A common question I often hear is “Can I fly while I’m pregnant?” Air travel brings a whole new set of concerns and stress to an expectant mother, and rightfully so. Nowadays air travel is much more common with most Americans traveling at least twice a year if not more often than that! With every pregnancy lasting about 9 months, it’s almost impossible to put off flying during pregnancy. Plus, you’d hate to miss a special graduation, a family member’s wedding, or Christmas with loved ones just because of pregnancy, right? This topic always brings up questions for patients but hopefully I can provide some tips that will make the answer a little more simple.
In general, occasional air travel while pregnant is considered safe for healthy, uncomplicated pregnancies. Fetal heart rate is unaffected by flying if the mother and fetus are healthy. During flight, the body adapts to accommodate the higher altitude and small changes in cabin pressure. This is seen by an increase in the mother’s heart rate and blood pressure as well as a significant decrease in aerobic capacity.
Most commercial airlines allow pregnant women to fly up to around 35 weeks. Beyond this time, they fear that you will be approaching your due date and therefore deliver on the airplane without a doctor. However, each airline is different so the best thing to do is to check with the airline regarding their individual policy. Some airlines even want you to provide documentation of gestational age for them. Check with your OB doctor as well as some doctors do not recommend flying after 32-34 weeks.
There is no optimal time to fly during pregnancy. Women should be made aware that the most common OB emergencies occur in the first and third trimesters. In addition, during the second trimester, women are usually beyond morning sickness and the risks of miscarriage that occur in the first trimester as well as avoiding the physical discomforts and demands of the third trimester at which time the uterus is largest.
While flying is considered “safe” there are some special considerations that pregnant women should take note of. Here is my list of tips/advice if you are planning on flying while pregnant.
- First and foremost, clots can develop from prolonged periods of sitting in the same position. Long periods of sitting in one position is not healthy for anyone but especially for pregnant women. All pregnant women are in a “hypercoagulable” state or a propensity to develop clots (especially in your legs). This is dangerous as these clots in your extremities can dislodge and travel to your heart and lungs. To prevent this, you should walk the aisles and stretch your legs periodically. Taking quick, frequent bathroom breaks to prevent any blood stasis can go a long way. In addition, compression stockings or hose can be placed on your legs to prevent any pooling of blood.
- Second, stay hydrated! The airplane cabins usually have slightly lower humidity making it easy to get dehydrated. Dehydration can lead to contractions, preterm labor, and sometimes even problems with blood circulation to your baby. Periodic sips of water will help you stay hydrated especially during longer flights.
- Third, pregnant women should wear seatbelts continuously throughout the flight as unexpected turbulence can lead to falls and trauma to the belly, which can cause problems for the unborn baby. The seatbelt should be worn low on the hipbones below the abdomen and not directly on the pregnant belly.
- Fourth, air travel is not recommended at any time during pregnancy for women who have complicated medical or obstetric conditions that may be exacerbated or worsened by flight. Inform your doctor anytime that you are planning on flying. He or she will let you know of any risks of flying with your specific medical condition.
- Lastly, arrangements and planning should be made regarding your destination. Knowledge of the closest hospital and ER should be sought prior to travel. You should ensure that these facilities have the capability of managing pregnancy complications, performing C-sections, and caring for preterm or ill babies. In addition, general health insurance policies may or may not provide coverage for pregnancy-related problems if traveling overseas. You should inquire about your individual health insurance policy and assess the need for a possible supplemental plan or temporary coverage while out of the country.
Air travel during pregnancy can be a tricky and daunting task. It brings new medical issues to the forefront for both mom and baby. But with a good understanding of the risks, effective communication with your doctor, and early planning and preparation, you can ensure safe travels for both you and your baby.