The information “flying during pregnancy” is relevant for short haul (under four hours), medium and long haul (over four hours) flights.
Will Flying Harm me or my Baby?
- If your pregnancy is straightforward, flying is not harmful for you or your baby.
- If you have a straightforward pregnancy and are healthy, there is no evidence that the changes in air pressure and/or the decrease in humidity have a harmful effect on you or your baby.
- There is no evidence that flying during pregnancy will cause miscarriage, early labor or your waters to break. Anyone who flies is exposed to slight increase in radiation. Occasional flights are not considered to present at risk to you are your baby.
When is the Safest Time for Flying, During Pregnancy?
When you are pregnant the safest time to fly is:
- Before 37 weeks, if you are carrying one baby. From 37 weeks of pregnancy you could go into labor at any time, which is way many women choose not to fly after this time.
- Before 32 weeks, if you are carrying an uncomplicated twin pregnancy. Most airlines do not allow women to fly after 37 weeks. It is important that you check your airline before flying. It may also be more difficult to get travel insurance after 37 weeks.
Am I At Increase Risk of Problems if I Travel By Air?
Some pregnant women may experience discomfort during flying. You may have:
- Swelling of your legs due to fluid retention
- Nasal congestion/problems with your ear – during pregnancy you are more likely to have a blocked nose and, combined with this, the changes in air pressure in the plane can also cause you to experience problems in your ears.
- Pregnancy sickness – if you experience motion sickness during the flight, it can make your sickness worse.
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)
A DVT is a blood clot that forms in your leg or pelvis. If it travels to your lungs (pulmonary embolism) it can be life threatening. When you are pregnant and for up to six weeks after the birth of your baby, you have a higher risk of developing a DVT compared with women how are not pregnant. There is an increased risk of developing DVT while flying, due to sitting for a prolonged length of time. The risk of a DVT increases with length of the flight. Your risk is also increased if you have additional risk factors such as a previous DVT or you are overweight.
What Can I Do To Reduce the Risk of a DVT?
If you are taking a short haul flight (less than four hours), it is unlikely that you will need to take any special measures.
To minimize the risk of a DVT on a medium or a long haul flight (over four hours), you should:
- Wear loose clothing and comfortable shoes.
- Try to get an aisle seat and take regular walks around the plane.
- Do in – seat exercises every 30 minutes or so – the airline should give you information on these. (Standing, stretch your leg, gently flex your foot to stretch your calf muscles. When sitting rotate ankles and wiggle toes).
- To ease in flight discomfort, avoid gaseous foods and drinks before flying.
- Have cups of water at regular intervals throughout your flight.
- Cut down on drinks that contains alcohol or caffeine (coffee, fizzy drinks)
- Wear graduated elastic compression stockings – your doctor will need to provide the correct size and type for you as they are different from standard flight socks.
- Should take aisle seat to allow free mobility
If you have other risk factors for a DVT, regardless of the length of your flight, you may be advised to have heparin injections. These will thin your blood and help prevent a DVT. A heparin injection should be taken on the day of the flight and daily for a few days afterwards. For security reasons, you will need a letter from your doctor to enable you to carry these injections onto the plane. Low – dose aspirin does not appear to reduce the risk of a DVT but you should continue to take it if it has been prescribed for another reason.
Are There Circumstances When I May Be Advised Not To Fly?
A medical condition or health problem can complicate your pregnancy and put you and your baby at risk. For this reason, if any of the following apply, you may be advised not to fly:
- You are at increased risk of going into labor before your due date.
- You have severe anemia. This is when the level of red blood cells in your blood is lower than normal. Red blood cells contain the iron – rich pigment hemoglobin, which carries oxygen around your body.
- You have sickle cell disease (a condition which affects red blood cells) and you have recently had a sickle crisis.
- You have recently had significant vaginal bleeding.
- And you have serious condition affecting your lungs or heart that makes it very difficult for you to breathe.
- Pregnancy induced hypertension, poorly controlled diabetes.
Most Important About Flying During Pregnancy
It is important that you discuss any health issues or pregnancy complications with your doctor before you fly. If you have an increased chance of miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy, ask for an ultrasound scan for reassurance before you fly. Be aware that the unexpected can happen while travelling which could delay your return home. Some airlines may not allow to you flying during pregnancy if you have fractured a bone, have a middle ear or a sinus infection or have recently had surgery to your abdomen. That involved your bowel, such as having your appendix removed.
If you are over 28 weeks pregnant, your airline may ask you to get a letter from your midwife or doctor stating when your baby is due and confirming that you are in good health, are having a straightforward pregnancy and are not at any increased risk of complications.
Any document needed to confirm your due date and that you are fit to flying in pregnancy. Some airlines have their own forms/documents that will need to be completed at any stage of pregnancy.
Will I Have to Go Through A Security Scanner?
You will have to go through the normal security checks before flying. This is not considered to be a risk to you or your baby.
Can I Wear A Seat belt?
You must wear a seat belt. You should ensure the strap of your seat belt is reasonably tightly fastened across the top of your thighs and then under the bump. Ask the cabin crew if you need a seat belt extension. Because air turbulence cannot be predicted and the risk of trauma is significant pregnant women should be instructed to continuously wear the seat belts.
What Happens if I Go into Labor on the Flight?
Any pregnant woman has a small chance of going into labor early or for her waters to break early. If this happens to you on a flight, there is no guarantee that other passengers or crew members will be trained and experienced to help you give birth safely. As a result, the pilot may have to divert the flight to get help for you.
Information source: Royal college of Obstetricians and Gynecologists UK.