Traveling to neuroscience conferences has been such a major part of the last 7 years of my life that I now consider myself a pro. What I am absolutely not a pro at is traveling while pregnant.
This year on International Women's Day, I attended my first scientific conference as a pregnant woman.
This week, I am 16 weeks pregnant. I am starting to show. And I flew from California to Maryland for the first conference of my post doc. It was a long (fortunately non-stop) flight. It was a week of putting myself in front of new people and assertively introducing myself, and semi-hiding my condition.
Here is what I learned about flying during early pregnancy:
1. Nobody is going to offer to help you. I was able to lift my own carry-on into the overhead storage, but if you are not, find a nice looking person to ask for help. It's not worth the round ligament pain.
2. Whether it's to pee every 20 minutes (me) or just to get up every hour or so to stretch your legs and relieve your back (me) or belly cramps (me), you are likely to turn a few eyes. People are nosy on planes -- what else do they have to look at? What helped me was to make sure I got an aisle seat, and sit toward the middle/back of the plane where families tend to sit. Families will be moving around as much as you are. No one will judge you. If you strategically cradle your fledgling baby-bump, someone will likely even ask you how far along you are.
Here is what I learned about conference attendance during early pregnancy:
1. Stay hydrated. Most conferences provide water and chamomile tea for those stringently avoiding caffeine. Do not shy away from keeping hydrated in order to avoid getting up during one of the day's 22 seminars. Because I have Crohn's disease, I am comfortable going to the bathroom whenever I have to, sometimes wherever I have to. I have built up a mild immunity to people judging me for getting up to leave the room every 20 minutes. But if you are uncomfortable, sit in an outside edge seat or toward the back (I personally hate the back).
2. Bring snacks. Although continental breakfasts are typically safe (breads, fruit, yogurt), lunch is always a toss-up and dinner can be as well. Because I also have Crohn's disease, my diet excludes dairy and red meat. If the salad is pre-dressed, if the potatoes are doused in cream sauce, if the only protein is steak -- forget about it. With my personal pregnancy restrictions (no deli meat, no hotel fish, etc.) I am even more limited. I kept apples and carrot sticks in my bag throughout the conference. I splurged on room service so that Neonate and I could have late night nourishment when needed.
3. Not drinking coffee is really hard. I'm not normally a coffee drinker; tea is my hot beverage of choice. At conferences, however, I depend on 1-3 cups of coffee a day to keep me at attention and socially present. Since my body is not used to high input of caffeine, it's not something I'm about to test during my pregnancy so I've just avoided coffee altogether. I'm finding that this means that during my many walks to the restroom throughout the day, I quicken my pace and take a few stairs for stimulation. But I also skip out on a session here or there to lay down and relax (and again, to give my back some relief).
I ended up having a great time over my three day event. Have fun and put yourself out there. People are not nearly as observant as your nerves give them credit for.