Pregnancy during the holidays: Tips on traveling, eating, and more

It was our pleasure to answer your questions about pregnancy during a live chat on December 10, 2014. Together with Drs. Patricia Santiago-Munoz and Shivani Patel, we offered advice to women who are pregnant during the holidays.

If you weren't able to join us, don't worry! Here’s a recap of our answers.

Q:
Is it safe to travel while pregnant?
A:

Yes. Pregnant women travel daily to work, to the grocery store, or to the movies. They walk, drive, bike, fly, run, and take the train. Travel – whether short or long distance – is just part of modern life.

Along with the usual precautions (driving at a safe speed, wearing a seatbelt, and so on) you should remember to:

  • Pay attention to how you are feeling, especially if you are in the first trimester. If you are having morning sickness, you may not find it comfortable to be a guest in someone else's home. Shared bathrooms, strange cooking scents, and difficulty planning your eating schedule can be stressful. The fatigue that’s common in the first trimester also can make traveling a challenge.
  • Consider your previous pregnancies. If you had an earlier pre-term delivery or another high-risk condition, it may be best to stay relatively close to home.
  • Research the location you are visiting to determine how far you would be from a hospital. You can always ask your doctor for recommendations.
  • Travel with an updated copy of your prenatal chart. If there is an emergency, a doctor can use it to find out how far along you are, what medicines you’re taking, and how to contact your doctor. 
Q:
How about flying? Are there limits?
A:

In general, it's a good idea to avoid being too far from home after the 36-week mark. If you will be flying, check with the airline about possible restrictions.

American Airlines, for example, requires pregnant passengers to provide a medical certificate if they are within four weeks of their delivery date. Flights within seven days before and after the delivery also have restrictions, and in some cases may not be permitted.

Here are a few more tips about flying while pregnant:

  • Tell the flight attendants when you are boarding that you will be walking the aisles every hour or so to stretch.
  • If your budget allows, opt for seats with extra leg room or choose an aisle seat.
  • Wear support stockings, move your legs periodically, and stay hydrated to minimize the risk of blood clots.
  • Use your seat belt at all times to prevent the risk of trauma caused by sudden turbulence.
Q:
How about driving to holiday gatherings? What should I consider?
A:

There are no restrictions on driving based on gestational age, but it's important to be cautious when driving long distances. In addition:

  • Secure your seat belt with the lap belt below your belly and the shoulder strap between your breasts and over the shoulder.
  • Every hour or two of driving, stop to stretch your legs to reduce the chances of a blood clot.
Q:

With big holiday meals around the corner, what’s OK for me to eat and what should I avoid?

A:

Lots of foods are OK during pregnancy, but there are some that aren’t. Avoid fatty or spicy foods if you are prone to acid reflux because they can make the problem worse.

Specific foods to stay away from include:

  • Raw or undercooked foods (sushi, steak tartare, oysters, mayonnaise, cookie dough, etc.) and unwashed fruits/vegetables – These foods can harbor bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella that can lead to food poisoning. Because pregnancy weakens the immune system, these illnesses are more dangerous to pregnant women.
  • Unpasteurized cheese and deli meats – Brie, feta, and queso fresco are favorite soft cheeses, but they can harbor the bacteria listeria that can lead to listeriosis. Listeriosis is a serious infection that can cause a flu-like illness in pregnant women and may lead to pregnancy termination if the baby gets infected.
  • Eggnog – Many times this holiday beverage is made from raw eggs and alcohol so it’s best to avoid.
  • Caffeine – In general, up to 200 milligrams of caffeine per day is safe during pregnancy. (That’s about 1 cup of coffee). Also, caffeinated drinks are often high in sugar, so if you have diabetes, they can have dramatic impacts on your blood sugar levels.
  • Alcohol – Alcohol can have harmful effects on a developing baby and lead to fetal alcohol syndrome. We don’t know how much alcohol is safe during pregnancy, so it’s best to avoid it altogether.
Q:
What are some healthy foods to eat at holiday gatherings?
A:

The healthiest foods are the ones that provide protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Some of the most common are:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Nuts – They provide healthy oils and protein
  • Lentils and beans – They add fiber to the diet, which helps with constipation, which is common during pregnancy.
  • Fish – Fish is a healthy source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. But follow FDA guidelines and eat no more than two servings a week of high-mercury fish like swordfish and shark. Low-mercury seafood such as salmon, light tuna, and shrimp is best.
  • Water – It’s not a food, but staying hydrated is very important when you are pregnant.
Q:
How about holiday shopping? Any recommendations?
A:

Holiday shopping can be overwhelming even when you’re not pregnant. To reduce some of the stress, shop at off hours, such as early on weekdays when the stores may be less crowded. Or do your shopping online.

Keep your budget in mind when you are buying gifts. That new baby will be expensive! For gifts, consider giving an “IOU” for a great baby photo after the baby is born. Family members will want one anyway, and you’ll save some money.

Stamina can become an issue when you’re pregnant. If you’re visiting a mall that offers valet parking, it may be worth it to save your energy. Once inside, take breaks to sit down, hydrate, and get something to eat.

Q:
What if the baby is expected to arrive during the holiday festivities? Should we just stay home?
A:

There's no reason to stay home if your family or friends are local. Actually, it might be really nice to have someone else responsible for planning, hosting, and cleanup.

If the get-together is farther away, it's better to think about staying home. This gives you a chance to start your own traditions. Limit house guests to those who will be truly helpful and not a burden to you. Don't make the holidays more work for you and your partner.

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