Pregnancy: When is it safe to travel a long distance?

Karen Barasa is an expatriate working and living in Kigali. She was looking forward to spend the festive season back home in Kenya, but when she visited her gynecologist, she was advised against taking a long trip because it would put her pregnancy at risk.

Karen Barasa is an expatriate working and living in Kigali. She was looking forward to spend the festive season back home in Kenya, but when she visited her gynecologist, she was advised against taking a long trip because it would put her pregnancy at risk.

Barasa tried for many years to conceive but in vain because of the condition of fibroids. Fibroids are benign tumors of muscular and fibrous tissues that develop in the wall of the uterus and make it hard for someone to conceive or increase the risk of miscarriages.

With a history of fibroids, the medic warned Barasa that she risks suffering a miscarriage if she travels such a long distance, especially by road.

“I am in my first trimester so I thought travelling would have no effect on my pregnancy; however my doctor has advised me to cancel the plans because apparently there is a high risk to suffer a miscarriage if I travelled for such a long distance. He explained to me that my condition of fibroids is the risk,” Barasa says.

As the festive season sets in, many people are planning to travel on holiday out of the country, while others will be heading to the country side to celebrate the festivities with loved ones.

However, health experts warn that for expectant mothers; precautionary measures should be taken if you have to make that trip, even for those with normal pregnancies and no history of complications.

Dr Iba Mayele, a gynecologist at Doctor’s plaza explains that though it is safe in most cases for one to travel when expecting, it’s advisable to use specific means if they are travelling for longer distances.

“There is no reason not to travel when you are pregnant, but if you plan to travel for more than ten hours, it may be better to travel by air,” he says.

Mayele also recommends that one plans their journey in advance and also book or request for a specific position or seat that is favorable for the condition, if you are using public means.

“Before you leave for your journey, it is wise to re-confirm your booking as well as the route. When a pregnant woman sits for long periods of time, the feet, ankles and your legs swell.”

For expecting women who prefer being behind the wheel on a long trip, Mayele advises that they take a break from driving at least every ninety minutes, “as your pregnancy progresses and your bump gets bigger, you may prefer to let someone else drive as your bump can get uncomfortably close to the steering wheel and you may find driving comfortably very difficult.”

Dr Kenneth Ruzindana a consultant gynecologist and obstetrician at Kibagabaga hospital says travelling when pregnant is safe especially when one has a normal or healthy pregnancy.

However, he recommends that when a woman is expecting it is always advisable to consult with a medic before making plans for a long-distance travel.

“You need to consult with your doctor before travel because there are a few instances where it would not be very safe to travel. Such instances may involve a high risky pregnancy for example when one has a low line placenta or if the mother has complications like preeclampsia or hypertension, which may be induced by pregnancy among other conditions where there is need to have a very close follow up,” Ruzindana says.

According to Ruzindana, the first trimester, which is from 0-14 weeks is more safe to travel except that sometimes mild complications such as the morning sickness and fatigue often kick in hence one has to be prepared.

“Also ensure measures that any other person who is not pregnant is expected to take; stretch a bit during the travel. Pregnant women are prone to motion illness hence instances of throwing up but there is medication one can use to prevent this.”

Research done by The Center for Obstetrics & Gynecology, Rhode Island USA, underscores that it is usually safe to travel during the first eight months of pregnancy explaining that the main concerns with travel during pregnancy are access to medical care, discomfort, getting enough exercise and fluids and having a healthy diet.

The Center recommends that the expectant mother discusses details such as the distance and length of the trip, the mode of travel and suggestions for things one should or should not do before, during and after the trip.

“Generally, the safest time to travel during pregnancy is the second trimester (13 to 28 weeks). At this time, you probably feel your best and you are in the least danger of having a miscarriage or premature labour. Avoid traveling any long distance during the last two or three weeks before your due date. If labor starts early, you will want to be close to home,” the research says.

The research warns against taking any medicines, including non-prescription medicines, without a health care provider’s permission.

Also because meals might be unpredictable while traveling, carrying healthy snacks and drinking plenty of water is advisable.

“Take a copy of your prenatal record with you, if you have to sit for a long time, alternate pointing and raising your feet often. Walking and moving your arms improves blood flow in your body. This prevents blood clots from forming in the legs and pelvis.”

Women share views

When Scovia Mutangazwa decided to travel to Uganda for Christmas celebrations last year, she had a two-year-old daughter and another baby on the way. She says she had expected to get tired from the journey but the exhaustion turned out to be worse than she could handle.

“It was so weary for me, my legs got swollen and I got a severe backache. I had to check with my gynecologist when I returned from the trip but I was lucky I had no serious complications,” she recalls.

Mutangazwa advises expectant mothers to postpone long journeys till after delivery because anything can happen with pregnancy.

Rose Sonko a mother-of-two says that even though no specific danger is attached to travelling while pregnant, she finds a pregnant woman to be in danger at any moment and it’s safer to stay away from things like long journeys.

“With all my pregnancies, I played it safe refraining from hard labor and long trips. I was so cautious and I would recommend for other expecting mothers to be safe at all times. Anything can happen during a trip and however minor it can be, it can actually result into serious complications for a pregnant woman,” she warns.