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Postpartum Travel: How Soon Is Too Soon?

Postpartum Travel: How Soon Is Too Soon?

By Amalah

Dear Amalah,

I’ve been enjoying your blog and column(s), for many years- even before I had a baby of my own to use it on.  I have a situation that combines two common types of drama commonly found on the internet- births and weddings.  

I currently have, a 3.5 year old son, a 22 week old fetus, and a best friend who just got engaged.  My friend is hoping to have a very short engagement and is planning to get married somewhere between 2 and 6 weeks after my baby’s due date.  The wedding would be about 1000 miles away from where my family lives and I’m supposed to be the Matron of Honor (this was decided when we were high schoolers).  My oldest is probably going to be asked to be the ring bearer.  For what it’s worth, my parents will be at the wedding, and I’m close enough to her extended family that I’m sure once we are there, I’d have tons of help.

To say that I am anxious about traveling so soon after delivery (my oldest was a c-section), is a gross understatement.  I’m also concerned about my son having his whole world turned upside down, and trekking across the country in the midst of sibling regression-palooza. I’m worried about my physical limitations after delivery, and trying to learn how to parent two humans while embarking on a pretty intense trip with no sleep.  

Is it crazy to still be considering going to/being in this wedding?  If we do go, would driving or flying be less crazy-making?  Any advice you can offer would be very much appreciated.

Thanks,
Torn-in-Two

Yikes. I wouldn’t do it.

On one hand, looking back at my own one-kid-to-two transition, maybe I probably COULD have made a trip during those first couple weeks if I absolutely HAD to, provided I was with family in tow for help and support…but on the other hand, I’m really, really glad I didn’t have to! I had a repeat scheduled c-section, stayed at home and considered it a win to leave my bed some days to go sit on the couch. We did a couple short outings to do things that were fun for our 3 year old, but even those were restricted to a few hours or less and offered me lots of opportunities to stay seated and not overdo it.

I mean, real talk: Two to six weeks after a birth, you’ll likely still be bleeding or dealing with pain and limited mobility. You’ll still look somewhat pregnant. Breastfeeding is in the early stages so you may still be figuring out supply issues and painful nipples. And then there’s the wisdom of dragging a not-even-close-to-fully-vaccinated and vulnerable newborn on a plane and then to a large gathering of strangers. AND THEN there’s the sleep issue AND all the usual traveling-with-a-3-year-old/keeping-a-3-year-old-entertained-and-behaved-at-a-wedding headaches. Again: Yikes.

Honestly, I wouldn’t do that unless it was a 1,000% non-negotiable, cannot-get-out-of-it sort of thing. Those things do exist and new mothers have made it happen and kicked ass all along the way. But I’m sorry to any other brides-to-be out there with pregnant best friends: A wedding just isn’t one of those things.

(Nor are Oktoberfest and making-your-own soap classes, incidentally.)

Your anxiety is perfectly warranted in this case, honestly. Because this is an awful big ask. It’d be one thing if you were talking about, say, three to six months after the birth, but two to six weeks is just…cutting it way too close. (And considering that babies are notorious ignorers of due dates, you could deliver earlier or later than expecting, with both scenarios further complicating any plans for major travel.) Even if the wedding was super local I’d still probably advise against taking the matron of honor role that soon postpartum — you’ll want to be focused on yourself and your baby, not standing up in front of an audience in a maternity bridesmaid dress hoping your boobs don’t leak and your maxi pad makes it through the ceremony.

So this might not be the advice you (or your friend) were hoping for, but I just don’t think this is something you should commit to doing. While it’s sad that your long-standing BFF plans aren’t happening on a workable timeline, I hate the thought of you spending the rest of your pregnancy getting increasingly anxious and wigged out about this…not to mention the fact that the trip itself really IS all but guaranteed to be a stressful, uncomfortable endeavor for you, even with all the help in the world.

Obviously, I don’t know how your friend will take hearing “no, I can’t” from you — hopefully she’s the sort of person who understands the not-so-pretty realities of those first weeks post-birth. It’s not just an issue of you having someone to hand the baby off to whenever you need to and/or not knowing what dress size you’ll be. I mean, if you do end up with a repeat c-section, you’ll be traveling 1,000 miles with two tiny needy people while also recovering from major abdominal surgery. That might not even be medically advisable, to be honest. Talk to your OB and your pediatrician — I’m guessing they’ll tell you that while it’s not strictly FORBIDDEN, it might not be the best idea. Then talk to your friend, express your regrets, and offer to make a trip at some other point in the further-out future when your body and your mom-of-two confidence level are in better shape.

Photo source: Depositphotos/harishmarnad

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Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Comments

  • www

    I almost had the same situation come up – i decided I’d go by myself, fly in right before the wedding and leave on the first flight the next day, pumping to make sure my little one had what they needed (my first was easy going about that even in the first few weeks). If it was more in the 4 week- 6 week timeline, I’d bring the whole gang. If you don’t think you can go, it might be worth telling her it’ll be a game time decision and backing out of MOH. Then she knows you’re trying your best (vs. opting out a few months ahead of time) and when you cancel a week or two before, she might be more understanding vs. mad.

    • We

      One more thought if she knew I was pregnant when she picked the date I feel a little less guilty about it

  • Ally

    I had all c-sections and my second was by far the easiest. I would say go for it since you will have a lot of help. We travel a lot and did so from the start with the kids. They always did well. Personally I don’t like missing events like this, but I also rarely get anxious about anything. It may be hard, but missing an important wedding like this may be something you will regret.

    • C

      It could be easier, but it could also be way worse! My friend’s recovery from her 2nd C-section was terrible and nothing like her first – she was genuinely in pain for about 8 weeks. Plus, remember that your dr. won’t even clear you to drive for 2-4 weeks until after the birth, so driving might not even be an option. It really depends and is terribly hard to say in advance with surgery!!!

  • Molly

    Great advice. My baby was nearly 3 weeks late (inductions don’t always work, hooray!), then a few days in the hospital, then c-section recovery… we weren’t even home until close to a month after my original due date. And if you were to have a repeat c-section – flying on an airplane (or heck, just being in an airport) sounds agonizing. You don’t need that stress looming over your pregnancy!

  • CKD1

    I’d be very honest with your friend NOW that either you can back out of being MOH but maybe still attend today so she can ask someone else to step in OR tell her you may need to wait and see closer to due date/the wedding. She may think she’s doing you some huge favor, like you’ll be ready for a glass of wine and spa day with the girls or something, and it’s up to you to tell her what’s up. If she freaks out or says you promised back before you could even vote legally, remind her that the pregnancy came first. Who knows…she may decide to push out the date? But I’d say something ASAP so she at least knows this is on your radar and you want to be a good friend.

    FWIW, I have no kids and had a very sweet guest who was two weeks postpartum on our wedding day who just…couldn’t do it. I told her there would be dinner and a seat for her if she could but no hard feelings. Circle of life, man.

    If this wedding was around the corner from your house, I’d say go and have fun because you could theoretically leave the baby with a family member for an hour or two at a time if necessary, but with the travel element added it just sounds like there’s a lot of room for things to go sideways and for you to feel exhausted before you even have to get yourself into your dress and smile for photos.

  • crd

    I would still go, but to me relationships trump pretty much everything. I would sacrifice being uncomfortable in my postpartum body and a crazy few days of travel for my lifelong best friend. I think that I would have major regret not going. But that’s coming from someone who traveled for Thanksgiving a month after each of my babies were born. Family is just super important to me! If you do decide to go for it, I would ask your friend if she can do it as late as possible. If you are going to have a repeat csection, ask if you can do it right at 39 or 40 weeks. If you are going for a VBAC, many doctors won’t let you go past 41 weeks, so if she did it 5-6 weeks after your due date I would think that you’d have a good breastfeeding relationship by then too (especially since this is your second). Babywear as much as possible to keep that baby from well meaning relatives (I recommend the Solly at that age!). Whatever you decide, I hope that you feel a peace about it!

  • cck

    I would absolutely NOT go. I’ve had two c-sections and for both there is no way I could have flown even 4 weeks afterward. In fact, about 4 weeks after my first, we had a local wedding we were invited to and my husband went without me. I just couldn’t do it. The idea of scheduling another c-section to accommodate this wedding is insane, in my opinion. 3-4 weeks out is the earliest your doctor would clear you to travel, and you are still in the danger zone for over-doing it (especially easy to do with an older kid, too). Doing too much, as you know, will make you bleed more and prolong the healing process. You could actually be putting yourself in serious danger.

    I don’t mean to be so dramatic, but major surgery like that is nothing to screw around with. Sure, you could end up with a VBAC and maybe 6 weeks from that you’d be fine. But what if you need a c-section? Wouldn’t your friend rather you take care of yourself and your baby? Especially if it means she might have to be short a matron of honor the day of? If she is really a good friend, she will understand.

  • M

    I would tell her that you cannot be MOH. What if your baby has to be in the nicu, or you have some other complication, or your doctor says you can’t go for some reason? If you are not the MOH, it takes a lot of pressure off. If you decide to go at the last minute, great. If you don’t go, then the wedding party won’t be affected. Plus if you are not the MOH, you can wear whatever you want, not stand around for tons of pics, leave early and so on. One of my friends just had a bridesmaid drop out of the wedding cuz she is due around then. Everyone understood. Better to drop out now than a few days or weeks before the wedding!

  • Lisa R

    I have traveled that kind of distance with both my babies at about 4 weeks old. Now, I did have two vaginal births so I can’t talk about a C-section recovery, but from my experience it is doable, but that’s about it. The first time I was pretty miserable, but the 2nd time my expectations were better in line. Definitely flying was the best choice, with no layovers, if you can manage it. The thing that worries me the most is the variable nature of when baby comes… Good luck with this tricky decision!

  • Allison Bass

    Oh man, repeat c-section mom here, and although a scheduled c-section does have a slightly shorter healing time I would NOT GO! Be honest, how much do you like traveling with a 3 yr old? Even if you have a partner to deal with them, you will be exhausted. That would be the main point for me, I don’t even feel like a regular person for a good 2 months, stretchy pants and sloppy shirts for weeks. It sounds fun, but WAAAAY to exhausting for a mom with a newborn.

  • Guest

    Amy has given you good advice. I would bow out now. Your friend can of course have a wedding whenever she wants but she has to understand that it will impact your ability to attend or at the very least participate fully. I would personally tell her you can’t go during her proposed time frame and I might fudge the truth and tell her that your OB has forbidden it due to x possible complication. My thinking is if your attendance is critical to her enjoyment then she can postpone the wedding by a few months.

    Also FWIW this summer I was a bridesmaid and my husband was a best man. Our kids were 2.5 and 6 months at the time and the whole thing was a shitshow. Pumping and nap schedules, kids with colds, family drama…the whole thing was very stressful and we were much closer to home (although still at a hotel) and I was not newly postpartum/post surgery. It was still really rough. We were not the wedding attendants our friends deserved and the friendships have suffered a bit for it. Then again… they knew that we would have two small children when they picked the date, so. Eh. I would not commit to this.

  • Jay

    I would make every effort to go, especially if the wedding is on the 6-weeks timeline rather than 2-weeks. I live across the country from my lifelong BFF, and missing her wedding would have been absolutely non-negotiable for me so long as it were physically possible for me to be there.

    I think it depends on you and your relationship. I don’t mind travel or airports — that does not stress me out. I have twins, and we fly with them several times a year and have it down to a system. However, I would be stressed out and could not forgive myself if I had missed my BFF’s wedding and not even tried to go. If you are more “eh” about big life events like weddings and do get stressed out about travel, maybe a different choice is better for you.

    If it were me, I would have an honest conversation with the BFF bride about needing flexibility with whatever dress is being chosen and also be up front that there is always a chance that something could go wrong and I could not travel. If she is clueless about kids and babies and post-partum bodies, the two of you might decide that your attendance is more of an “honored guest” role than MOH anyway. Then book the last flight in and the first flight out, stock up the iPad with lots of shows for the 3.5 year old, arrange for tons of back ups for child wrangling, and plan to have an excellent time celebrating with my best friend!

  • AC

    Sadly, It isn’t uncommon for women to go back to work in a shorter time-frame than 6 weeks. Approximately 40% of women in the USA don’t qualify for FMLA and have to go back to work as soon as their vacation and sick leave run out (if they even have vacation and sick leave). Our lack of paid maternity leave is horrifying. All that is to say, if folks are going back to work you could probably travel – but personally I don’t think I would.

  • Amanda

    Not to pile right on, but this sounds like a miserable trip for you. To put things in perspective, my best friend got engaged very close to the time that I got pregnant. She had a super small wedding but actually consulted with me on the date and wanted to have it before I had my daughter. Again, small wedding so she had options. But the point is, she considered that it would not be feasible for me to travel (even a 3 hour drive to Cleveland) once my baby arrived. This was for my first. So she had her wedding in July and I was not due until September. I was still LARGE in her photos, which is actually a fun memory :D. So I would say a true best friend should be able to see outside her circumstances and understand….IF you tell her sooner rather than later that you won’t be able to make it. Also be prepared that she may not understand and that is ok too. Friendships certainly shift and change after little ones come, especially when you are a mama and she is not. Trust that one day when she is in the same situation she will understand better. Bottom line, your best bet is to speak with her openly about it. Transition out of the MOH role and maybe into the optional role. Then buy insurance on those airline tickets! 😀 Best of luck and I hope you have a wonderful rest of your pregnancy!

  • Nicole Mattox

    I was in a similar situation and I ended up telling my friend I couldn’t be in the wedding party and playing it by ear. The wedding was 6 weeks post c-section in Texas (I lI’ve in NC). I did end up being able to go, but the flexibility of not being in the wedding party was a big relief, even though we were both sad about it. That way I didn’t worry if I had to back out at the last minute. Plus, logistics! Could you really perform MOH duties at this time with a newborn after a major surgery? The dress, the batchelorette party, helping organize?!

  • Angie Gaul

    I am a wedding photographer, and I shot an eight-hour event at five weeks postpartum, carrying all my gear and everything. My aunt, an aspiring hobby photographer, absolutely insisted on being my “assistant. “She was there to carry the gear, wrangle the guests, whatever I needed. She ended up sitting in the hotel lobby the entire time. I totally was fine. I did my first shoot, but it was a theater production shoot where I could sit in the front row the entire time, at three weeks postpartum. I have also shot weddings for the matron of honor had had a baby three weeks before. Now, they weren’t traveling, and they had a lot of help, and she totally breast-fed her baby immediately before leaving for the ceremony in her dress with the top pulled down. I would take a wait-and-see approach, if you can. If your friend understands that you might not show up, and she isn’t picky about things like whether there are an equal number of bridesmaids and groomsmen in the photos, and everyone knows that you can be there on the day, stand up for few photos, take breaks, And not necessarily be the last person on the dance floor shaking your booty at the end the night, I think you can tentatively move forward as matron of honor

  • Dara Parker

    I had repeat c-section 4 months ago. And it is seriously easy to overdo it in those first two months. Feeling fine, supermom ….. and then not fine. Walmart was too much a couple of times. Schleping the baby gear and toddler gear and wedding gear and two little people across the country sounds bad. Doable? Yeah, but there will be a real health price to pay

  • Caroline

    Be totally honest now. I’d say 6 weeks is the absolute minimum earliest I’d even consider attending the wedding (never mind MOH, that’s just… a lot). If she were to decide to have the wedding even a few weeks later, say 8-10 weeks, it might be more manageable. I know it sounds like a small difference, but you will be further recovered, more in the swing. YES… still tired, but no more than when baby 2 is 3 months old, let’s be honest. So to recap. For anything approaching MOH duties, a minimum-minimum of 8-10 weeks post-partum, to attend at all, 6-8 weeks post-partum (though of course your older child could then be ring-bearer). She may well not really understand because she’s never personally done it, so don’t feel aggrieved if she’s a bit irritated, but if she is a good friend, then she will totally understand.

    Of course, I’m in no way suggesting she organise her wedding around you and your pregnancy, but if it is still quite flexible, then even another 2-4 weeks might make a vast difference.

  • MR

    I have to agree with Amy, 2-6 weeks postpartum is ridiculous for a trip like that. I’d say it might be a maybe if you had a vbac and baby was a few weeks early AND wedding was 6 weeks after, so you could have two full months, but even then… ick. Especially if you end up with a C-section. Either trying to fly or sit in a car for that long would be incredibly painful and EXHAUSTING, and that doesn’t factor in the children or the luggage (which you wouldn’t even be able to carry at that point) or any of the sleep deprivation. I simply couldn’t sit up for more than 5 minutes in the first couple weeks after my C-section without shaking horribly and needing to lie down. Sitting is NOT the same as lying down when recovering from a C-section. And if you do go the vbac route, you will most likely feel AMAZINGLY better afterwards, but you’ll also really need to watch yourself to not overdo. You tend to have so much more energy after a vbac (because of not recovering from surgery) that it is INCREDIBLY easy to overdo. My mother kept having to tell me to go lay down or rest, but I was like a little kid, awake and feeling like I could run around the house for hours. But not resting will come back to bite you big time, because you really aren’t getting much sleep with baby waking you, and you don’t get to nap as much because you have an older child to watch. I’d be super honest with your friend and tell her if she wants you to be able to be there, it either needs to be later, by a few months, or you will simply have to be thinking of her on the day. Maybe see if someone can FaceTime it?

  • Sarah

    My first baby came a few weeks early and I missed my grandmother’s funeral one week after he was born and that was a two-hour drive. It sucked but there was no way it was happening…and I had a very fast and easy vag. birth. Breastfeeding was really tough for me, and baby needed an at-home bili blanket the weekend of her funeral anyhow which would have made trouble impossible. Maybe you can record a tribute to your friend to be played at the ceremony? You know, now while you’re still all pregnancy glowy.

  • cp

    I’ll add my voice to the chorus of “It depends!” Context: I traveled, alone, 7000 miles with my four year old and six week old, and it was totally fine! Granted, the four year old was already an awesome traveler, I recovered fairly quickly after baby #2, she is an easy baby, and I had done the flight several times before. My postpartum recovery went well enough that I could have done it at four weeks, although flying with an un-vaccinated baby would have made me nervous. Two weeks? No way. If it is important to you that you be there, and the wedding is more than two/three weeks after the birth, I think you can find a way to make it work, especially if your friend understands that you’ll have the baby with you and might not be up for many MOH duties. But you know yourself and your situation. How likely is it that you will need a repeat c-section? How do you handle travel? How does your older kid handle travel, and can you mostly focus on taking care of yourself and the baby, or will it be exhausting trying to keep everyone happy? How reasonable is your friend, and will she be happy you are there and helpful? (I had, I think, 6? nursing moms at my wedding, from 3 days – several months postpartum, including my MOH at maybe 8 weeks out with baby #2, and was just
    happy they could be there for however long they could make it, with however much sitting and hanging out in the nursing room as they needed, but it was a super low-key wedding, and I’m sure I wasn’t as thoughtful as I like to think I was when I asked my MOH to do things as part of the wedding, but she felt comfortable pushing back or asking for help.) So, be honest with yourself and with your friend and realistic about your expectations, and you’ll figure out the right thing to do. Or the baby or your body will do something completely unexpected and totally change the whole calculus!

  • LMo

    OP, I am currently 3.5 weeks postpartum following my second c-section. While physically I could do what you’re suggesting, emotionally it sounds like a LOT. My first is almost 20 months old, so a bit younger than yours, but still… Wrangling a toddler and newborn is exhausting, even with a super-involved spouse (which I am lucky enough to have), and I would avoid it if at all possible.

    My two BFFs are coming to visit in two weeks, with their 3-year-olds, and I’m dreading it a bit. Out routine is still so tenuous, and my toddler is still acting out, and I have no idea what the added chaos will do. Plus, you can’t just go home and sleep it off like you would do if you didn’t have kids–the next several months (at least) will be plagued by sleepless nights, so you can’t just suck it up and recover after you’re home.

    I’d recommend bowing out now. It’s a lot to ask of yourself, your husband, and your kids! And this is from someone who bounced back easily from my second surgery…

  • TheLadyK

    This is a tough decision – and no matter what you decide, something might go off the rails and intervene so that you can’t go. It looks doable, if you plan carefully. But it doesn’t look easy or like a no brainer.

    Think about how you handle traveling now. How was the plane flight you took with a cold? What about the family trip last summer when your two year old ran out of fun things to do in their car seat and threw a fit? Do you roll with the punches or will being moderately miserable while traveling make you majorly miserable about the wedding? Be honest with yourself about how you handle things.

    Come up with some ideas of when you’ll know to pull the ripcord and agree with your friend that you will just not be able to go if something like X, Y or Z happens. What if the baby is late? What if the delivery is extra difficult? What if the baby needs some extra time in the hospital? at what point do you just decide to stay home? Would it make sense for your husband and big kid to go without you if you and the baby aren’t up for travel when the day comes?

    If it comes down to you really, really need to be there, make the plans. Can someone else travel with you and your husband to give an extra pair of hands? Can you ship stuff to the wedding so you don’t have to wrangle baggage? Plan to take advantage of services at the airport – your airline should be able to provide you with a wheelchair and drive you to your gate. Plan for who is going to meet you at the airport and who is going to take care of the kiddo. Does it make sense to have 2 hotel rooms so you can be guaranteed a quiet place to rest even if big kid travels poorly? Or is there another part of the family that can take big kid and/or baby off your hands for nights while you’re in town? If the wedding and reception are in different places from the hotel, ask for space that you can rest in if needed at those locations. Lean on that network and let them take care of you. Plan for things to suck. Hope for things to be lovely.

    I’m ignoring anything about “traditional” MoH “duties”. Plan to skip all of them. Aim to make it to the wedding and tell your friend how much you love her while you’re there. Maybe wear something other than a nursing top and yoga pants, but I wouldn’t want to be responsible for running or organizing anything. There’s a very real possibility that you’ll just not be able to go, so nothing major should be relying on your presence.

  • Kerry

    Maybe you can write a toast, or record a video of you making the toast, and still be the “matron of honor” while being the “matron of honor who couldn’t be here today because she JUST had a baby”?

  • Lindsey

    I think the risks to the baby are important. My baby caught a virus when she was a week old and ended up back in the hospital and NICU for a week. It was traumatic. Medical protocols say that if a baby less than 4 weeks (or maybe it’s six- ask your pediatrician) has a fever of higher than 100.4, it’s an automatic 48 hours in the hospital, and likely more. I think with our second child we want to think we can do everything, but the risks are real. Take care of yourself and your baby during those critical few weeks. You and baby are priority #1