You and your partner are expecting a baby – what a great time of joy!

And what a time of great stress as well.

You got through your first trimester of pregnancy, and everything seems to be going great. However, you and your partner both start to realize that you’ve been at this baby business for so long. Between planning the pregnancy, getting pregnant, and gestation, you’ve barely had a moment to relax before your baby arrives.

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So, at your next doctors visit, you ask, “Hey doc, can I go on a vacation before the baby is born?”

My response: “Well, where are you planning on going?”

When you are pregnant, you must consider several factors when planning a vacation. How long is your flight going to be? Are there any health concerns in the area you are visiting? How good are the medical facilities near your destination, in case you have an emergency?

For the most part, I tell non-high-risk patients, “Go on your vacation, and have a great time.”  However, pregnant women should be aware that they might encounter special challenges while on a romantic pregnancy honeymoon – often referred to as a ‘babymoon.’

The primary concern facing pregnant women during vacation is gastrointestinal distress – or Montezuma’s revenge, if you will. Food contamination from bacteria, viruses, or parasites continues to be a great problem in many places throughout the world.

A perfect example is salmonella poisoning. Dirty vegetables, unwashed fruit and poorly cooked meats are all sources of salmonella contamination – both abroad and in the United States.  It’s important to pay attention in restaurants and order food that is properly cooked. Stay away from raw fish and steer clear of anything described as ‘tartar.’ And of course, avoid raw shellfish, such as oysters or clams.

For many people, food poisoning simply results in diarrhea and stomach cramps, and individuals will usually recover after three to four days of misery. But for pregnant women, severe diarrhea, abdominal cramps and dehydration can be very problematic. Severe dehydration and bowel irritability can cause the uterus to have contractions, leading to a premature opening of the cervix and even a very premature delivery.

While there is no need to be paranoid, it is important for pregnant women to pay attention to their diet while traveling abroad. Be proactive about protecting yourself.

Pregnancy can put you in a mildly immunosuppressive state, so another area of concern for travelling pregnant women can be diseases acquired by mosquito bites – including the West Nile virus and the chikungunya virus, which recently spread throughout the Caribbean.

While there is limited evidence on whether pregnant women are more likely to contract West Nile virus, pregnant women with the disease may have a slight chance of passing it to their unborn baby, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There are risks associated with chikungunya fever and pregnancy as well.

“When counseling travelers going to areas with ongoing outbreaks of chikungunya fever, providers should use caution when advising travelers at increased risk for more severe disease, including travelers with underlying medical conditions and women who are late in their pregnancy (as their unborn infants are at increased risk),” the CDC states on their website

In order to avoid contracting a mosquito-borne illness during your trip, use mosquito repellants and try to stay away from areas where that may have an abundance of mosquitos – such as lakes, forests or rivers. Always check the CDC’s website to determine if there are any major outbreaks of mosquito-borne illnesses, or other dangerous diseases, in your destination.

Now that we’ve covered some of the risks of traveling while pregnant, let’s look at the benefits of a good vacation. You’ll get some sun, giving you a boost of vitamin D, but of course, don’t forget to wear sunscreen.  You can also catch up on some much needed sleep and decrease your levels of stress, which is absolutely the greatest thing you can do for your body during pregnancy.

So go ahead, have a great vacation – but be sure to be proactive about protecting your health. And don’t forget to return in time for your next doctor’s visit!