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A Guide To Flying Safely While Pregnant

If you’re planning to fly while pregnant, it’s important to follow the recommended advice so you don’t put your safety (or your baby’s safety) at risk.

However, with lots of information available, and some conflicting guidance, it can be confusing. Thankfully, we’ve pulled together a helpful guide to help you. 

Flying During Different Stages of Pregnancy

Generally, pregnant women can fly safely at any stage if they observe the same safety measures for air travel as the general population.

It’s safest to travel in the second trimester of your pregnancy, but that’s not to say you can’t fly in the first and third trimesters. You just need to be aware that the most common obstetric emergencies occur at the start and end of your pregnancy.

If you have a medical or obstetric condition that may be worsened by flying, it’s recommended that you don’t travel by air at any time during pregnancy. This is because, while the aircraft environment may not be directly related to pregnancy emergencies, air travel limits the ability for a medical response to attend to you.

The majority of airlines allow you to fly up to the 36th week of your pregnancy without any medical certification. However, some companies restrict pregnant women from taking international flights in the early stages of pregnancy, and some require documentation of gestational age, according to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). 

If you’re in the latter stages of pregnancy, it’s advised that you avoid air travel. However, if you need to travel after week 36 of your pregnancy, you’ll need to get medical certification from your obstetrician. 

Advice from the Aerospace Medical Association (ASMA) recommends that you consider the implications should a preterm delivery occur at your travel destination. It may also be advisable to postpone travel to certain high-risk areas until after the pregnancy.

It’s always best to check with your individual carrier on their specific requirements before booking a flight.  

Possible Side Effects of Flying While Pregnant

If you’re suffering with nausea and morning sickness, which is common during the early stages of pregnancy, you should be aware that these symptoms can worsen during the flight. 

Due to the increase in altitude, it’s common for many passengers to experience pressure in the middle ear and sinus cavities, particularly as the plane descends. According ASMA, hyperplasia of tissue in the nasal cavity and pharynx during pregnancy may accentuate this problem. 

The association adds that intestinal gas expansion at altitude could cause additional discomfort in late pregnancy due to abdominal crowding. For this reason, it’s advisable to avoid gas-producing foods in the days before you’re due to fly.

Top Tips for Safe Air Travel While Pregnant

It’s advised that all passengers wear their seatbelts while seated, but this is especially true if you’re pregnant. The lap belt should be worn snugly over your pelvis or upper thighs to reduce the potential for injury to your belly and fetus. 

Aircraft seating is notorious for being cramped, so it’s recommended that all passengers keep mobile to avoid the risk of conditions like lower extremity edema, thrombophlebitis and deep venous thrombosis, particularly on long haul flights. 

According to ASMA, pregnancy significantly increases this risk due to obstruction of the vena cava from uterine compression, dependent lower extremities, and altered clotting factors. Therefore, it’s important to regularly move (particularly the lower limbs) at least every couple of hours.

It’s also recommended to:

  • - Wear support stockings to lower the risk of deep venous thrombosis

  • - Get up occasionally and walk around (if you’re into your third trimester, extra care should be taken due to changing center of gravity and the prominence of your belly) 

  • - Avoid wearing restrictive clothing

  • - Keep hydrated

If you can, it’s a good idea to request an aisle seat for easier ingress, egress, and periodic leg stretching. If you’re in the latter stages of your pregnancy, you should avoid the seat next to the emergency exits. 

Remember that each pregnancy is different and one woman’s experience of flying while pregnant isn’t always the same as another’s. It’s always best to consult a medical professional for advice before booking any air travel.  

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