Prepare for disaster

The needs of a pregnant woman during a disaster are unique. You still need to follow any evacuation and preparation instructions given by your state, but here are some special things to consider.

If you're pregnant or think you may be pregnant and have questions about the health effects of the disaster, talk with a health care provider.

The Gulf oil spill

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has posted information about the oil spill for pregnant women. 

How can you prepare for a disaster?

Prepare as much as you can before a disaster strikes. This will help you to stay healthy and safe. Follow these tips:

  • Make sure to let your health care provider's office (doctor, midwife or nurse-practitioner) know where you will be.
  • Make a list of all prescription medications and prenatal vitamins that you are taking.
  • Get a copy of your prenatal records from your health care provider.
  • If you have a case manager or participate in a program such as Healthy Start or Nurse-Family Partnership, let your case manager know where you are going. Give him or her a phone number to use to contact you.
  • If you have a high-risk pregnancy or you are close to delivery, check with your health care provider to determine the safest option for you.

What should you do during a disaster?

Below are some guidelines on what to do if you need to evacuate your area because of a disaster emergency..

  • Bring any medications you are currently taking, including your prenatal vitamins and your prescriptions.
  • Keep a copy of your prenatal medical records with you and contact information for your health care provider in case you need to visit another provider.
  • If you are driving, stop to get out and walk every 1 to 2 hours.
  • Wear comfortable shoes.
  • Pack some snacks.
  • Remember that maternity clothes may not be available if you evacuate. Pack extra clothes for yourself, including undergarments.

What should you do after a disaster?

Once you've made it through a disaster emergency and are safe, you'll want to take steps to ensure you stay healthy. For example, if your health care provider's office is closed or if you had to evacuate, call a local hospital or health department to get information about prenatal care and local hospitals. Below are some other things to keep in mind.

Eat healthy
Even in a disaster, it's important to eat healthy and safe. Do not eat spoiled food or any food you think may be spoiled.

Find water for drinking, cooking and bathing
Having safe water is very important for staying hydrated, cooking and more.

  • Listen to and follow public announcements about the local water supply. Local authorities will tell you if tap water is safe to drink or to use for cooking or bathing.
  • If the local water supply is not safe to use, follow local instructions to use bottled water or to boil or disinfect tap water for cooking, cleaning or bathing.
  • If tap water is not safe, boiling is the preferred way to kill harmful bacteria and parasites. To kill most organisms, bring water to a rolling boil for 1 minute.
  • If you can't boil unsafe tap water, you can treat it with chlorine tablets or iodine tablets. Follow the directions that come with the tablets. Keep treated water out of reach of children and toddlers.
  • Drink at least eight glasses (8-ounce servings) of water every day.

Learn about immunizations during pregnancy
Pregnant women should NOT receive vaccines for varicella (chickenpox) and measles, mumps and rubella (MMR). Getting these shots during pregnancy may harm your baby. However, there are some vaccines that are safe while pregnant and that you may need after surviving a disaster. Learn more about vaccinations during pregnancy.

Watch for signs of labor
Stress is a risk factor for preterm labor (labor that happens before 37 weeks of pregnancy). If you have any of the symptoms below, don't wait for them to just go away. If you're in a shelter, immediately go to the person in charge of your site. Tell him or her you need medical care right away.

Preterm labor signs include:

If you are not in a shelter and have any of these symptoms, contact a health care provider. If you're full term and have reached 40 weeks of pregnancy, watch for signs of normal labor.

Get some physical relief when you can
No matter what your housing situation, take a little time (10 to 15 minutes) to lie down and put your feet up. Try to do this a few times each day.

To have this time be most effective, try your best to:

  • Go to a quiet spot.
  • Clear your mind of worries for these few minutes.
  • Take deep breaths from your belly, not your chest.
  • Avoid getting overheated.

Stress and pregnancy
Stress can affect your and your baby's health during pregnancy. It's best to try to avoid stress whenever possible.

  • Find someone to talk to a few times a day.
  • Invite the person to be your "buddy."
  • Share with him or her any concerns you may have about being pregnant in these difficult circumstances. The fact that you have someone to talk to is helpful all by itself.

Health care providers can help you cope with stress or refer you to other professionals. You can also get help from:

  • A clergy member
  • The department of psychology at a local college or university
  • The local community mental health center.

If you ever feel like harming yourself or your baby, talk to a health care provider right away.

An emergency situation causes stress for a family. If you are concerned about your relationship and your safety, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE (7233).

What are other potential dangers?

Remember that it's important to stay safe during and after a disaster emergency.

Flood Water in streets and buildings
Flood water may contain harmful substances. For instance, the water may contain bacteria that could cause serious disease. It's best if children and pregnant women avoid touching or walking in flood water.

If you do touch the water, use soap and clean water to wash the parts of your body that came in contact with it. Whenever possible, people who must come in contact with the water should wear protective clothing, such as gloves and boots.

If you are pregnant, be especially careful not to swallow any flood water. Try to keep it away from your mouth. If you feel sick in any way, talk to a doctor or nurse right away. Remember to tell them that you are pregnant.

Toxic exposures during pregnancy
If you're worried that you may have been exposed to dangerous chemicals or substances during your pregnancy, talk to a health care provider.

The Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS) offers free telephone counseling to pregnant women worried about toxic exposures. Call the toll-free number (866) 626-6847.

Returning to your home
Pregnant women may face several possible dangers when returning home, depending on their individual circumstances and the damage to their homes. If you're pregnant and your home has been damaged, it may be best to ask disaster workers, family members and friends to clean up. Possible hazards that could threaten your health and your pregnancy include:

  • Pollutants such as bacteria and mold that have contaminated household items
  • Hard physical work, such as carrying and lifting heavy items
  • Falling while stepping over debris
  • Electrical shocks

Your state and local health or environmental departments can tell you about pollutants in your area. For information on environmental hazards and pregnancy, read the March of Dimes fact sheet.

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
Salvation Army
United Way

Last reviewed May 2009

See also: Environmental risks and pregnancy

Most common 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.

©2013 March of Dimes Foundation. The March of Dimes is a non-profit organization recognized as tax-exempt under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3).