It’s summer and the highways and airports are full of people traveling to destinations far and wide. The beach, the lake, visiting family and friends, and business trips. All the excitement of traveling can be dulled with anxiety if you’re also in the midst of fertility treatments.
Is it okay to travel when you’re undergoing (or planning) fertility treatment?
We checked in with Dr. Vinay Gunnala of the Southwest Fertility Center to ask about medical considerations for travel during fertility treatment, and his advice to patients who are thinking about planning a trip.
Travel to Release Some Stress
“Travel can help a couple escape some of the stress [of going through fertility treatment],” Dr. Gunnala told me.
“The reproductive system is the one hormonal system that is most sensitive to stress,” he went on to explain. “When a woman goes through a stressful situation, it can result in menstrual irregularities for several months. Generally, the better someone can manage the stress in their life, the better prognosis I tend to see. And an enjoyable trip or opportunity to get away from everyday stressors can certainly help with that.”
Taking a trip can be a great way to unwind and restore your energy for the road ahead, as long as you balance your travel plans with the precise scheduling that can go along with most fertility treatment plans.
“Fertility treatment requires frequent monitoring, including blood tests and ultrasounds. That’s just how detailed we need to be,” Dr. Gunnala said. “There is definitely a purpose for the monitoring, but we also need to balance it with the importance of living daily life and successfully managing stress.”
Is it Okay to Travel During Treatment?
So, life doesn’t need to be put on hold because you’re undergoing fertility treatment. Good news! You can still plan that amazing trip, or give your boss the okay for that conference. There’s just a few things to consider before you book a flight, and while you’re preparing to leave.
First things first: every fertility center does things a little differently. They have their own schedules and process. It’s important to ask about the scheduling and plan for your treatment, and tell your fertility team that you’re planning to take a trip — before you schedule your plans.
It’s possible that you might need to avoid travel during certain parts of your treatment, especially with IVF. But that said, most doctors can find a way to work around an urgent last-minute work trip, family emergency or opportunity for a once-in-a-lifetime trip.
Some considerations for travel will depend on the type of fertility treatment you’re receiving.
IUI: Travel Before and After
During the month before an IUI, most women can travel as they wish. You’ll want to coordinate scheduling with important monitoring appointments at your fertility clinic, such as sonograms to monitor follicular growth. Traveling with the oral pill Clomid is as easy as taking any other prescription along with you. However, if you’ll be using injectable fertility medications such as hCG to trigger ovulation, those medications often require specific storage temperatures and conditions. Talk to your clinic about how to plan for those.
After an IUI, you are free to travel. Keep in mind you’ll have an appointment for a pregnancy test two weeks after the IUI.
IVF: Travel Before
During the 10-12 days prior to an IVF egg retrieval, it can be difficult to travel, Dr. Gunnala explained. This period of time requires frequent visits (everyday or every two days) to your fertility center for in-office monitoring, blood tests, and sonograms to ensure healthy follicle response to stimulation and decide on the most opportune time for triggering ovulation, which increases the likelihood of success in the cycle.
“However, there are many reputable fertility centers across the nation,” Dr. Gunnala added. “If a trip is desired or necessary during an IVF cycle, as long as the patient is traveling to a place with monitoring capabilities, it would be fine to travel as long as it does not compromise the cycle.”
IVF: Travel After Egg Retrieval
It’s just fine to travel the day after the egg retrieval, Dr. Gunnala says. You probably won’t want to schedule a trip that same day, though. During the egg retrieval procedure, many clinics use anesthesia that can make you feel sleepy or disoriented for a short while. The type of anesthesia can vary between different fertility centers, although most of the symptoms of the anesthesia wear off 2-4 hours after the retrieval.
During a stimulation cycle, your estrogen levels are elevated. This generally causes mild symptoms of abdominal discomfort or abdominal bloating. Neither causes any risk for travel, but keep in mind you may feel uncomfortable sitting in a plane or car for a long period of time. Taking breaks to stand up and walk around, staying hydrated, and wearing compression stockings can help ease the discomfort. If there is concern for ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, then informing your provider is recommended as there may be precautions on traveling.
One important thing to keep in mind: even after your eggs have been retrieved, your ovaries will remain enlarged for another 10-12 days. In rare cases, enlarged ovaries can rotate or experience “torsion” that can be painful and could require surgery to correct. To prevent this, be careful making any sudden twisting or jarring movements such as:
- Lifting heavy objects while packing or getting into your vehicle
- Putting your bag in the overhead compartment of the plane
- Retrieving a bag off the baggage claim belt
IVF: Travel After Embryo Transfer
“There are old wives tales about plane travel when pregnant, but none of that has been proven,” Dr. Gunnala says lightheartedly. “I’m completely okay with my patients traveling after an embryo transfer.”
The same as for an IUI procedure (above), expect that you’ll need to be in the office for a pregnancy test approximately 10 to 12 days after the transfer.
It’s common to be worried about doing everything you can to help the embryos “stick”, but data has consistently shown that going back to regular activity immediately has no effect on the rate of pregnancy.
Before You Book Travel Plans
So, other than a few key appointments and narrow windows where you should try to stick close to your fertility center, scheduling that trip is a go!
Before you plug your credit card info in to book a flight, just make sure you have a conversation with your fertility specialist about your plans. Make sure that the timing you have in mind will work with your personal fertility plan.
One other quick task before you buy those flights: check the CDC website for travel alerts at your destination. Travel alerts for areas reporting Zika virus outbreaks or other infectious diseases are especially important for anyone planning to become pregnant.
You’re Going On a Trip! How Should You Prepare?
Whoop whoop! Your travel plans are booked and your calendar is marked for your trip! There’s a few more things to think about in the weeks leading up to your travel:
- Travel Vaccines: If you’re traveling outside the U.S., check with your fertility center before getting any recommended travel vaccinations (i.e., hepatitis A, typhoid, etc.). Some vaccinations may not be recommended for patients who are in the midst of a fertility treatment cycle.
- Locate Fertility Support at Your Destination: Ask your fertility specialist for a recommendation of a fertility center near your destination, just in case you have an issue while you’re away. You could even have routine monitoring done during your trip, if needed.
- Make Note of Medical Resources: Locate the nearest pharmacy and hospital at your destination, in case you need a prescription refill or there is a medical emergency.
- Make sure you will have enough medication to last through the duration of your trip. If you’ll need a refill while traveling, talk to your doctor well in advance to arrange for refills that you can pick up at your destination. There may be requirements or restrictions regarding sending prescriptions to other states or countries.
- Carry a letter from your doctor that explains that you need to take this medication while traveling. Put copies in your purse or carry-on with your medication. (This is especially important if you will need to administer an injection during a flight.)
- Bring contact information for your fertility clinic, pharmacy, and insurance company.
- Keep all prescription medications in their original packaging.
- Think though your medication schedule. If you are traveling to a different time zone, consult with your fertility specialist about whether adjustments to your medication schedule are needed. Bring a medication schedule to help you stay on track, and put reminders or alerts on your phone. Your smartphone should automatically update the time based on your location.
Packing to Go: How to Travel with Fertility Medications
Many people travel with medications every day. There’s just a few things to think about to make sure that traveling with your fertility medications will be smooth and easy, and you can feel worry-free during your trip.
Check the Airline’s Medication Policies: If you’re flying, check your airline’s website for information about bringing medications and supplies (like syringes) with you. Each airline is different. Some may require you to carry your medical supplies in particular types of bags, while others may ask you to put supplies in your luggage rather than in your carry-on. You can also check the TSA website for information about regulations concerning traveling with medication. The TSA also has this helpful video about traveling with medications and medical supplies.
Pack Medication and Supplies Properly
Depending on how you’re traveling, you may want to place medications in clear, sealable plastic bags so they are easy to see, and pack them in your carry-on or purse to keep them easily accessible. This can also decrease the odds of something going wrong such as theft or damage.
You may also want to pack medical supplies separately from your medications, in another clear plastic bag. Supplies you may need could include:
- alcohol wipes and/or hand sanitizer
- sharps container to properly dispose of your needle tips
- extra needle tips
Maintain the Right Temperature
Certain injectable medications must be stored in a chilled environment. If your medication needs to be refrigerated, use a small, good quality cooler or insulated bag. Use frozen gel packs to keep the bag cold. Note that the TSA requires gel packs to be frozen solid (not slushy).
Test your cooler in advance to make sure it will stay cold enough for as long as you will be traveling – including any possible delays along the way. Check that there will be a refrigerator or other cool storage option at your destination.
In the Airport: Security / TSA
If you’re going through airport screenings or customs, notify the TSA personnel before you begin the screening process that you are carrying medications in your purse or carry-on bag. Let them know if you’d prefer these items not be passed through the X-ray machine.
Relax, Enjoy, and Have Fun!
“The couples I work with are extremely motivated and strong,” Dr. Gunnala told me. “But this journey can take some time. It’s not day-by-day, or always even month-by-month. Sometimes it can take longer. If someone even wants to take a month off to travel, that’s almost always okay.”
Infertility treatment can sometimes feel like a huge, emotionally-fraught experience. But at the end of the day, it can be flexible, and it’s critical to take care of yourself. Just like Gunnala, most fertility specialists want the best for their patients, and want them to live their lives while going through treatment.
So throw a dart at a map, or ask to visit that long-distance friend, or check out the latest cheap flights. It’ll all be okay. It’s a journey – might as well try to enjoy the ride.
For added stress relief during infertility treatments, try listening to Circle + Bloom’s guided meditation programs for IVF/IUI.
With love & gratitude,
Dr. Vinay Gunnala was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona. He received his undergraduate degree in Mammalian Physiology and Neuroscience at the University of California, San Diego and his medical degree from the University of Arizona, College of Medicine in Tucson. He completed residency in Obstetrics and Gyncecology at New York Presbyterian – Weill Cornell. Since completing fellowship in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at the prestigious Center for Reproductive Medicine at Weill Cornell, he came back home to join his mother’s fertility practice. His mother (pictured below) Sujatha Gunnala, founded Southwest Fertility Center in 1980, which is currently the longest standing fertility practice in Arizona. Dr.s Gunnala both specialize in all aspects of reproductive medicine, offering patients a full range of fertility services including ovulation induction, egg freezing for fertility preservation, oocyte donation, and IVF/ICSI with and without preimplantation genetic testing. In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his loving wife and baby boy, Dhillan, and golden doodle, Riggins (pictured below).