Can we combine work and family life? Are a good night’s sleep and a social life a thing of the past? With so much to think about with a baby on the way, it’s safe to say a holiday isn’t top of most expectant couples’ to-do list. Nevertheless, last year my husband and I opted to do what an increasing number of parents-to-be are doing: we went on a babymoon.
When the term was first used by author Sheila Kitzinger in her 1996 book The Year After Childbirth — clearly referencing ‘honeymoon’ — it was to describe the time parents spent bonding with their child in the first few weeks after birth. However, it soon became used by travellers to mean the last holiday expectant parents might take together as a couple before their baby arrived.
The babymoon is now almost as common a hotel package as Mother’s Day deals, Valentine’s breaks and honeymoon offers. It can range from a classic beach break, where parents-to-be simply take time off together (albeit with less drinking and more napping than normal), to luxury, tailored trips. The one offered at the Trump Hotel Waikiki, Hawaii, for example, includes a prenatal massage for mum-to-be, a classic massage for her partner, twice-daily selection of mocktails and a choice of prenatal pillows.
In a poll of expectant couples this April by pregnancy and UK parenting website BabyCentre, 56% said a babymoon was something they’d either been on or were planning. No doubt many had been inspired by newspaper photos of pregnant bikini-clad celebrities such as Andrea Corr and Kate Hudson proudly baring their bulges on tropical beaches. But if you don’t have a big budget, a fortnight to spare, or you lack the appetite for a beach break or the self-control to avoid an all-inclusive cocktail bar, is a babymoon something you’ll have to forgo?
Not at all, according to Black Tomato co-founder Tom Marchant, whose luxury holiday company has seen a 43% rise in enquires about babymoons since 2008. “While a large number of people will always be attracted by the far-flung beach holiday, increasing numbers are opting for a very different kind of pre-baby break. Among the more unusual recent babymoon enquiries we’ve had were a couple looking for a safari holiday on the non-malarial Eastern Cape and another searching for a weekend in Iceland; they’d always wanted to see the Northern Lights.”
Sasha Miller, managing editor, international, at BabyCentre, has noted a growing appetite in the UK for babymoons: “There’s still a way to go before we catch up with the US, where they are big business and hugely popular,” she says. “But we’re seeing more mums in the BabyCentre community discussing babymoons.”
Crucially, Sasha adds, “It doesn’t have to be an exotic getaway; even going away for one or two nights can really help prepare couples for the impending new arrival.”
Tapping into this trend in the UK, Cheltenham’s sleek The Montpellier Chapter hotel launched a tailored Babymoon Experience break earlier this year. Two nights’ B&B and a voucher to spend in the hotel’s restaurant are included in the package, while recommended add-ons include Aromatherapy Associates’ Rose Hydrating Cocoon treatment for mums-to-be and its Deep Sleep Massage for expectant dads. The hotel can also arrange shopping trips to the town’s baby boutiques, bespoke, non-alcoholic cocktails and pregnancy photoshoots.
Romance and relaxation
Although we didn’t book that particular break, swapping a week on a far-flung beach for a weekend of decadence closer to home made sense for my husband and I. Not only did we only have a couple of coinciding days off work together, but we both wanted to go by train rather than plane. Plus the fact we’d left it until I was well into my third trimester before we booked, meant Barbados was out. A two-night stay at Chewton Glen, a luxury country house hotel in New Milton, Hampshire, seemed the perfect compromise.
The hotel doesn’t offer specific babymoon packages but it did tick plenty of boxes for us. These included tailored pregnancy massages, indoor and outdoor swimming pools and great walking opportunities in the surrounding New Forest. Not to mention romantic dinners in a restaurant that was as hot on sustainable food sourcing as it was on style and it had a more relaxed atmosphere than a lot of luxury hotels.
This might all sound very decadent, but according to Relate counsellor Christine Northam, babymoons can have real value. “As a couple, to have some time together before the baby is born is important,” she says. “It’s a chance to discuss who you are, why you’re together, to plan how you want your future to be, anticipate problems and to engage as a couple. Any opportunity to reinforce your identity as a couple when you’re going through such a big change has to be a good idea.”
For Nadia Pendleton, who took a babymoon with her husband Rob before the birth of her three-year-old son Luca, this was certainly the case. Instead of constant conversations about cots and ultrasound scans, she says: “it was lovely to spend some more romantic time together. When you’re pregnant you don’t feel at your sexiest, so it was fun to be able to get dressed up for dinner and feel good again.”
While some couples see these trips as a last chance to swim, read or sleep in peace, the Pendletons were part of the growing trend for alternative babymoons, basing their holiday around more adventurous activities. “When I was five months pregnant with Luca, we went to an island resort in the Maldives where you could do all sorts of activities,” says Nadia. “I’d had really bad morning sickness for the first four months of my pregnancy and, in the middle couple of months, I had a window where I felt normal. We decided to go away then, but to choose somewhere where I could just chill if I started feeling ill again. In fact, I felt great. I didn’t have much of a bump, so apart from scuba diving, I could do most of the watersports on offer. We went snorkelling, sea kayaking, surfing and basically spent the entire time either in the water or doing the yoga and Pilates classes the resort offered.
“In hindsight, they were halcyon days. We could get up when we wanted and I felt in control of my body again. The resort did really good healthy, fresh food and, with me being so active and getting lots of fresh air, it was just the tonic I needed.”
There was another, unexpected, benefit to the Pendleton’s babymoon. Reinforcing Christine Northam’s advice about using the time to discuss plans for the future, Nadia and Rob were so encouraged by their trip they set up a luxury adventure company soon after Luca was born.
“When you’re having a family you suddenly realise what your priorities are,” says Nadia. “Before then we’d been typical cash-rich, time-poor Londoners who’d always loved travelling. As we got older, we still wanted to do a lot of activities when we were away but we also wanted to stay in stylish places, and to finish the day with a Jacuzzi and good food. On our babymoon, we started thinking about where we wanted to be as a family and decided there must be other people who wanted the same kind of trips as we did. Setting up our company, AdventureTemples, seemed to offer a way of solving the life/work/family equation”.
How to do it
The Pendleton’s story is an inspiring one, but before you rush out to book that high-adrenalin babymoon, there are some obvious practicalities to consider when choosing your perfect trip. In all cases, discuss your plans with your doctor or midwife to get the all-clear first. This is even more important if you have any underlying complications or are having a multiple birth. As travel health specialist Masta put it, while many pregnant women travel without problems, ‘the likelihood of needing medical attention is greater during pregnancy. For this reason, women should hesitate before travelling to any area where medical services will be of doubtful quality or where language or cultural difficulties may make diagnosis and treatment more difficult’.
Other factors to take into consideration when you’re debating destinations include vaccinations and antimalarials; it’s best to book an appointment with your doctor to talk through your options early on if you’re set on travelling further afield. According to Masta, ‘Live vaccines should generally be avoided but if the risk of the disease outweighs the theoretical possibility of complications, then your travel health adviser may feel that it’s wiser to have the vaccine. We generally advise pregnant women to avoid travelling to malarial areas. If you must travel to a malarial area during pregnancy, it’s essential that you take [pregnancy-appropriate] antimalarial tablets. It is also very important to avoid mosquito bites and for you to be aware of the symptoms of malaria and seek prompt medical advice if you do experience problems’.
As for when to go, most women with a low-risk, non-multiple pregnancy can continue flying until their 36th week. Cut-off dates vary between airlines, however, and many demand a doctor’s note after the 27th week, so always check first. Having said that, it generally pays to travel during the second trimester (13 to 28 weeks). This is when the majority of women experience the most comfortable and energy-packed stage of pregnancy. Go too early, and morning sickness and miscarriage are potential worries. Go too late and extra weight, tiredness, insomnia and a Velcro-like attachment to the nearest bathroom won’t leave much room for romance.
Before you go out to buy that bump-covering sarong, make sure you also invest in both a good first aid kit and decent insurance. Insurance is only available up to a certain cut-off date, which varies between providers and policyholders but is usually somewhere between the 26th and 36th week of pregnancy. Choose a policy that will protect you for both general medical care and for unexpectedly going into labour while you’re away. If you’re travelling to the EU, make sure you also pack a European Health Insurance Card to reduce the potential costs of healthcare should you need it.
Bear in mind, too, that scuba diving, contact sports and any activities where you might fall — including skiing, snowboarding, horse riding, waterskiing, cycling and climbing — are not recommended in pregnancy. Likewise, cruises are not the most sensible choice for those with a tendency towards nausea and seasickness, or for those who might need medical attention while they’re away. Long-haul flights, with cramped seating and a slightly increased risk of deep-vein thrombosis (ditto lengthy bus rides without toilet stops) can quickly turn what’s meant to be a relaxing trip into a torturous one.
And don’t leave the general rules of pregnancy at home, just because you’re away. Hot tubs, whirlpool baths and saunas are off-limits and pregnancy massages and yoga classes are only recommended if you’re into your second trimester (week 13 onwards).
With all these factors to consider, it’s little wonder so many of us are opting to take a babymoon closer to home. But choosing the right break should ultimately come down to what you enjoy doing, whether that’s a last trekking trip before baby is old enough to put in a carrier backpack, or a sophisticated European city break where you’ll be able to indulge in soon-to-be-sidelined nights at fine-dining restaurants and hushed theatres.
Whatever you choose, be prepared for the unexpected. On our own break, a sudden pregnancy-related back problem just before the trip saw me ordered not to do any walking for five days. Had we booked a different kind of holiday, this might have been a disaster.
As it was, although our plans to hike through the New Forest had to be put on hold, it gave me the perfect excuse to relax in Chewton Glen’s classy surroundings. Pre-breakfast swims in the outdoor pool were followed
by massages in the spa; cups of tea poured from silver teapots were ordered on room service; evenings were spent enjoying romantic suppers in the restaurant; and every opportunity to, literally, put my feet up was taken.
On our final morning, I felt so restored I even managed a 15-minute hobble along the path leading from the hotel to the sea. Standing in the sunshine, with great gusts of salty air scouring my face and a dramatic view of the Needles rearing up off the Isle of Wight straight ahead, I felt calmer and more mentally switched off than I had for months. I may have been about to trade such pampering for Pampers but, now, I felt ready for the challenge.
Where to go
Trump Hotel Waikiki: Luxury Hawaiian hotel offering babymoon packages. www.trumphotelcollection.com
The Montpellier Chapter: Cool, modern Cheltenham hotel with babymoon packages. www.themontpellierchapterhotel.com
Chewton Glen: Smart country house hotel, on the edge of the New Forest and a few minutes’ walk from the sea. www.chewtonglen.com
Black Tomato: Luxury holiday tour operator. Can tailormake honeymoons and babymoons. www.blacktomato.com
AdventureTemples: High-end adventure holiday specialists. www.adventuretemples.com
Need to know
Masta: Independent travel health clinics and advice service. www.masta-travel-health.com
European Health Insurance Card: www.ehic.org.uk
BabyCentre: Well-respected UK pregnancy and parenting website. www.babycentre.co.uk
Published in the Jul/Aug 2012 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)