Professional Conference While Very Pregnant?
January 20, 2017 12:32 AM   Subscribe

There's a professional conference I attended most years, but wasn't planning on going to this summer because I'll be 35, almost 36 weeks pregnant at the time. Now there's a chance for me to present at the conference, which would be great professionally, and I just want to be sure I'm thinking this through before turning it down. This is my first pregnancy so I don't have anything to compare it to.

The conference location is far enough away that I would need to fly - it'd be about 4 hours of flight time, including one layover and plane change. I haven't gotten a chance to see what my Ob/Gyn's general policy is, but from what I've read 35 weeks is on the edge for air travel, and I'd need to get the okay from them and probably a note for the airline the week of travel. Right now everything with my pregnancy is normal, but I'm only 13 weeks in.

I worry about spending the money registering and booking flights and hotels, but also committing to presenting as part of a panel and then not being able to make it. What's realistic here?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I had two kids, both after the age of 35, and I don't believe I would have had any problems traveling or presenting at a conference during the last few weeks of either pregnancy.

However, I did not know that when I was 13 weeks pregnant with either child. And I wouldn't have made any assumptions about how I would feel at the end of the second pregnancy, based solely on how I felt at the end of the first. In short, I don't think there is a good answer regarding what's realistic for you.

Re the conference related expenses: if I were in your place, I would hold off making any commitments to the last possible moment and pay extra for refundable tickets and reservations. Remember, you're essentially "buying" an important professional experience here. So, you have to decide if the potential benefits of attending outweigh the possible loss of travel/conferences expenses if you cannot attend when the time comes.

I understand it's a difficult decision. Best wishes re the pregnancy and your career.
posted by she's not there at 2:22 AM on January 20, 2017 [5 favorites]

I agree with she's not there - I felt fine at 34 weeks and was teaching dance and still moving very nimbly. I am also a facilitator and presenter and had no problems doing so at this stage of pregnancy. However, I had an emergency c-section due to unexpected complications about 3 days after I hit 34 weeks!

I think it's too hard to make a plan now. You also have no idea how you'll feel waddling around in long cumbersome lines at the airport and the discomfort you may be in if flights are delayed etc. I wouldn't have liked to fly at 34 weeks (I flew 22 times during my pregnancy but stopped at 27 weeks).
posted by shazzam! at 2:33 AM on January 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

I would absolutely sign up to present at the conference if it were in my home city but I would absolutely not want to do a 4 hour flight at that level of pregnant. I could barely sit on a regular chair for that long at that stage.
posted by bimbam at 3:30 AM on January 20, 2017 [8 favorites]

Make the plans, but tell everyone involved that you will be very pregnant by then*. No one but the very worst sort of asshole will begrudge a 36-week pregnant person who changes their mind.

* -- Or as soon as you start telling people, if you're not telling people yet.
posted by Etrigan at 3:30 AM on January 20, 2017

For the most part I was pretty spry in the last few weeks, just a little slower and achier than usual. On the other hand, I had some pretty gnarly carsickness around then, and I had to stay home from at least one party because I turned to queasy crap five minutes into the ride there. I probably would have been fine presenting at a conference, but I would have had an unpleasant time getting there.

Like she's not there says, I could not have predicted any of that at 13 weeks. You could be running 5Ks or on medically-ordered bed rest by then, or anywhere in between. There's no way to tell.

Talk to them about if/when/how you can back out if needed. I wouldn't feel comfortable committing to something like this if I didn't feel equally comfortable canceling.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:01 AM on January 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

I believe 36 weeks is generally considered the cutoff for flying. I didn't deliver until 42 weeks but I would not have wanted to fly for 4 hours at 36 weeks.
posted by notjustthefish at 4:03 AM on January 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

The flight is the only thing that gives me pause.... A four hour flight with a layover and change at 35 weeks would have been AWFUL for me....YMMV.....and my pregnancies were both pretty easy. But I was staying at home. Talk to your Dr.
posted by pearlybob at 4:38 AM on January 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I thought I remember hearing that you shouldn't fly in the third trimester at all. Either that, or my wife made up an excuse to not go on vacation with me last fall.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:41 AM on January 20, 2017

Your doctor will probably not approve a flight at that gestation and the airline may not let you on board even if you are a week earlier than their stated cut-off. Too much liability.

My first pregnancy I was declared high risk at 21 weeks and allowed to travel up until 28 weeks - and sure enough, I gave birth at 25 weeks in a major emergency situation. My second pregnancy I was not allowed to travel after 20 weeks; by 34 weeks a 45-minute car ride was unpleasant and no way would I have wanted to fly anywhere.

I would plan to skip this year's conference.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 4:48 AM on January 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

I used to travel a lot for work and personally chose not to fly while pregnant. I didn't want to be far away from my doctor/husband if (god forbid) anything happened. Also know that walking a lot near the end of your pregnancy is one of the old wives tricks of inducing labor. I did 6 hours on my feet going grocery shopping/running errands and went into labor that night, so I am a bit of a believer (although I was 39 weeks pregnant).

I would skip it this year and ask for a rain check for next year.
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 5:09 AM on January 20, 2017

I felt fine (ish) at 13 weeks but by 34 I felt basically constantly horrible. I absolutely couldn't have done a 4-hour flight (it was extremely uncomfortable to sit on my 20 minute subway ride to work), and I was so ridiculously tired all the time. Some people are fine (ish) that late in pregnancy, but you can't count on it.

And then it's a risk tolerance thing - if something bad happens or you go into labor, how OK would you be in dealing with it at the conference location? I had to be hospitalized overnight at 36 weeks. It would not be incredibly abnormal to have your baby at 35/36 weeks, even if everything is fine before that, and then you're in the hospital for (at least) days and have to get you and a newborn home.

Your risk tolerance may be greater than mine, but there is no way in hell I would do this.
posted by brainmouse at 5:33 AM on January 20, 2017

So listen. I'm pretty much the biggest "pregnant women can do anything goddamn it" person there is. I flew and exercised and had the occasional glass of wine and worked full-time when I was pregnant. I don't think it's a disability. However. I still wouldn't go. That's close enough to delivery that it's a very real possibility, and delivering far from home would SUCK even for an easy, uncomplicated delivery. Maybe see if they'd be open to a telepresence presentation?...
posted by julthumbscrew at 5:36 AM on January 20, 2017 [8 favorites]

Can you arrange to be part of the panel via Skype or a web conference or something, so you don't have to attend in person, but can still get the recognition?
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:49 AM on January 20, 2017 [3 favorites]


Even just considering it from a "good for my career" angle, I wouldn't do it. Other people's anecdata aside, pregnancy is a crapshoot and babies get born when they are ready to be born. If one of a million potential not-bad-but-travel-restrictive things happen, you go from being seen as rockstar pregnant professional to being seen as that mom who had to cancel.

This year, enjoy your pregnancy and your work. Next year, enjoy your new baby and your work travel.
posted by headnsouth at 6:25 AM on January 20, 2017 [6 favorites]

I had a two-week-old baby at that point in my first pregnancy and my baby was barely considered preterm. Best case scenario: the trip goes off without a hitch. Expected scenario: trip goes off and your are generally miserable and hating life at that point in your pregnancy. Totally possible scenario: you deliver a baby--with or without complications requiring an extended hospital stay for one or both of you--a four-hour flight away from home. I wouldn't do it.
posted by whitewall at 6:52 AM on January 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

OP (and any of you who are interested) - memail if you'd like to join the FB group of Metafilter parents (existing, expecting, trying).
posted by sestaaak at 6:55 AM on January 20, 2017 [4 favorites]

I declined travel plans that would have had me flying at 35 weeks. At 35 weeks 5 days I was in the hospital with preterm labor, and my son was born at 38 weeks.

If it were me, with the benefit of experience, I would skip this years conference.
posted by annathea at 7:35 AM on January 20, 2017

See what your doctor says - mine nixed travel at that stage.

Also another data point - I'm a fairly outdoorsy, spry, slim, walking-around-town kind of gal - and at 35 weeks I could not walk (too fat), had terrible edema in my legs and couldn't sit for more than ten minutes (was in a lot of pain...from being too fat). I would not have predicted that at 13 weeks...

Another data point.
posted by Toddles at 8:40 AM on January 20, 2017

Even though I was not uncomfortably large of stomach, and I didn't have too much leg swelling, and I worked full time up until labor, I can tell you that riding in a car for more than a half hour was intolerable to me by 35 weeks. I can't fathom 4 hours in an airplane, with the cramped seats and sharing of space, and needing to pee constantly, and God forbid, all the times the pilot has to put on the seatbelt sign for safety and you are not allowed to get up.
posted by Knowyournuts at 8:47 AM on January 20, 2017

My OB asks that all of her patients remain with one hour of her clinic from weeks 36 on, and she would DEFINITELY be against the idea of flying anywhere at that point. Your doc may be different, but that last month of pregnancy can be unpredictable as to how you'll feel, your energy levels, etc. With my last pregnancy, I had some sciatic nerve problems, and having to walk through an airport or sit for any length of time would have been so uncomfortable. If it were me, I would stay home and rest up for baby, and enjoy the conference next year.
posted by I_love_the_rain at 9:07 AM on January 20, 2017

Seconding Skype it in. The technology we have today makes it so much easier to do this kind of thing. Approach the conference organizers about the the technologies that will be available. Remote attendance at meetings and conferences is happening more and more.
posted by mareli at 10:40 AM on January 20, 2017

Welcome to the fun world of parental decision-making.

My anecdata: My kids were born at 38, 36, and 34 weeks -- the last after being on bedrest since 25 weeks. Except for that one, I was perky right up until the end -- with my middle child I was walking around Home Depot 3 hours before he was born. (He had a 'precipitous delivery.') My sister's first baby had her on hospital bedrest at 25 weeks. And yes, we were both premature ourselves; I was crazy early and not expected to survive, in fact. So your family history might be one thing to look at but also - these things happen. I think the rate for first babies is somewhere around 5% which might look really small or really big depending on your risk tolerance.

So with that bias on the the conference location in a city with a great hospital that takes your insurance? How would you feel delivering there alone with a baby who might need some additional hospital time? (at 34 weeks my son was technically 'near-term,' not premature, and came home fine...but we had also had steroid shots.)

How would you feel if you had to cancel last-minute? I agree with the previous poster who said that you could go from rockstar pregnant person to that mom who had to cancel.

Basically I come down in the pool of "Skype or decline."

What will probably happen is you will feel fine, deliver after 39 weeks, and feel a bit silly. With kids, this is what is known as a good outcome. :)
posted by warriorqueen at 10:45 AM on January 20, 2017

I flew 3.5 hours at 34.5 weeks, but I was flying home for a family event and was comfortable with the possibility of delivering while I was at home and being stuck there for a few weeks. I would not have made the same trip for a work function to a place where I had no support or family.

To be clear - the flight was FINE - I am a relatively small person, so even though I was a very pregnant person, I wasn't terribly uncomfortable (though I was flying with my husband who carried all of our stuff and generally made sure everything was really easy for me, and also helped me put on my compression stockings). The concern was that I might need medical attention while very far away from my OB, and the only reason I and my OB were OK with that was because I was traveling home where I had family who could support me (and with whom I could stay).
posted by devinemissk at 10:59 AM on January 20, 2017

No, I wouldn't do it. I would have been fine physically, but the risk of delivering early (not even that early) in a strange place without family is just . . . awful. Esp. the first baby.

MAYBE if your partner (if you have one) or a friend/sibling/parent came along. But I had a good friend who did this and she ended up delivering in Boston, with her husband and two kids back in LA. She had to be in the hospital, practically alone (husband was taking care of the kids, though her sister came the next day) for a week with her new baby. It made her really sad. Not worth it, IMO.
posted by caoimhe at 12:22 PM on January 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yeah, even if they do let you on the plane (and they may not, quite reasonably) the potential downsides are just so awful and the upside doesn't justify the risk.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:30 PM on January 20, 2017

I flew from the West Coast to Europe and back at 32 weeks. It was not something I wanted to do, and only did it because my boss was in the middle of deciding how much maternity leave to give me at the time (yay America!) and I wanted to get as much leave as possible. My ankles were swollen to the point of sagging out of my shoes (I'm a former pro athlete, very healthy, and, everything made me exhausted, and I felt generally like crap. The pregnancy was a total distraction to getting business done and two years later, people still think of me as "that one who was pregnant at the tradeshow".

Don't do it, it isn't worth it. And if shit goes down on your flight, you won't have the care you need for your baby at hand and you'll be wracked with guilt for a lifetime. The parent feelings haven't kicked in yet, but they will and it will be easier to feel good about the choice to not attend.

Honestly, your career is going to change. You have no idea how. But it will. Let the baby happen and then assess the world around you.

posted by chuke at 12:41 PM on January 20, 2017

I'm 36 or 37 weeks pregnant! I would not do that long of air travel at that time. My pregnancy has been ok, just some light physical discomfort and more fatigue, but I've been feeling lately that it could be go time any time so I try to stay within 2-3 hours drive of my delivery location / family.

2nd the idea of tele-presentation though. I think you can totally participate if you can negate the geographic distance.
posted by WeekendJen at 12:48 PM on January 20, 2017

I'm 36 weeks and right now I reckon I'd be fine, though of course I still don't know if I'll go into early labour. Unfortunately there was no way of knowing this earlier in the pregnancy and so I did not make an Christmas holiday plans, even though it's summer here in Australia and my husband and I have both had 5 weeks off. It's kind of an annoying thing, but unfortunately I agree that you cannot know or even comfortably guess how you'll be at that stage. It'd just be a risk so you'll have to work out how ok you are with cancelling or going into labour in the second location.

Fwiw if the location was within a major city in my home country and cancellation was not prohibiatively expensive, I'd book it. The final stages of pregnancy can be quite boring if you keep them totally free!
posted by jojobobo at 5:17 PM on January 20, 2017

Yes, to the other suggestions to Skype in to the panel. But, if you do decide to go, contact the conference organizers early and update them. I've been on academic conference organizing committees. We like our return participants very much and we try to know who they are (even for pretty big conferences). When people need a special accommodation, we try to provide it. And, even though most conferences have "no refunds" policies, at times organizers can make an exception if they want to. Return conference-goer with an unpredictable health status sounds like one of those where groups I've worked with would make a refund or credit to the next year's conference.
posted by Gotanda at 6:28 PM on January 20, 2017

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