We are asked many times about the safety of air travel during pregnancy. We love travelling ourselves and being pregnant shouldn’t stop you from travelling either, whether you are considering to do so for work or pleasure. There are, however, a few things to think about before you go.
The flight itself…
There are no major risks associated directly with air travel during pregnancy, even at advanced gestation. Although there is a reduction in the partial pressure of oxygen during the flight and a small exposure to radiation, this should not cause a problem for you or your baby if you are a healthy woman.
During flights there is usually little space to move your legs, therefore the risk of developing clots in your legs (DVT – deep vein thrombosis) or lungs (PE – pulmonary embolism) is increased, especially during pregnancy or in the early postpartum period. The risk is higher for long-haul flights.
The best way to reduce this risk is to wear graduated elastic compression stockings and keep well hydrated. Ask for an aisle seat and take regular walks through the cabin. You will probably need these to use the toilet anyway! For those with a significant risk, treatment with low-molecular-weight heparin (LMWH) should be discussed with your doctor for the day of travel and a few days thereafter.
Having your baby on board…
This is what you and all the air companies want to avoid! It forms the basis of many airline carrier policies that prohibit pregnant women who are over 36 weeks gestation from flying. However, we know that 8 out of 100 babies will be born prematurely (before 37 weeks) and unless you have had a premature baby before, you may not be aware of this risk. You can know your individual risk of premature labour by having a cervical length scan, ideally between 20 and 24 weeks. If your cervix is found to be long and closed the risk of preterm labour is significantly reduced.
Risk of bleeding…
Bleeding in pregnancy is not normal and although in many cases cannot be anticipated, there are a few situations that can be predicted and therefore major risks avoided. If you are considering flying early in your pregnancy, an early scan is recommended prior to travel to confirm the location and viability of the pregnancy. This can reduce the chance of having a miscarriage on board or facing an ectopic pregnancy and its treatment away from home. If you are in later pregnancy, excluding a placenta that is covering the cervix (placenta previa) is also a good idea as this can significantly increase the risk of bleeding.
Last but not least is to consider where you are heading to! Always think whether the place you are visiting is safe and somewhere you would feel comfortable and well cared for if anything was to happen.
Avoid places where there is a high risk for Zika infection as this carries a risk of brain injury to the baby (microcephaly) . As you may know infection by the Zika virus is caused by being bitten by a mosquito from infected areas, so the safest thing is to not visit these areas altogether. Click here for further information on Zika.
It is also very important to check that you have insurance cover for healthcare whilst pregnant. This is especially important if you are travelling outside Europe and we’d recommend contacting both the airline and your insurance company to let them know that you will be pregnant whilst travelling. Finally, always carry your maternity notes and scan reports with you! They are essential for anybody providing care for you.
At SHEcares we are happy to discuss your individual risk or any concerns you may have. Some airlines will request a letter from a midwife or doctor confirming that there are no anticipated complications for flights taken after the 28th week of pregnancy and we will be happy to provide you with this.
Have a good flight!
Susana and Kristina
RCOG information on air travel in pregnancy