's tricky getting pregnancy covered by international travel insurance and there's no way I'll take the risk and fly without it, so I just had my last overseas trip pre-baby.

I also can't see me voluntarily taking anything longer than a short flight again, unless it's for a funeral or something. It wasn't fun. In your position, talk to your doctor. If everything's progressing nicely, you may be just fine. I can understand wanting to travel now as going with a baby will be an enjoyable but completely different experience.
posted by Jubey at 3:42 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Istanbul is a really cool place, but pretty much all of the cool things are on top of big hills. I came back from 10 days in Istanbul more knackered than when I arrived, and with aching feet. Personally, I wouldn't travel there while pregnant, and my flight is only four hours.

Congratulations on your upcoming bundle of joy!
posted by ukdanae at 3:48 PM on July 29, 2011

Once you got there, you'd have to be there -- regardless of where you're at mood- or health-wise. Trekking around in off-the-beaten path locations? Imagine yourself instead laying around your hotel room because you don't feel well, all the while dreading a repeat of your non-Xanaxed plane ride when you return home.
posted by hermitosis at 3:52 PM on July 29, 2011

PS - that Armenia - LA flight, without a doubt, caused my pregnancy hemmeroids that never really went away.
posted by k8t at 3:55 PM on July 29, 2011

I'm 24 weeks now, and I don't think I would. I agree 100% with all of young rope rider's points. I've had a pretty great pregnancy so far, but I flew (just an hour!) a week or so ago, and the waiting and standing made me so cranky and miserable, I can't imagine what 18 hours of sitting still would have been like. For me, the last couple of weeks has really been when I've popped out and my balance has started to shift and really change how my body feels (and I've only gained 4lbs). You know yourself better than I know you, and while I'm adventurous I'm also a complainer, but for me right now a trip like that would sound so good and then wind up not being fun at all, especially if I was going somewhere hot. Ugh.

I also agree with YRR about preterm survival, it's rare, sure, but 27 weeks is just about when babies with great medical care usually survive and grow up with few problems, and I suspect that's not true when the care isn't prompt or best practice. Maybe the care you'd get in Istanbul is fantastic, but it would still not be your usual doctor etc.

So for this healthy late 2nd trimester lady it would have to be a no, although I'd feel sick and disappointed about it, and wonder if I should have pushed myself more! I'm really at the point where I want to want to do all the things I used to be into, but really I'd rather take a nap and then clean out a closet! As everything, YMMV.
posted by crabintheocean at 3:56 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I heard all that 'airline cut-off' stuff, flew internationally at 36 weeks; found that Delta (I'm pretty sure Delta?) did not care at all about my pregnancy, and it was great to get a vacation in. For what that's worth. I was very interested in swimming and eating at that point, and travel is nice for those two. How modern are Istanbul's hospitals? How last-minute can you make the arrangements -- lots of replies here from mums with difficult pregnancies, but, I can't really think of anything pregnancy prevented me from doing except having a normal sense of balance.
posted by kmennie at 3:57 PM on July 29, 2011

Istanbul doesn't require shots. It is a convenient and lovely city to walk around. It's not a scary mess like Ankara. Its old city, its tourist center, is like the historical center of other European cities.

The flight is what would concern me, and your fairly advanced pregnancy. Honestly I probably wouldn't do it. Edema is a real concern, hemorrhoids, back pain, all those things, and when you're pregnant you can't just medicate those things away. 18 hours is unpleasant even for non-pregnant, non-phobic people. For you I can't imagine it'd be worth it.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:23 PM on July 29, 2011

Yes, also, you have no idea how your body will do with all the changes and some people end up with nausea and so on as things go further along. You might feel more comfortable at home. (I know I did.)
posted by acoutu at 4:30 PM on July 29, 2011

I can't comment on flying, but Istanbul really does have great medical care. Sure, there are some shady little clinics in shady areas, but in my experience of living there for 2 years is that in the nicer areas of town, doctors speak English, facilities are pristine, and costs are very reasonable. This list might help you out.

However, like someone else mentioned above, much of Istanbul is walking. To see almost anything, you'll be walking up and down narrow, winding streets, with bumpy walkways. Tram/taxi service will talk you most of the way, but there is still a lot of required walking to see the mosques, churches, or any of the underground locations. If you just want to "experience" Istanbul, there are plenty of gorgeous cafes and restaurants along the Bosphorus that would be lovely to sit in all day, though.
posted by hasna at 5:59 PM on July 29, 2011

I'm 27 weeks, 5 days and currently on vacation a 5-hour flight from home. I really want to say, "go for it!" But sadly, I can't.

This is really tricky because it could be one of those things that could be no biggie, or it could be an awful disaster.

I have been largely lucky in terms of swelling, but I think that's luck. Pregnancies and pregnant ladies are all different, and uncomfortableness sneaks up on you at this stage. For example, I developed pubic symphasis disfunction a couple of weeks ago and had to spend a weekend on the couch. It was outta nowhere, and it was a huge bummer. Two weeks before, there's no way anyone could have predicted it would happen, much less two months in advance. There are other, lots more serious conditions that van come on suddenly too.

Also, since my baby crossed the viability threshhold, I have been aware of it in a way I would not have predicted. (For example, I had a conversation with my husband about what our plan was if I went into early labor on this trip.) Being on a plane ride that was any longer would have made me really nervous.

On the other hand, my doctor was totally cool with this level of travel, and the airline could not have cared less. I am obviously pregnant, even to strangers. (The cutoff is generally 34 weeks for international travel and 36 weeks for domestic.)

So, in other words, at this exact moment in my generally healthy and fortunate pregnancy, no, I would not go to Istanbul.
posted by purpleclover at 6:31 PM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

What's the worst that could happen?

Is the hoped for pleasure worth it?

Istanbul ain't going anywhere.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:53 PM on July 29, 2011

Another concern that I don't think was raised was the risk of blood clots. It's a big concern, especially on a long flight and since a lot of pregnant women are pre-disposed to edema, etc. I would think the risk of a blood clot would be higher.

As an aside, I flew to Asia (I wasn't pregnant) on a flight about that long and by the time I got there, my butt was so sore from not moving! I can't imagine that pregnant! If Istanbul was like 2 hours away, I'd say go for it, but I don't think an 18 hour flight seems like a super awesome idea.
posted by fresh-rn at 7:24 PM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

My sister spent three weeks in Thailand at 30 weeks, flying there from Scotland. She loved the trip. Istanbul is a much easier place to get around than Thailand.

Get expert advice from your health care provider. If you're comfortable with their advice, go. You'll love it.

I spent a week in Istanbul in May. It's lovely. There's lots of walking to do. Transit is mediocre, but it's safe, and the food is good.
posted by thenormshow at 7:44 PM on July 29, 2011

At 5.5 months, I traveled to Fairbanks, AK from New York City - 13 hours, with multiple layovers. It was much more uncomfortable than I expected. Of course, I was in economy on smaller planes; if you can get Business Class accomodations, I would consider it.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:02 AM on July 30, 2011

As someone who started miscarrying on long, international flight at 18 weeks with a previously healthy, totally normal and easy pregnancy -- which may or may not have been as a result of an infection I picked up while traveling -- I'd have to say that there is no potential fun trip that is worth that kind of heartbreak, stress and terror. I know many other women who feel fine taking far greater risks and never encounter any problems during pregnancy, but it's easy to justify taking such risks when you are in the statistical majority where everything ends up working out fine in the end. Truly the odds of this kind of worst case scenario happening to you are reassuringly small -- you're far more likely to simply be bothered by all the small stuff mentioned above -- but the deep regret I feel over my choice to take that unnecessary risk that ended up costing my pregnancy is something that I have to live with forever.
posted by mmmcmmm at 7:48 AM on July 30, 2011

Thanks again to everyone for taking the time to respond. We read over the responses last night at dinner and had plenty to talk about. We both agreed that it is really unfortunate timing, because even if the opportunity had come along several months earlier or later, it'd be a much easier decision.

The next step will be mentioning it to my midwife and getting her input on the matter... then we'll decide. After reading all your comments, the biggest factors are definitely the plane flight discomfort as well as the unlikely but real "if anything goes wrong" scenario (@mmmcmmm I am so, so sorry that happened to you).

Because the trip is related to work, my husband will be going either way... so I'll post another update once I've made a firm decision.
posted by allisonrae at 3:18 PM on July 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

I recently traveled overseas with my 5 month old infant. 14 hours of travel to Germany with a four hour car ride. The baby did pretty good. Great, in fact, but damn were we wiped out. Plus, the time change!

Thinking back on 6 mo pregnant, it was just starting to get awkward and more tiring to lug myself around. I ran a tour around that time - lots of foot time and talking to people. I was wiped the entire next day and really needed my feet up.

I would also have been tempted by this trip but I'd also look at what the money you would spend on going would buy you locally or after baby arrives. $1000 ticket plus meals and accomodations can buy a really lovely, romantic pampering trip close to home or the down payment on a new family car or a getaway after baby arrives.

If you do decide to go, make sure your tix are refundable. Good luck in your pregnancy!
posted by amanda at 8:46 AM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

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