Travelling while pregnant
Pregnant women are exposed to some risk by travelling abroad, especially to the tropics and when travelling under primitive conditions. There is a particular risk when travelling to malaria areas when pregnant because the most severe form of malaria can result in premature birth or miscarriage. It is therefore recommended that pregnant women should not travel to malaria areas unless absolutely necessary.
Protection against malaria
If a pregnant woman chooses to travel to malaria areas, it is important to be careful with mosquito nets, clothes and other measures to protect against mosquito bites. Pregnant women can also use antimalarial medicines, but the choice of medicine must be weighed against the potential risk of harm to the foetus.
As a general precautionary rule, pregnant women should avoid taking vaccines, particularly live vaccines such as yellow fever vaccine and MMR-vaccine. This does not apply to influenzae vaccine which are recommended to pregnant women in the 2nd and 3rd trimester. The advice applies even though there is no evidence of foetal damage from these vaccines.
However, the risk of infection in each case should be weighed against any vaccination risks. If the pregnant woman chooses to travel to an area with a high risk of infection, taking a vaccine will usually involve less risk for mother and foetus than the disease that is vaccinated against. Vaccination should, if possible, be avoided in the first three months of pregnancy (first trimester).
Diarrhoea can provoke contractions at any stage of pregnancy, so preventing gastrointestinal infections is important for pregnant women.
Pregnant women should avoid travelling to countries with low hygiene standards and a high incidence of toxoplasmosis.
If the woman is infected for the first time during pregnancy, the foetus may be harmed. If the pregnant woman is infected before pregnancy, she will have antibodies in her blood and the foetus will be protected. Pregnant women can be tested to see if these antibodies are present.
Prevent toxoplasmosis by:
- heat-treating meat and meat products
- wash salads, fruit, berries and vegetables before eating
- avoid contact with cats and their faeces
- wear gloves when gardening
- wash hands thoroughly and have good kitchen hygiene routines.
Most airlines will not allow pregnant women as passengers on flights after 38 weeks gestation, or the company may require a medical certificate. Restrictions vary from airline to airline, and on journey length.