Safety of Air Travel During Pregnancy

Pregnant woman getting ready to fly

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Pregnancy was once seen as something that sent women to their homes once their bellies began to protrude, hence the term confinement. It was not considered appropriate for pregnant women to be seen in public.

Nowadays pregnancy rarely changes our schedules, with the exception of complications. Women continue their normal lives usually for the duration of the pregnancy, with minor exceptions (Like knowing where all the bathrooms are!). Travel is no exception.

Travel is becoming more prevalent as families move further and further apart. Traveling for holidays or as the last trip to see the family before the baby or as a last romantic vacation, is not unusual. This even includes out of the country travel and often air travel.

What Does the Science Say About Pregnancy and Air Travel?

Most of the studies on pregnancy and air travel have been done on female flight attendants. One study did show that there was a slight increase in first-trimester miscarriage, but this was for the flight attendants who worked a greater number of hours.

Other studies were worried about in-flight radiation. This was also shown to have a slight increase in potential problems. However, these problems were more related to the length of time in the air, the route is flown, and other flight phenomena.

Precautions for Pregnant Women

As you can see from the medical literature, flying is fairly safe while pregnant, even for the flight attendant, with some minor adjustments. Considering that the average passengers don't fly for extended periods, these concerns are not very relevant to the average flier. There are, however, some issues to bear in mind if you are pregnant and considering multiple or very long flights:

  • Air travel is extremely dehydrating. You'll need to drink a lot of water while in the air!
  • Air travel requires that you sit still for long periods. If you're likely to experience cramps or other pregnancy-associated issues, you may be quite uncomfortable.
  • Airplanes are not equipped to handle in-air birth or pregnancy-related complications. Even if your airline ok's travel, you may simply be smarter to stay on the ground if you're close to giving birth or are experiencing any pregnancy-related issues.

There are some precautions that a pregnant traveler should consider:

  • Talk to your practitioner before flying. If you are more than 36 weeks pregnant, many airlines will not let you fly for fear that you'll deliver on board.
  • Try to do the majority of your traveling in the second trimester. Not only will you be more comfortable, but in general the risk of miscarriage and preterm labor are lower.
  • Avoid excessive flying. Although there are no hard and fast numbers, the flight attendants with the higher miscarriage rates flew on average 74 hours per month.
  • Make comfort arrangements. Try to get seats with more legroom, plan to walk in the aisles, bathroom breaks, and water ....
  • Avoid travel to countries that would require immunizations that you don't already have or are that are not considered safe for pregnancy. Talk to your practitioner for more info on immunizations during pregnancy, as some immunizations are considered appropriate while pregnant.

So remember, flying is not contraindicated in an uncomplicated pregnancy, but use your common sense and speak to your practitioner about your travel plans.

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