We discovered we were expecting a baby about three weeks before leaving on our planned trip to Thailand, which gave me just enough time to question every part of our itinerary–including whether we should go to Thailand at all. I felt a weightiness in our decision like I had never experienced before. I now realize that I was feeling my first anxiety-ridden pangs of parenthood, even if I was parent to something the size of a blueberry.
This was my first test of motherhood and I really didn’t want to fail.
In the end, we went. We had a once-in-a-lifetime vacation that I’ll be dreaming of when I’m knee-deep in diapers, but we didn’t make that decision lightly. Nor did we do, see and eat everything we might have had we been blueberry-less. I’m writing about my experience now with the hope that it might help you, if you find yourself in a similar(ly wonderful) predicament.
Talk to your doctor. I was ready to scrap the whole trip, but my doctor seemed pretty unfazed by the idea of visiting southeast Asia in my first trimester. Why? I am healthy and have a low-risk pregnancy. Moreover, I had already completed all of the vaccinations I would need for Thailand in years before. If you are planning a trip that requires a yellow fever or malaria vaccination, you may want to reconsider the destination or the timing of the pregnancy. I know many couples who’ve been on a “last hurrah” trip before trying to become parents.
Ask questions, don’t Google. I brought a thick notepad stacked with questions to my doctor, because no question is too small when it comes to health. I can’t underscore enough the importance of being your own advocate. In a previous life I was a timid patient who often felt I was “bothering” my doctor. Since becoming a health writer, I realize how little doctors can really help me unless I’m vocal about my concerns. Some of my questions included:
- What should I do on long flights? Wear insanely tight, belly-button high compression stockings. Hydrate constantly. Get up and move every two hours (reserve an aisle seat). Use hand sanitizer like a germaphobe.
- What foods should I avoid? All street foods, undercooked or raw meats, freshly-squeezed fruit juices, salads and fresh vegetables, tap water. Basically anything Anthony Bourdain eats on TV.
- What should I do if I experience a health emergency? Always know where the closest hospital is in relation to where you are staying. Have your insurance handy (buy travel health insurance if yours does not cover care abroad). Contact your primary doctor immediately.
Sadly, I had to pass on the sashimi and salads. Fortunately, my husband picked up the slack.
Prepare for every scenario. My husband and I had a running joke that we should ask for a hotel room with an ocean-view toilet, in case I spent the majority of my trip down with morning sickness. Luckily I never experienced any, but I had prescription nausea medication, saltine crackers, ginger tea and sea bands on hand everywhere we went. Research suggests you may be at a higher risk of morning sickness if you already have a history of motion sickness, your mother experienced morning sickness or are carrying multiples. In that case, I’d recommend waiting to travel until the second trimester.
Know your Zika. Another upside to being a health writer is knowing how to read an official infectious disease report, instead of getting caught up in headlines. Otherwise I might have written off Thailand as a Zika-ridden country, when in fact, it has only recorded a handful of cases prior to 2007 in one jungle territory. That said, I coated myself in mosquito repellent daily, wore unfashionable repellent bracelets everywhere and avoided mosquito-prone areas while in Thailand. Be careful not to write off a country because a friend’s sister read something online about Zika. Trust the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control.
Listen to your intuition. Do not plan a trip while expecting a baby based on this article! Plan it because you’ve spoken with your doctor, your partner and yourself. If you feel good about the trip, you will have a good time. If something feels “wrong,” it will likely continue to feel wrong and prevent you from enjoying your vacation.
I’m looking forward to writing about “travels with baby”… Meanwhile, enjoy these links:
- Heaven on Earth: The InterContinental Koh Samui
- Paradise Found: Panviman Koh Phangan
- Ten ‘babymoon’ travel tips
- A cute maternity swimsuit (I never got one!)
- Airline rules for traveling while pregnant