Tips for Traveling During the First Trimester

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Now that the cat is out of the bag about us expecting our second tiny traveler this summer, I want to start sharing a few things about the process of traveling while expanding a family.  Not to mention, I can’t wait to hear your stories, too!  One question I have received with regularity for years is related to traveling and flying while pregnant.  In this post, I am going to focus on traveling while in your first trimester.

I just so happened to have multiple flights in my first trimester this time around, and they ranged from “no big deal” to “I think I’m going to die from misery right now”.  In summary, that is probably a decent overview of how flying in the first trimester will go for many of you, as the symptoms in early pregnancy can range from person to person and day to day.  A flight in your first trimester may end up being from virtually no different than any other flight you’ve taken, to feeling like you are flying with the worst nauseous hangover of your life.

Picky, Starving, Mommas Need to Travel with Snacks:

The first flight I took while pregnant this fall was before I think I actually knew I was pregnant.  I was on a mileage run to LA, and I really don’t like mileage runs to begin with, but I was feeling particularly dreadful about this same-day-turn.  We all know decent airline food is virtually non-existent in domestic coach, so I was super tired, kinda grumpy, and oh-my-god-so-hungry by the time we landed.  When I landed in LA it was still very much morning there, but I went on a mad search for real food.  Luckily, Counter Burger was open and serving up sweet potato fries and burgers.  Out of habit I went for the veggie burger, but I regretted that decision quickly when I was far from satisfied with ground up veggie mush and wanted real meat!  I survived clearly, but in retrospect, this was a good reminder that especially in the early stages of pregnancy, your normal travel rituals of just going a little hungry for a while, or making due with what’s around may not work well.


Normal food choices can change in first trimester

You need to travel with water and snacks, and if you are feeling particularly food sensitive, then research the food options at your destination ahead of time.  I had a whole week early on that I virtually lived on chicken noodle soup and another couple days where all I wanted were hush puppies.  I know how to obtain those items at home, but when you are on the road you will have to either do more research, or be more flexible.  And believe me, my stomach was not in a flexible mood for a while there…

Airplane may not cut it during early pregnancy

Airplane may not cut it during early pregnancy

Research and Make Choices about In-Flight Radiation and Other Risks:

I’m not a scientist, doctor, or expert on anything related to those fields, so I can only share what I do related to travel and radiation exposure and certainly not tell you want you should do beyond just encouraging research and informed decision making.  It’s possible many don’t think twice about this, and that’s cool, too, especially if you are only flying a handful of times.  Since I fly more than a couple of flights per year, I do give some thought to in-flight radiation exposure, especially during the early stages of pregnancy.

For pregnant flight attendants and pilots the FAA recommends a limit of 1 mSv during pregnancy, with no more than 0.5 mSv per month.  I don’t fly as much as an airline employee, but it doesn’t take much research to learn that the amount of radiation you (and your gestating baby) are exposed to in the air varies dramatically from route to route.  The highest are typically going to be your longer, higher altitude polar routes.  I do have one Europe trip planned during my second trimester where they may take a polar route, but you would not find me personally mileage running back and forth on polar or long-haul routes while pregnant.

I do obviously still fly and generally just live life mostly like normal while pregnant, but I don’t book unnecessary or extra trips (mileage runs were before I knew I was pregnant).  While I’ll save these exact details for another post, there are also places I will not travel to while pregnant, especially in the later stages of pregnancy when access to advanced medical care can have a direct impact on whether an infant delivered early has a good shot at survival or not.  Again, everyone will have to make their own risk assessment and decisions about those sort of issues for themselves (in consult with their healthcare provider), but for me, 9 months is a blip on the radar of my traveling life, so I’m okay adjusting my behaviors somewhat during that time out of an abundance of caution.  However, I don’t adjust to the point of never leaving my house.  We still go places, we just give it some thought before hitting the skies.

Tips for Flying in the First Trimester:

When you do hit the skies early on, I recommend choosing a seat where you will be the most comfortable, likely an aisle seat so you can access the restroom easily if you need to.  I also recommend getting up a little more than normal to walk around and stretch your legs.  As mentioned you also really need to carry your own snacks and be sure to stay hydrated!

Room Service to the Rescue:

A little later on in the first trimester I went on a trip with my daughter and parents to New York City to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and I was met with another challenge.  I was no longer living on chicken noodle soup and hush puppies, but I was very much in the portion of the first trimester where you need food immediately upon waking in the morning or you are going to get queasy.  Since I was staying in a hotel room with just my daughter, this meant room service to the rescue.  I also had granola bars and fruit on hand, but that was not enough to really do the trick some of those mornings.

Room service at the Park Hyatt New York

Room service at the Park Hyatt New York

If you are in the trenches of dealing with queasiness or morning sickness while pregnant, don’t beat yourself up over doing what you need to do to feel okay.  My room service breakfast at the Park Hyatt was covered by my Diamond benefits, but the room service at the St. Regis wasn’t covered by anything except my wallet.  We ordered as conservatively as we could, and it did the trick until we could get ourselves dressed and out of the door.  Had my husband been there, he could have gone in search of a warm bagel and juice, but since he wasn’t on this trip, we had to improvise.

Pricey, but worth every crumb on this day!

Pricey, but worth every crumb on this day!

Ain’t No One Going to Feel Sorry for Ya:

Whether right or wrong, once you are further along in your pregnancy and you actually look pregnant, you will sometimes get a little sympathy or at least empathy while traveling.  Strangers may offer to help with your bag and people may have more patience with you if you aren’t feeling 100% or are moving more slowly.  However, in the first trimester nobody can tell you are pregnant, and no one is going to feel sorry for you.  If you act queasy on the plane, you will pretty much be treated like you have Ebola, and any other issue or ailment you have will pretty much not interest anyone.

There are times in the first trimester that felt like the worst hangover ever, and flying in that state is not fun.  I’ve flown back from Cancun after taking way too much advantage of the all-inclusive bar, and this can feel pretty much like the same thing on a bad day.  This means you need to take care of yourself, don’t over-do it, and know when to say enough is enough.  You may be used to very busy travel days, but find yourself needing a nap during your first trimester, and that’s okay.  Listen to your body and adjust accordingly.  I didn’t have to cancel or postpone any travel plans in the first trimester with either of my little ones, but if you had a particularly bad time with some of the symptoms, I could see that happening.

If you are having a rough time early on and have some trips coming up, I would talk to your doctor and see if there are some approved meds or techniques that may make the symptoms more manageable.  Otherwise, load up on the snacks, crackers, etc. and hope for the best!

It Gets Better:

Since most of us don’t know exactly when we will get pregnant, it is quite possible you will have travel planned in the first trimester before you ever know a little one is on the way.  However, once you do know you are pregnant, I would advise against adding extra trips in the first trimester until you know your symptoms.  Unless you have some medical issues, your doctor will probably give you the green light to travel in early pregnancy, but feeling extra tired, nauseous, and queasy doesn’t always make for the perfect travel experience.  The good news is that for most people it gets much better in the second trimester, so stay tuned for those tips!


Aruba in the second trimester was perfect!

What was your experience traveling in the first trimester, and what tips do you have for other traveling mommas?

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  1. Loving this series Summer! I’m nearing the end of the first trimester with our first and thankfully haven’t had nausea. It’s mainly hungry and tired in my case. For me, having immediate access to food and water and aisle seats are essential. We flew the 8.5 hour flight to/from DFW-OGG at week 9 in economy, and my carry-on was loaded with snacks that sounded good to me – almonds, jerky, dried white peaches, granola bars, oatmeal, and plantain chips to name a few and having a large water bottle as well. Aisle seats to have easy access to the bathroom and to stretch my legs and take laps around the plane without disturbing anyone. Also, bringing an eye mask to sleep was huge. I slept like a baby on the overnight back – yes in economy!! – thanks to pregnancy tiredness. It can have it’s perks! 😉 We do have TSA Pre-check which mostly has us going through the metal detectors, but if I have to go through the full body radiation scanning, I choose to opt out for the full pat down (around 5 weeks this happened and the TSA woman was very nice and understanding as to why I opted out). Our next long haul is around week 20 – in economy to London, but back from Dublin in first. Looking forward to reading your tips for the second tri!

  2. Protein, protein, protein. This pregnancy (baby any day now…) I started every day with a carnation instant breakfast shake. It’s really easy to travel with the packets and grab some milk wherever you are. Little nut packets are great too.

    Another easy thing to do to help with nausea is to keep your tongue down and forward- touching the back of your bottom teeth. I find this can help to quickly calm a wave of nausea and can be done anywhere. Hard candy is also great for this- with my first a butterscotch candy would delay throwing up until I could make it to a restroom.

  3. I was about 4 weeks pregnant with my first (from date of actual conception) when I flew long haul economy TPE-LAX-BOS. We’d been trying, I felt a bit odd so suspected I was pregnant, but it was too early to confirm. The trip was fine – I absolutely do not remember the actual travel part.

    With my second pregnancy, I was at 3m when I flew TPE-LAX in economy with my then 2yo son. Again, a completely unmemorable journey. For me, pregnancy is relatively easy. I feel fatigued and more sensitive to smells in the 1st trimester, but for flying itself, leg cramping, swelling, and fears of separating my abdominal muscles (I had some round ligament pain, too) in my second trimesters were of greater concern. Probably because my body is more unwieldy then. I wore compression leggings and a belly support belt in flight and that helped a lot.

  4. The most important change in our travel habits when we found out my wife was pregnant was to keep travel only to places we felt comfortable in case we needed medical assistance. To make it very clear, I am not judging the hospital conditions of other countries but our choice was basically made to make sure my wife would not be stressed and concerned about going somewhere and needing medical assistance and not getting what she expected. Thus, we changed our plans to have a big 30 days trip to SE Asia where we planned to explore many different countries and kept most of our travel in the US, Caribbean and Europe where she felt we could easily get local assistance or get back to the US easily if needed.

  5. I always had to have saltines within reach to settle my stomach. When I puked (thankfully little) during the 3 of my pregnancies, there was no stopping it. Once I had to veer over 3 traffic lanes of thankfully no cars and puke in a parking lot. If I hadn’t made it quick enough to jump out of the car I could have wrecked with kids in the car. SCARY STUFF!! So, I’d add to keep the airplane vomit bag very handy!! Tell the person next to you that your pregnant if you puke. You won’t get sympathy, but they’ll figure out pretty quickly that what you have they can’t catch so easily. If you are traveling out of the country, insure yourself. We just purchased GeoBlue a few months ago for medical and we even had to USE it.

  6. I was very fortunate to have pretty easy pregnancies and travel experiences. Except for that time i was flying solo with my toddler, and she threw up all over her car seat at the beginning of a 5hr flight. Lesson learned – don’t let the kid eat a snack cup full of cheddar crackers for breakfast before boarding a flight!

    • I’ve noticed a disturbing trend where airlines don’t stock air sickness bags in every seat pocket anymore. Penny-wise, pound-foolish if you ask me.

  7. I have been lucky so far (knock on wood!) that I haven’t had to endure nausea, vomiting and the like during my pregnancies. Mostly I just feel extra tired and sometimes cranky early on.

    I would love to read a post (or at least more information) about how you would handle potential medical needs while pregnant and outside the country. I know its very unlikely that something would happen but it worries me that most travel insurance doesn’t cover pregnancy and those that do cover it seem to only cover some things. Any thoughts?

  8. I’m in my second trimester now, but had 2 trips pre-planned for the 1st trimester before I knew I was pregnant. The first was luckily just a short trip from DC to Florida, but I had never experienced motion sickness before so I was unused to being uncomfortable while flying. Luckily I didn’t get sick, but having saltines and water on hand was key. Our second trip was to California from DC so a longer haul but I was feeling much better by then (and just about into the 2nd trimester by the return trip).

    As for TSA, I’ve been “opting out” which I hadn’t done before. It’s an interesting experience and depends totally on the agent. I always mention I’m pregnant and I’ve had agents who were so nice and kind and asked about baby names, and I’ve had agents who just looked at me like I was just an inconvenience to them.

    I have 1 more trip planned for March where I will be mid-2nd trimester (DC to Austin) and then after that I think I’ll wait until after the baby arrives to travel again!

    Looking forward to the rest of your series!

    • Great point about opting out. I would absolutely do the same though thankfully with Pre-Check it hasn’t been an issue. Hope you feel well soon and have a great pregnancy!

  9. I just read the article.. I AMD six weeks pregnant I have a pre planned trip to Europe I will b 9 weeks pregnant while traveling . Here in India my gynac is not suggesting us to travel.. It’s a 16 day trip.. I don’t feel nausea, vomiting or anything like that.. I read the article and I feel much more comfortable to travel.. Will try to have a bag full of snacks 🙂 hoping for a good and healthy trip ..

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