Air travel can be wonderful or it can be a bit of a worry if you are a nervous flier. But you are pregnant, which means that you have an additional carry-on with you, your baby. You may want or need to fly and you want to know: When is it safe to fly and when isn’t it?
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) says that it is as safe for a pregnant woman to fly occasionally as it is for anyone else, assuming that the pregnant woman is in good health and her pregnancy is normal. Actually, the phrase ACOG uses is “(i)n the absence of obstetric or medical complications,” it is safe for a woman to fly occasionally. This means that her pregnancy is proceeding normally and that she doesn’t have any other problems, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. So we are talking about most pregnant women.
In general, the safest time for a pregnant woman to fly is during the second trimester. The fourth, fifth, and sixth month of pregnancy are when the likelihood of an emergency due to pregnancy are at their lowest.
In terms of your baby, he or she is pretty safe. The noise of the plane and vibration should not be a problem for your baby. The higher amount of radiation that is present in the upper atmosphere is a very small risk for your baby if you fly occasionally during pregnancy. According to ACOG, even a very long flight does not expose you to enough radiation to worry about. However, if you fly more than occasionally, such as if you are a pilot or a flight attendant or if you fly a lot on business, talk to your midwife or obstetrician.
The biggest problem you might face flying while pregnant is swelling of the legs and the possibility of a blood clot developing in the legs. But this risk is there for anyone on a long flight, it is just a bit worse for a pregnant woman. To reduce this risk, make sure to move your legs and feet occasionally while you are in your seat. Get up and walk around a bit every hour or so. You might want to wear support stockings while you fly, but avoid other tight or restrictive clothing.
What about your own comfort? The changes in cabin pressure, and the low humidity of the air can be more uncomfortable for you during pregnancy. Drink plenty of fluids so that you stay hydrated. You might want to avoid any foods that make you gassy before you fly. The lower pressure in the plane cabin can make you feel even more bloated than if you were on the ground.
If you are still prone to nausea or vomiting in your second trimester, ask your health care provider about taking an antinausea drug. Most commercial flights are stocked with ginger ale, as well as bags for if the worst happens.
Wear your seatbelt at all times during the flight when you are in your seat. You should position the belt so that it is below your belly and snug across your hipbones.
Most commercial airlines will allow pregnant women to fly up until the 36th week of pregnancy, but the cutoff date may be less than this for a long international flight. Check with your airline. The airline may ask you for a letter from your doctor stating how far along you are in your pregnancy.
It is always wise to have a contingency plan ready if you do develop a problem, which would be true no matter how you travel. Carry a copy of your medical records along with you and make sure you have your obstetrician or midwife’s phone numbers with you.