Last autumn, I had two great pieces of news. The first was that I had been awarded a small grant to conduct three weeks’ fieldwork in Chile. The second was that I was pregnant.
I was obviously immediately interested in other people’s stories about fieldwork while pregnant. I could find only a few blogs about it on the internet, so I thought I would write about my own experiences of fieldwork while pregnant.
The first thing to do was to decide whether to go at all. I discussed this extensively with my husband, midwife, doctor, parents, head of department and departmental health & safety officer. I was a low-risk pregnancy, in good health (‘ideal’ blood pressure!) and would be doing the fieldwork at the start of my second trimester. The fieldwork would largely comprise low-elevation (under 800 m) hill walking, sometimes on steep terrain or off the path. Current guidelines indicate that exercise, particularly walking, is beneficial to pregnant women. In fact, the highest risk appeared to be the long flight to and from Chile, but I was reassured by an update to the guidelines issued by the Royal College of Obstetricians, which indicated that if your pregnancy is straightforward, flying is not harmful to you or your baby.
After some deep thinking I decided that I was keen to do this fieldwork. We wrote an extensive risk assessment that included extra pregnancy-related mitigations, such as taking extra rest, extra water and snacks, wearing graduated compression socks on the aeroplane, and driving slowly carefully over rutted roads in our 4×4. I was to stay at low altitudes (below 2000 m) and avoid hot springs, spas and hot tubs (I should be so lucky on fieldwork!). I was also to be careful lifting, carrying and climbing up things. I was to take a comprehensive pregnancy vitamin supplement every day. This was alongside the usual pregnancy guidelines, such as avoiding caffeine, alcohol, raw/undercooked meat, mould-ripened or unpasteurised cheese and so on. The 5-week trip also meant that I would miss some routine check-ups, but my excellent midwife scheduled me in right before I departed and after I returned to the UK.
Before I left, I had my 12-week scan, which showed that everything was developing normally. I also had an early check-up from the midwife, who managed to hear the baby’s heartbeat at 14 weeks (magical!). I was in good health, with a straightforward pregnancy and had had a very easy first trimester. So I packed for the trip, including some hiking trousers and tops in a bigger size than normal (there is a real gap in the market for affordable outdoor maternity wear). I was ready to go!
The flight to Chile was straightforward. They actually called pregnant ladies in for early boarding first, but with my teeny tiny bump I didn’t feel I should! I made sure I had an aisle seat to ensure I could do regular laps of the plane and settled down for the long flight with my compression socks, extra drinks, ear plugs, eye mask and other paraphernalia. The flight passed without incident and I met my colleague in Santiago. One more flight south to Patagonia and we were set.
During our three weeks of fieldwork (14-16 weeks pregnant), I just took things a little easier than normal. I was still in my normal-sized clothes. I made sure I always had plenty of food and water and rested up in the evenings. I did find that I got a little more tired than usual (although a long day in the field is tiring under the best of circumstances!), so would occasionally rest in the early evening while my colleague did his own side-project. We walked some distance each day, with light rucksacks. My poor colleague had to carry a little more than me (although he was a much faster walker, so this made sense as more weight would just have slowed me down further). We were camping and then staying in self-catered accommodation, so I took an extra-thick inflatable camping mat for extra comfort. We cooked for ourselves so I was able to ensure I had plenty of tinned fruit and vegetables, backed up with some cabbage, onions and celery that were around the only fresh vegetables around.
After our three weeks of fieldwork, I swapped my colleague for my husband who flew down to Chile to join me. We had a two-week holiday (while I was 17/18 weeks pregnant). We had a great holiday, hiking and exploring (including visiting as many glaciers as possible, of course!). By the end of this holiday I was showing and beginning to feel the effects of my bump. But we just took it easy and rested when I needed it.
On January 1st I returned to the UK and caught up with routine antenatal appointments. I was delighted at my 20 week scan to see that everything was looking healthy and normal. I had trimmed up a little during fieldwork (can only be a good thing) but was sporting a clear bump. The bump is now growing at an alarming rate (I’m now 22 weeks) and fieldwork now, towards the end of my second trimester, would be a much harder and more uncomfortable experience. I’m constantly surprised by how hard little things, like bending down to put on my socks, has become!
These were my experiences of fieldwork early in my second trimester of pregnancy. I hope you find them of interest. I must stress that mine was a low-risk, straightforward, healthy pregnancy, and that I participated in fieldwork after consulting several medical professionals. I wouldn’t hesitate to go again in a similar situation.
If you have any experience of fieldwork while pregnant, I’d love to hear about it Please do comment about it below.