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Travelling in early pregnancy: top tips for a first trimester holiday from a pregnant travel blogger

First of all, congratulations! If you're reading this blog you've most likely found out that you're newly pregnant, which is so exciting. While this amazing new adventure certainly brings its own challenges, it doesn't mean that your life has to change, and that includes travelling. Whether you already had a trip planned and you're worried about if you should still go now that you're pregnant, or you've planned a mini break to celebrate your good news, we've got lots of helpful tips and information to help you survive and thrive while travelling in your first trimester.

A grey babygro saying Let's go on an adventure, laid on a grey and white marble counter. In the top corner of the photo, a black and white ultrasound photo of a baby.
Team Thomas is gaining a member!

David and I are currently 22 weeks pregnant and so far baby boy has been on 2 flights to Madeira and France, plus long road trips to Scotland and Wales - I promise it can be done safely and enjoyably with a few simple tweaks and precautions. In this blog, we'll focus on travelling in the first trimester, or up until week 14 of your pregnancy.

NB - we are not medically trained and every pregnancy is different, so the tips in this blog comes entirely from my own experiences of travelling while pregnant. If you have any specific concerns regarding your own pregnancy, complications and travel, please discuss these with and seek advice from your midwife, OBGYN or healthcare provider for specific medical answers before your trip, especially if you're traveling to a place with different healthcare facilities to those at home or traveling long distances.

Can you fly while pregnant? Do I need any paperwork?

The good news is you can definitely fly while pregnant! Well, for most of your pregnancy. Double check with who you're flying with, but the general rule seems to be that most airlines will allow you to fly all the way up to 36 weeks, or 32 weeks if you're having twins, providing you're having a low risk pregnancy. If you're 28 weeks or more, your airline will require a certificate or letter from your midwife confirming that the pregnancy is progressing normally, that there are no complications and the expected date of delivery.

Can I travel by ferry or train while pregnant?

Ferry companies like Brittany Ferries will allow you to sail up until 32 weeks but Cruise ships are stricter, with a cut off at the end of your 23rd week! The Eurostar has no limits on pregnant passengers at all, but we'd recommend coming back by week 37, just in case baby decides to make a move!

Emma leaning next to the famous orange crooked house, Lavenham
Country strolls around Lavenham at 5 weeks pregnant

Is it safe to travel in the first trimester?

With a few simple tweaks, there is no reason why you can't enjoy a safe holiday in early pregnancy. The scary numbers online will tell you that statistically the first 12 weeks are the riskiest in terms of chance of miscarriage, but the vast vast majority of these early losses are down to chromosomal/medical reasons rather than anything you could prevent. The radiation we all experience any time we fly is sufficiently low that it won't affect baby, and while you don't want to be getting food poisoning, doing high impact/dangerous activities that might risk you falling or over exerting yourself, rest assured that flying, sailing and walking don't pose a threat to your tiny baby. Just maybe save the bungee jumping, hot tubs and jet skiing for a future trip...

Do I need to declare my pregnancy on my travel insurance?

No. Providing there are no complications, price comparison websites such as Compare the Market and Go Compare state that you don't need to declare pregnancy as a pre-existing condition on your travel insurance. Obviously always read the small print before purchasing a policy and if you're a UK/EU citizen travelling in Europe we'd also recommend getting a Global Health Insurance Card (the new post Brexit EHIC) as well. It's free and entitles you to treatment in state hospitals at the same price as the residents of the country you're visiting, including emergency treatment, visits to A&E and routine maternity care, unless you're going abroad to give birth. We've also shown ours at doctors surgeries abroad (hello tonsillitis in Paris and Bruges...) and the card helps to cover the smaller fees that your travel insurance excess wouldn't, like prescriptions and GP appointments. Obviously this doesn't replace your travel insurance, which is essential!

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of travelling in your first trimester:

Let's take a quick look at some of the benefits of travelling in your first trimester, as well as some of the early pregnancy symptoms that might negatively affect your holiday. I'll be honest, I felt pretty ropey for the first 2 months of my pregnancy (much preferred travelling in the second trimester), but there are definitely some perks to a first trimester trip.

The good:

  • No big bump! Make the most of being able to climb steps, bend over and get up out of a deckchair without a big bump getting in the way and pulling you off balance! You'll also most likely be able to dodge shelling out on a maternity wardrobe - At 13 weeks I was barely showing, and so apart from a couple of pairs of shorts that were too tight and a bikini top that was getting precarious, I could pack all of my usual t-shirts, sundresses and swimmies. This also means if you haven't told many people about your pregnancy, you'll most likely get away with taking holiday snaps that won't attract curious questions.

  • No paperwork/restrictions. Like we said earlier, travelling earlier in your pregnancy means that unless you have any pre existing concerns with your pregnancy, you won't need to worry about cut off dates for travelling or needing that midwife certificate for trips after 28 weeks .

  • It's a lovely distraction. Let's face it, if you're feeling knackered and poorly lying on a shady sun lounger at the pool or the beach is much nicer than being on the sofa at home feeling sorry for yourself.

Emma smiling on the Sao Lourenco peninsula, Madeira
Bump? What bump? Hiking in Madeira at 13 weeks

The Bad

  • Needing the loo more often. With baby tucked down in your pelvis in early pregnancy, constant weeing seems to become a fact of life as they lean on your bladder. If you're on a road trip, plan your route with regular rest stops and if you're flying, try to get an aisle seat for easier access to the restroom and so you can easily walk up and down to stretch your legs if you want to.

  • Tiredness. One of my main early pregnancy symptoms was extreme tiredness. I could have napped for England! Help yourself by only doing one or two activities per day, with a decant lunch break in between or even time back at the hotel for a lie down/nap. I liked planning a day with sightseeing/walks in the morning to beat the heat, followed by an afternoon doing something more restful like relaxing on the beach or by the pool.

  • Food aversions/cravings. Maybe you've gone off fish or can't stand anything sweet, or maybe all you can think about is McDonalds or apples - pregnancy does weird things to our appetites! Now is probably not the time for trying unusual local delicacies, so be prepared to seek out smaller, more simple portions. I also found that eating dinner later than about 7pm made me feel incredibly bloated and nauseous, so if this is you, plan your day around wrapping up a little earlier so you can eat before it gets too late. With regards to cravings, if there is a brand of biscuits or crisps that you can't live without currently (Lidl's own brand Hoola Hoops for me), or that really help with your morning sickness, be sure to pack enough for your trip in case the local equivalent doesn't cut it.

  • No alcohol. Despite well meaning friends and relatives insisting that the occasional drink during pregnancy is ok, here in the UK, current NHS advice is that if you're pregnant or planning to become pregnant you should not drink any alcohol at all. I have given up drinking completely until baby arrives in November (Christmas might be messy!) and while this meant no sunny poolside cocktails or glass of wine with dinner, I really enjoyed the fresh juices and mocktails available in Madeira. Put a slice of lime in your cranberry juice and you can almost convince yourself it's a woowoo...

Two cocktails overlooking an oceanside sunset, Albania
Sigh... next year...

The Ugly

  • Hip pain. Oh god this got me so badly between weeks 7-10 - even walking a mile or so was agony, like the worst groin strain ever! In early pregnancy, your body starts to produce a hormone called relaxin which, as its name suggests, relaxes the ligaments in the pelvis in preparation for childbirth. This also means it's really easy to over extend and pull muscles, which is what happened to me. Luckily this wore off in time for my hiking holiday, but if it's something you're suffering from by the time your departure date arrives, you'll thank yourself for planning a more restful itinerary instead of pounding pavements all day while city sightseeing or doing that 10 mile hike.

  • Nausea/bloating/constipation. Some early pregnancy symptoms can leave you feeling pretty gross. Along with morning sickness (which should be renamed as it turned up all day for me), hormones like progesterone and relaxin make your digestive system sluggish, leading to bloating and everyone's favourite travel affliction, constipation. To help yourself out, drink lots of water, try to include wholegrains and veggies in your diet (I know, I know, those beige carbs are just so good in those first few weeks...) avoid spicy foods and onions which tend to bloat you and stick to smaller, simpler portions.

7 top tips for travelling in your first trimester:

1. Slow your pace.

When I was 13 weeks pregnant we went on a hiking holiday to Madeira which had been booked before I knew I was pregnant. Initially our plans were to walk round the entire circumference of the island, carrying our backpacks and staying in accommodation as we went, but once we found out about the baby, we adapted our itinerary to be less intense. Fortunately Madeira is a small island, only around 35 miles long and 14 miles wide, so we based ourselves in one spot, hired a car and drove to all the trailheads for the routes we wanted to hike. We also limited ourselves to one hike per day, starting early and finishing by the afternoon so that we could spend the 2nd half of the day relaxing.

2. Be prepared to not be up to your usual fitness levels

Something that really surprised me in early pregnancy was how quickly I would feel exhausted while hiking. We're typically very active and love getting outdoors, but after a relatively sedentary first 8 weeks of pregnancy (thanks morning sickness...), my fitness was through the floor! I found that my heart rate went from normal to pounding very easily when walking up hill, so take lots of rests, drink lots of water and avoid hikes marked as strenuous, even if that's what you're used to.

On Madeira we did the famous PR1 hike from Pico do Areeiro to Pico Ruivo and it was TOUGH!! PR1 is a stunning 14km hike connecting two of the highest peaks on Madeira, but it has some very intense prolonged climbs and descents and I really struggled on parts of it. I'm glad I did it but with hindsight, maybe it was too hard a hike for me at 13 weeks pregnant. Hiking poles will be your friends in pregnancy!

Emma climbing the PR1 trail, Madeira
Hiking poles for the win on Madeira's PR1!

Your blood pressure will be all over the place in early pregnancy so pack plenty of snacks, water and stop often to rest and drink.

3. Watch out for sunburn!

Pregnancy makes your skin super sensitive and you are much more likely to burn, so slather on that factor 50, wear a big hat and try to keep out of the sun at its peak.

4. Overheating.

Fluids fluids fluids! I found myself getting too hot very easily in my first trimester and raising your core temperature can be dangerous for growing babies. Where possible, stay out of the sun when it's at its hottest, wear cool clothes, make use of swimming pools, shady brollies, cool drinks and air conditioning! If you're travelling to a hot country be sure to take it easy and avoid over exerting yourself.

5. Food precautions and caffeine.

While you're pregnant, you'll want to avoid any foods that might cause food poisoning or contain toxoplasmosis or listeria which could harm your developing baby. This includes fish that has been smoked but not cooked like smoked salmon, sushi and raw shellfish, pate, uncooked cured meats like chorizo, salami, pepperoni and parma ham, soft cheeses with a soft white rind (brie, camembert, taleggio) and soft blue cheeses (gorgonzola, dolcelatte, Danish blue). You'll also want to dodge Shark, swordfish and marlin because of their high mercury content, and liver products like sausage, pâté and haggis because of their high vitamin A content.

Make sure that any meat you order (steaks, burgers, poultry, pork etc) is cooked well done due to the risk of toxoplasmosis-carrying parasites, and watch your caffeine levels! Current NHS pregnancy advice is no more than 200mg of caffeine per day, which is the equivalent of 2 mugs of instant coffee or 2 cups of tea plus a can of coke. Don't forget that chocolate also contains caffeine! I've taken decaf tea bags with me on all my pregnant trips in case I'm craving a cuppa and can't find them abroad!

6. Pack light.

You'll want to avoid overexerting yourself in pregnancy, so don't overload yourself with heavy suitcases or an overly full rucksack. That pesky relaxin makes your ligaments looser and less stable, so you're more likely to overbalance, pull muscles or strain your back. When you're out and about try to avoid lugging too much stuff around in your day bag, or at least enlist your travel partner/companions to help- I usually stuck to just my camera and water bottle and David carried the snacks, guidebook, tripod and beach gear.

Hiking with a small day pack at 13 weeks

7. Be aware of the Zika virus.

Zika virus is spread by infected mosquitos and while symptoms are typically mild in adults, it can be very dangerous for unborn babies, especially in early pregnancy. Zika can be passed from mother to foetus and can cause some very serious birth defects like microencephaly. While mosquitos in the UK don't carry the Zika virus, it can be found in parts of:

  • South and Central America

  • the Caribbean

  • the Pacific islands

  • Africa

  • Asia

including popular holiday destinations like Aruba, the Bahamas, Fiji, Indonesia, the Maldives, Mexico, Thailand and Vietnam. As there is no vaccine or antiviral available to prevent catching the Zika virus, current medical recommendations are to postpone travelling to any countries or regions where Zika is known to be.

What to pack for a first trimester trip:

  • Any antenatal notes you might have, the contact details for your doctor/early pregnancy unit at home and your travel insurance.

  • Loose fitting clothes or comfy layers with stretch - floaty, flowing clothes will help with heat in warmer climates and keep you comfortable if you're bloated after eating. I know I personally couldn't stand tight waistbands after meals or while sitting down. If you're travelling to a colder climate, wearing comfy stretchy layers will keep you cosy without feeling overwhelmed and sick.

  • Sturdy, comfortable footwear - comfy trainers or decent walking shoes/boots are a must for travel in early pregnancy. We swear by Uin Footwear for their travel shoes, like walking on a cloud!

  • DVT socks for long haul flights - as my midwife likes to remind me, pregnancy is a thrombotic condition and even in early pregnancy you're at an increased risk of blood clots. Wearing compression stockings or flight socks on a flight of 4+ hours can help reduce your risk of developing Deep Vein Thrombosis, as can walking up and down the aisle.

  • Hat - as we already said, avoiding sunburn and overheating in your first trimester is important. Choose a wide brimmed hat to keep the sun off your face, neck and shoulders - I wear this one from Mountain Warehouse which has added protective 50+ UPF to block radiation from the sun. You could also take a handbag sized UPF umbrella like this colourful one sold by Stick and Cane Shop to give yourself even more shade.

Emma holding a camera looking out to sea. She is wearing black sea bands on her wrists for nausea
My trusty sea bands
  • Suncream - pregnant skin burns more easily so pack plenty of factor 50!

  • Snacks - comforting ones from home like crisps and biscuits along with healthier choices like nuts and wholegrain/cereal bars.

  • Your pregnancy supplements.

  • Rennies/Gaviscon for heartburn

  • Sea bands for nausea - These stretchy acupressure wristbands are miraculous. I packed mine for a whale watching cruise, but also often ended up just wearing them when I was out and about - they really do help with general nausea!

  • Things that have been helping you at home with nausea like ginger chews or lemon hard boiled sweets.

  • Hand sanitiser to lessen the chance of any tummy bugs.

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