Preparing for a disaster when you're pregnant
A disaster is an event that brings an extreme amount of stress into your life. It may happen as part of nature, like a flood, earthquake or storm. Or it may be caused by people, like a terrorist attack or a car accident. It can affect where you live, how you get food, how you move from place to place and how you get medical care.
Being in a disaster when you’re pregnant can make things even more stressful. Getting prepared ahead of time can make things a little easier for you just in case a disaster happens
What can you do to be prepared for a disaster?
Here’s what you can do:
- Talk to your health care provider about what to do in case of a disaster, especially if you've had complications with your pregnancy or you’re close to your due date. Ask about vaccinations you may need to get. He can tell you which are safe to get during pregnancy
- Be ready to follow evacuation instructions from your community or state. Officials can tell you how and when to leave the area and when it’s safe to go back home. Decide where you will go if you have to evacuate (leave). Can you stay with family or friends in another town? Or do you think you’ll go to a shelter
- Tell your health care provider where you plan to go and how you can be reached. If you have a case manager or are in a program like Healthy Start or Nurse Family Partnership, tell your case manager your plans and your phone number.
- Make a list of important phone numbers, including your partner and your provider. Keeping these numbers on your cell phone is great, but your phone’s battery may run low. So write the numbers on paper, too.
- Get copies of your medical records, including a list of medicine you take, the prenatal vitamin you take and vaccinations you've had.
- Learn the signs of preterm labor. This is labor that happens before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Stress can lead to preterm labor, and what’s more stressful than a disaster? If you have any of the signs, call your health care provider right away. If you’re in a shelter, tell someone in charge that you need medical care.
- Pack a bag of clothes, medicine, snacks and supplies, like batteries and flashlights.
What can you do during a disaster to help you stay safe?
Here’s what you can do:
- Check in with your health care provider and let him know what you’re planning to do.
- If you have to evacuate, find a hospital in the new area where you can go for prenatal care.
- Keep taking your prenatal vitamins and any medicine that your provider has said is OK for you to take during pregnancy. Don’t take anything new without talking to your health care provider first.
- If you’re driving a long distance to evacuate, stop and get out to walk every 1 to 2 hours. Be sure to wear your seatbelt.
- Wear comfortable shoes.
What dangers can you look for after a disaster?
Unsafe water. After a disaster, use bottled water and follow official announcements about tap water (water from your faucet). Follow instructions about boiling tap water for cooking, cleaning and bathing.
Boiling is the best way to make tap water safe. To kill most harmful substances in water, bring it to a rolling boil for 1 minute. If you can't boil water, use chlorine or iodine tablets. Follow the directions on the tablet package. Do not use water treated with iodine or chlorine to prepare formula. Keep treated water out of reach of children.
Sometimes flooding happens after a disaster. Flood water may contain harmful substances like bacteria that may cause serious disease. Protect yourself with rubber gloves and boots. If you do come in contact with flood water, use soap and clean water to wash any part of your body touched by the water. If you swallow flood water and get sick, tell your health care provider right away.
Spoiled food. Don’t eat spoiled food or any food you think may be spoiled. For more information about food safety, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Dangerous chemicals. Listen for state and local announcements about dangerous chemicals in your area. Local officials may not let you return home until they’ve made sure the area is safe. If you think you have been exposed to dangerous chemicals, tell your health care provider. Or call the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS) at (866) 626-6847.
What kinds of things can you watch out for when you return to your home?
If you're pregnant and your home has been damaged, ask family and friends to help clean it up. There may be disaster workers in your community, too, who can help. Depending on your home’s condition, you may need to hire professionals to do the work. When you’re pregnant:
- Don’t do hard, physical work, like lifting and carrying heavy items.
- Be careful of falling on stairs or when stepping over debris from the disaster.
- Stay away from exposed electrical wires to keep from getting shocked.
- Stay away from bacteria and mold that can get on walls, floors, furniture and other items. You may need to hire professionals to remove mold from your home.
How can you cope with stress after a disaster?
Stress can affect your health and your baby’s health during pregnancy. To help relieve your stress, share your feelings with someone—a friend, family member, a health care provider or a counselor. Talk to this person for a few minutes each day. Share your worries and concerns. Talking about them can help make you feel better.
The stress of a disaster can affect your relationship with your partner. Abuse is never OK. It’s not OK if your partner (or anyone else) hits, kicks or pushes you. It’s not OK if he yells at you, scares you or calls you names. If your partner abuses you, tell a friend or your health care provider. Or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799- SAFE (7233).
Take care of your body’s stress, too. Rest when you can and don’t get overheated. Try to eat regular meals during the day.
For more information
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
American Red Cross
American Association of Poison Control Centers
American Mental Health Counselors Association
American Psychological Association
Girls and Boys Town National Hotline
Mental Health America
Last reviewed May 2014
See also: Environmental risks and pregnancy, Caring for your baby in a disaster
Frequently Asked Questions
Is air travel safe during pregnancy?
If your pregnancy is healthy, it’s usually safe to travel by plane. Follow these tips when traveling by air:
- Ask your airline if they have a cut-off time for traveling during pregnancy. You can fly on most airlines up to 36 weeks of pregnancy. But if you’re flying out of the country, the cut-off time may be earlier.
- If you’ve had morning sickness during pregnancy, ask your provider if you can take medicine to help with nausea.
- Book an aisle seat so you don't have to climb over other passengers when you need to get up to use the restroom or walk around. Try sitting towards the front of the plane where the ride feels smoother.
- Drink plenty of water. Don’t drink carbonated drinks, such as soda. And don’t eat foods, such as beans, that may cause gas.Gas in your belly can expand at high altitudes and make you feel uncomfortable.
- Fasten your seat belt when you’re in your seat. This can help keep you from getting hurt in case of turbulence. Turbulence happens when the air around a flying plane causes a bumpy ride.
- Wear loose, comfortable clothing. Flex your ankles during the flight, and take a walk when it's safe to leave your seat. Doing these things can help your blood flow and lower your risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot inside a vein. Sitting for long stretches of time during any kind of travel raises your chances of having DVT. Ask your health care provider if you should wear support stockings during your flight. They may help prevent DVT. But if you have diabetes or problems with blood circulation, you probably shouldn’t wear them.
- Tell the flight attendant if you feel sick or very uncomfortable during your flight. Contact your health care provider as soon as you can.
Is it safe to get or have a tattoo during pregnancy?
It's best to wait until after having your baby to get one. Here's why: Hepatitis B, a dangerous liver infection, and HIV/AIDS are two of many diseases that can be passed along through bodily fluids. This means you can catch these diseases if you get a tattoo from someone who uses a dirty needle. And you can pass these diseases along to your baby during pregnancy.
We don't know how tattoo dyes and inks affect a developing baby. Small amounts of chemicals that might be harmless to an adult can have a much bigger impact on a growing baby.
Most healthcare providers will give an epidural to a woman with a tattoo on her lower back. But they may decide not to if the tattoo is recent and fresh. If you have a tattoo on your back and are considering getting an epidural for pain relief during childbirth, find out what the hospital's policy is before you're admitted.
Is it safe to get spa treatments during pregnancy?
Some spa treatments are safe. Others may be more painful than usual. And some - like mud baths - are a bad idea while you're pregnant.
Any spa treatments that raise your body temperature (like mud baths, hot wax and seaweed wraps) are almost always unsafe during pregnancy. Steam rooms, hot tubs, and saunas also raise your body temperature. They can make you dehydrated and overheated. This can be dangerous for you and your baby. Avoid these treatments while you're pregnant.
Be careful with skin treatments like facials and body scrubs. During pregnancy, your skin changes a lot and may be extra sensitive. Before you cover your whole body with a product, test it on a small area of skin to be sure it doesn't irritate.
Getting your eyebrows done and having your bikini line waxed are usually safe during pregnancy, but they may feel more painful to your sensitive skin.