There are a host of issues to worry about while pregnant, chief of which—at least among expats—is whether or not to travel. Trips back home aside, it’s common for newly pregnant couples to plan their last big adventure before their party of two becomes a thing of the past. However, there are many things to consider before booking those plane tickets. For one, there are the risks of flying itself.
“Issues such as when, where or even whether to travel while pregnant are common,” begins Dr. Stephanie Teoh of International SOS. “Some debate exists about whether air travel increases the risk of miscarriage or preterm labor. While a significant link has yet to be found, most health guidelines do not advise traveling past 36 weeks.” According to Dr. Teoh, miscarriage risk is highest in the first trimester, as are vaginal bleeding and ectopic pregnancy, so women should minimize travel during the first or third trimesters to reduce the chances of either happening. “Blood clots, a common risk among plane passengers, are also more likely in pregnant women due to hormonal and mechanical changes that increase blood clot formation,” she adds.
Certain destinations also carry their own risks. High altitude areas are not recommended, as they affect oxygenation, as are areas where malarial tablets and live vaccinations such as yellow fever, oral polio, varicella (chicken pox) and rubella are advised. “These infections can cause serious issues in pregnant women if contracted, so it’s best to avoid exposure entirely,” says Dr. Teoh. She also recommends pregnant women avoid areas where they may be easily exposed to diarrhea, listeria and food poisoning.
The one vaccine that Dr. Teoh does advise for pregnant women is influenza. “Ideally, women should have all their general health vaccinations done prior to getting pregnant, but the flu vaccine is one that is specifically recommended for pregnant women.”
Travel May Be Necessary For Some Women
Still, there are groups of women for whom travel is highly recommended. Those at high risk for complications should discuss with their obstetrician and weigh the advantages and disadvantages of a Beijing delivery. “There are cases where it is better to deliver elsewhere,” says Dr. Teoh. “And many commercial airlines do not permit passengers beyond 32-34 weeks pregnant to fly, meaning that if a medical problem develops, they may be unable or too unwell to fly home commercially or even on a medical evacuation.”
Dr. Teoh also urges women with the blood type Rhesus negative to discuss this with their doctor, as they will require certain injections throughout pregnancy that are difficult to come by in China. “Even a possible blood transfusion at delivery can be hard to obtain,” she reveals.
Those hoping to limit their travel to Hong Kong should note that hospitals there are currently closed to foreigners requiring obstetric care due to the high number of expected pregnancies in the Year of the Dragon. Singapore and Bangkok are still open, but unless you’re traveling with company these are hardly ideal options. “You’re not very independent when you’re 38 weeks pregnant—you don’t want to be alone in a foreign country when you can’t even get up from a chair without assistance!” says Dr. Teoh.
One last issue to consider: your insurance policy. “Many policies exclude pregnancy-related issues, so you don’t want put yourself in a position where your pregnancy isn’t medically or financially covered,” says Dr. Teoh. “The greatest issue regarding traveling during pregnancy is how well and easily you will be able to manage a problem if one occurs. You don’t want to be stranded in a developing country without insurance or access to international standard care.”