Summer 2015. For the past eight months or so I had been working in my dream job in international development, travelling across Asia and Africa visiting agriculture and nutrition projects and learning about innovative approaches.
And then one morning I got up and had to rush straight to the loo. Food poisoning, malaria, a bit of hangover from the night before? Or…?
That evening two lines on a pregnancy test proved beyond doubt that I was indeed pregnant. My husband and I were over the moon, as we’d been trying for a couple of years, we were in our mid-thirties and the time was definitely right. But… What about my new adventurous life?
I went to see my GP and I got referred to a maternity hospital for more tests, which established that I was healthy and in good shape. So, I decided to continue my life of adventure. I continued working until two weeks before my due date and while pregnant I travelled to Rwanda, where I trekked the jungle to see mountain gorillas, then to Tanzania, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and a bunch of European destinations (a total of 10 countries on 3 continents). In March 2016 I gave birth to a healthy baby girl.
I strongly believe that you can continue living your life of adventure while pregnant, but you need to take certain precautions to make sure you don’t put you or your unborn baby’s health at risk.
First and foremost: pregnancy is not a disease.
Obvious? Or maybe not so obvious? Lots of women assume that pregnancy is a serious medical condition that stops them from living their life to the fullest, like a disease does. However, medically, while of course a strain on a women’s body, pregnancy is not a ‘condition’, it is a perfectly natural state for your body. Your body is made for pregnancy, and knows exactly what to do. So if your doctor confirms that you’re carrying a healthy pregnancy, you can do whatever you used to do before, within reason.
Here are my three top tips:
1. Talk to your doctor
When you’re pregnant, you will be seeing your midwife or doctor on a regular basis to monitor your health and the development of your baby. If you’re planning a trip or an adventure, talk to your healthcare provider about what’s safe and what’s not. Every woman is different and what may have been safe for me may be too risky for you, or vice versa. When I was considering travelling to Uganda, which is an endemic country for malaria, I talked to my obstetrician who recommended a safe antimalarial as well as referred me to a tropical medicine clinic, where I was given anti-mosquito sprays safe to use in pregnancy and an insecticide-impregnated mosquito net.
2. Listen to your body
The key is to listen to your body. Pregnancy is a time when you reconnect with your body which you may have been taking for granted for years. It will be changing rapidly, and it will be communicating its needs to you. So when you feel tired, rest, when you crave strawberries, eat strawberries. The same goes for adventure. If it feels right, if you feel you can do it, do it. You may not be able to climb the highest summit anymore, but you can still hike. Similarly, if you feel like it’s becoming too much, stop, don’t force it. Pregnancy is not the right time to beat your personal best or start training for a marathon. When I was five months pregnant, my husband and I went to Fuerteventura and Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. We chose that destination over New Zealand, as I knew I could travel, but I didn’t feel up to a 24 hour journey one way. In the Canaries, I swam and hiked volcanic mountains without any problems.
3. Take extra precautions
As a pregnant traveller, you should follow the usual safety precautions. Check out my previous article on staying healthy in exotic destinations. However, you need to take extra care, since what is harmless to a grownup may be detrimental to a developing foetus, especially during the first trimester when the placenta has not fully developed yet. Here are some things to remember:
- Do not eat anything that carries a risk of food poisoning: raw or undercooked meat, raw or runny eggs, blue cheese, seafood that may have been undercooked or stored for too long, street food if you doubt hygiene levels.
- When travelling by plane, wear compression stockings to avoid deep vein thrombosis, drink plenty of fluids and get up every two hours or so.
- Always carry your full file of pregnancy records with you, so that if you need medical attention the doctors attending to you have complete information about your pregnancy.
- Avoid taking any over the counter medication without consulting a doctor first.
What not to do:
All this being said, pregnancy makes you more vulnerable and certain activities should be off limits. These include high impact sports that carry a risk of falls, such as skiing, horse-riding or paragliding (an activity I had to forego, with much regret, in the French Alps). Also, strenuous sports are not recommended, such as heavy running or climbing at high altitudes. When I went to Addis Ababa while four months pregnant, I could definitely feel the effects of altitude at 3000m above sea level: dizziness, headache, sweating. That altitude is often considered the upper safety limit for pregnant women and people with cardiac or respiratory conditions. And, of course, you shouldn’t drink or smoke!
Lastly, most women will enjoy a healthy, relatively problem-free pregnancy but for an odd bout of morning sickness and swollen ankles. But it may be that your pregnancy is not as smooth. You may develop complications, you may be prescribed rest (even bed rest in some cases), or be too tired to get up from the sofa. If that’s your case, don’t beat yourself up! Everyone is different. You may need a break during pregnancy, but you will continue your adventures when you’re a mum. But that’s a whole different topic that I’ll take up in another post….