Can you fly while pregnant? Which terms of pregnancy are good for flying (by week and trimester) and which are bad? We’re sharing with you tips on flying during pregnancy, contraindications and possible risks, and airline rules for pregnant women.
Traveling by plane has become a common event nowadays. No one has any strong feelings about it, except pilots devoted to flying or people suffering from aerophobia. However, this common event causes a lot of worries and doubts if a person who is going to fly is a pregnant woman.
A future mother is concerned about the developing fetus inside of her womb and is constantly focused on her state of health. That’s why she questions the safety of almost every trivial action, including flying while pregnant. So, let’s look at the possible consequences of flying when pregnant more closely and answer the question: “Can pregnant women fly?”
Pregnancy and flying
Traveling by plane during any pregnancy term up to childbirth is, in the majority of cases, completely safe and can’t do any harm to either a future mother or the fetus. The few contraindications to flying while pregnant are high chances of a miscarriage, premature labor, detachment of the placenta, preeclampsia, heavy vaginal bleeding, grade 3 anemia, and exacerbation of chronic illnesses. When there are no contraindications an expectant mother may fly freely without any harmful aftermath to her or her baby’s health.
In general, the safety level of traveling by plane for every pregnant woman depends on her state of health. That means flying during pregnancy is usually as safe for a woman as it was before pregnancy.
The possible dangers of flying concerns not only fetal development but also any child’s or adult’s state of health. Non-pregnant women, men, and children onboard aircraft are taking the same risks. Thus, the main negative consequences of flying are “economy class syndrome”, increased risk of thromboembolism, dry mucous membranes in the ears, nose, and throat, high odds of catching an airborne infection in the crowded aircraft cabin, etc.
However, you can minimize all the existing risks of air travel following the simple rules (we’re going to specify them later).
So, we must draw a conclusion that a healthy pregnant woman who hasn’t had any complications so far can definitely fly if she observes airline rules. The flight won’t do any harm to her or her baby. If the woman has any pregnancy complications she must take care of them and wait for an improvement in her condition before taking a flight.
Medical contraindications to flying while pregnant
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that pregnant women refuse to fly in the case of the following conditions:
- A singleton pregnancy after the 36th week;
- A multiple pregnancy after the 32nd week;
- The first week after childbirth;
- A complicated course of pregnancy (for example, the risk of a miscarriage, preeclampsia, toxicosis).
These recommendations are vague because they portray only the most common cases when a woman shouldn’t travel by plane. In addition, they are just recommendations, not strict contraindications. The WHO recommendations also make it obvious that a future mother may fly if necessary because flights are safe for both the pregnant woman and the fetus.
Obstetricians from the developed European countries and the USA have provided expectant mothers with clearer rules. So, the strict contraindications to flying while pregnant are:
- Placenta previa;
- Severe (grade 3) anemia (hemoglobin level < 8 g/dL).
If you’re currently in one of these conditions you shouldn’t fly no matter the circumstances.
Besides the strict contraindications to flying while pregnant, there are some more strong recommendations against it. A pregnant woman can fly with caution (but she’d better not fly at all) when she’s diagnosed with:
- A possibility of premature labor;
- Risk of a miscarriage;
- Risk of placental detachment;
- Grade 2 anemia (Hb < 10 g/dL);
- Low-lying placenta;
- Placental anomalies;
- Vaginal bleedings during pregnancy 1-2 days before the flight;
- Wrong fetal position in the womb (breech presentation) in the third trimester (from the 28th to the 40th week of pregnancy);
- A multiple pregnancy after the 24th week;
- Invasive medical procedures less than 7-10 days before the flight;
- Severe toxicosis;
- Heavy vomiting;
- Thrombophlebitis in the medical history;
- Exacerbation of chronic diseases;
- Acute infections (even a cold or flu);
- Pregnancy after in vitro fertilization;
- Uterine scar.
The recommendations against flying while pregnant can become strict contraindications in a particular case. For example, a woman risks losing her child because of one of the aforementioned conditions. However, on average pregnant women can still fly if there is an urgent necessity.
Possible negative aftermath of flying while pregnant
Let’s have look at the most widespread opinions about the possible negative consequences of flying while pregnant. Are they the myths or the truth? So, nowadays the majority of people think that flying when pregnant is dangerous because of the following factors:
- High risk of premature birth because of pressure drops;
- Risk of deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism;
- Space radiation;
- Harmful consequences of passing the metal detector at the airport;
- Turbulence during flight;
- Catching a cold (or a more serious infection);
- The risk of sudden obstetrical complications.
Risk of premature birth because of pressure drops
However, research based on years of monitoring pregnant women in various terms during flights has shown that the premature birth rates during flights and in hospitals are the same. And the pressure drops don’t affect the labor at all. So, air traveling doesn’t cause premature birth, don’t worry. And it doesn’t increase the risk of premature labor as well. Thus, this common opinion is definitely a myth.
By the way, some airlines require a medical certificate from a gynecologist that a pregnant woman can fly. Don’t let it confuse you: this airline rule doesn’t have anything to do with potential dangers of flying while pregnant. The certificate is required to make sure the pregnant woman won’t go into labor in midair and cause immense stress among aircrew.
Deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism
The risk of entering such a condition during flight is 3-5 times higher for any passenger, including men and children. So, the opinion is true, but not only for pregnant women.
The British association of obstetricians formulated the recommendations for pregnant women which help to reduce the risk of thrombosis:
- Push your calve muscles for 5-10 minutes every hour;
- Every 40-45 minutes stand up and walk around the cabin;
- Drink a pint of liquid every hour;
- Don’t drink tea, coffee, or liquor;
- Wear compressive elastic stockings.
To prevent the risk you could also take an aspirin before the flight.
Solar radiation is indeed an issue when the plane reaches the altitude of 2500 meters or higher. But it’s completely safe for people onboard, pregnant women included. The radiation dose is too low to do any harm: for example, during a transatlantic flight it’s 2.5 times lower than during a chest x-ray.
The concentration of the oxygen at high altitude is relatively low. That’s why the O2 concentration in blood is a bit lower as well. But this doesn’t mean a pregnant woman or the fetus will suffer from hypoxia. There are a number of compensatory mechanisms in the human body to provide internal organs and tissues with the necessary oxygen. If the pregnant woman doesn’t have anemia she’ll definitely be alright.
The metal detector
The metal detector every passenger gets checked by in the airport is not a source of radiation of any kind. It’s just a weak magnetic field that’s perfectly safe for any human being.
Of course, turbulence may lead to nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and distress of a pregnant woman. It’s not dangerous, but simply uncomfortable.
The air in the cabin is dry, and tea, coffee, sodas, and liquor consumption also leads to dehydration. That’s why it’s recommended to drink a pint of water or juice every hour until the plane lands.
This risk is high due to the 2 main factors. Firstly, the cabin is crowded – each person exhales their own bacteria and viruses into the air. Secondly, air-conditioners also are spreading germs. So, pregnant women are advised to wear masks covering their nose and mouth.
Sudden obstetrical complications
The risk of obstetrical complications during a flight is no more than it is in normal circumstances. However, there are no necessary medications, equipment, or personnel on a plane. So, if a woman has predispositions to any complication she’d better avoid flying while pregnant.
The rules of conduct during flight for pregnant women
In order to minimize all the possible risks and ensure the safety of the flight, the pregnant women should follow these rules:
- Wear comfortable clothes;
- Wear compressive elastic stockings;
- Use the medical mask covering nose and mouth;
- Wear comfortable shoes which you can easily take off and put on without bending forward;
- Don’t sit cross-legged (it affects blood circulation);
- Buckle the seatbelt below your belly;
- Drink a pint of water or juice every hour;
- Book one of the front seats (there will be less turbulence and more fresh air);
- Business class is strongly recommended;
- Book an aisle seat so that you could easily stand up and go wherever you need;
- Take a few small pillows with you and place them under your neck and lower back;
- Get some travel pills for motion sickness;
- Don’t drink tea, coffee, or liquor;
- Put your medical check-ups history and a written-down blood type where they can be easily noticed.
The best time for flying during pregnancy
The best time of pregnancy for air travel is the second trimester (14th-27th weeks). You’ve finished suffering from morning sickness, your belly is not that huge, and the risk of premature labor is minimal. So, if you really need to take flight it’s the best possible time.
There are also a few periods of time during pregnancy when flying is dangerous. They include:
- The 3rd-7th week;
- The 9th-12th week;
- The 18th-22nd week;
- Each time when your monthly period would have come if not for pregnancy.
It’s recommended to avoid flying while pregnant during these unfavorable times.
Flying during early pregnancy terms
Flying during the 1st and 2nd weeks of pregnancy is completely safe. But in the 3rd and 4th weeks of pregnancy you’d better not take flight – the baby’s internal organs are developing at the time, so a simple cold may entail malformations of a miscarriage.
Flying during the 1st trimester
Avoid flying during the 5th, 6th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th weeks of pregnancy because of the formation of all the systems of organs of the fetus. If an infection or even stress affects it your pregnancy may end in a miscarriage. The safest are the 7th and 8th weeks.
Flying during the 2nd trimester
This time is the best for flying while pregnant. However, be careful during the 18th, 19th, 20th, 21st and 22nd weeks. There is still a risk of a late miscarriage.
Flying during the 3rd trimester
The 3rd trimester is a good time for flying if there are no complications and you feel alright. But remember that since the 28th week of pregnancy some airlines will require a medical certificate from a gynecologist confirming you’re allowed to fly. You’ll have to get such a certificate no sooner than a week before the flight.
Airline rules for flying while pregnant
The current rules for pregnant women traveling by air are:
- Before the 28th week of pregnancy – you will be able to get onboard without any certificates or other specific papers;
- From the 29th to 36th week – you’ll need a medical certificate signed by a gynecologist to confirm you’re allowed to take flight;
- From the 36th week you are not allowed to fly.
Make sure you’ve got a medical certificate no sooner than 7 days before the flight. Besides, the personnel may also ask you to show them a document which indicates your pregnancy term.
These airline rules are the most common, but not ultimate. Many airlines use slightly more strict or, to the contrary, more open rules. For example, a few airlines give a permission to fly to women after the 36th week of pregnancy. So, when you’re booking tickets find out the rules of your specific air company.
Feedback about flying while pregnant
The feedback about flying when pregnant is mostly positive. There are usually no complications or unpleasant sensations during or after the flight. Pregnant women admit that the sensations during the flight don’t differ from those before pregnancy. The most common problem is plugged ears.