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Is Air travel safe during pregnancy? Things you need to know

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It is generally safe to travel during pregnancy, except under few circumstances discussed below.

Air travel during different trimesters of pregnancy

It is safest to travel during second trimester of your pregnancy as the morning sickness weans off by then and you have more energy to travel.

During the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, morning sickness symptoms are frequent and risk of miscarriage is also high. Therefore many women prefer not to travel during the first 12 weeks.

Third trimester is often discouraged due to risk of preterm delivery and having to deliver your baby outside, specially after 37 weeks (32 weeks if you are carrying twins). After week 28 of pregnancy, the airline may ask for a letter from your doctor or midwife confirming your due date, and that you aren’t at risk of complications.

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Where is it safe to travel during pregnancy

Your doctor will also likely discourage travel:

  • To high altitudes (more than 12,000 feet)
  • To areas with serious disease outbreaks
  • If your destination requires live virus vaccines for protection
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Preparing for air travel

You should check about the following, if you are planning to travel during pregnancy:

  • Check your insurance policy coverage for the area you are travelling to in case you need emergency medical attention. Consider a supplemental travel policy if your current insurance does not cover the destination
  • For flights longer than 4 hours, invest in decompression stockings as long-distance travel (longer than 4 hours) carries a small risk of blood clots (deep vein thrombosis (DVT) which can be prevented by wearing the compression stockings on board adn drinking water frequently
  • Check if you need any specific vaccinations for travel to your planned destination. Most vaccines that use live bacteria or viruses aren’t recommended during pregnancy because of concerns that they could harm the baby in the womb. However, some live vaccines may be considered during pregnancy if the risk of infection outweighs the risk of live vaccination. Non-live (inactivated) vaccines are safe to use in pregnancy. Best to take your doctors advice
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  • Take some precautionary medication for gas, diarrhea and nausea from your doctor as these are common during pregnancy and may be more aggravated during air travel
  • For the flight, eat a light meal and avoid gassy foods. When in flight, keep your seatbelt on under your belly, keep yourself hydrated and take a walk every half hour if it is safe. An isle seat definitely helps with the walks and the loo trips.

Risks of air travel during pregnancy

  • Blood clots: When you are pregnant, sitting in one spot for a long time can cause blood to pool in your legs (DVT). However, the risk is still not huge. You can lower this risk by moving around as often as your doctor recommends
  • Blood pressure: Air travel during pregnancy can cause slightly elevated blood pressure and heart rate. However, in normal pregnancy, the risk is not considered significant
  • Body scans: Although the body scanners used at airports are safe for pregnant women, you can ask for a hand or wand scan instead if you are not comfortable
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  • Radiation: If you’re a frequent flyer, such as business traveler, pilot, or flight attendant, you might exceed the radiation limit considered safe during pregnancy, therefore take your doctor’s advice in this case. However, taking a couple of flights during pregnancy will not expose you to problematic levels of radiation

DO NOT FLY if

  • This is your first pregnancy and you’re 35 or older or 15 and younger.
  • You are carrying more than one baby.
  • You have placental abnormalities, now or in the past.
  • You have any vaginal bleeding or risk of miscarriage.
  • You have a history of Miscarriage, Ectopic pregnancy, Premature labor or premature membrane rupture, High blood pressure, diabetes, or preeclampsia in pregnancy
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Different airlines policies for pregnant travelers

Little guest collection has compiled a wonderful summary of travel policy for pregnant women from some major airlines (see here).

You can lookup specific airline policy on the respective airlines website as well.

Sources: NHS UK, WebMd

Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

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