Is it safe to fly during my pregnancy?
Is it safe to fly during my pregnancy?
If you have a normal, healthy pregnancy, it can be perfectly safe to fly during most of it. Be sure to discuss your trip plans with your doctor or midwife, however, before booking your flight. If you have medical or obstetric complications such as diabetes or high blood pressure, are carrying twins, have placental abnormalities or a history of blood clotting disorder, or are at risk for preterm labor, your healthcare provider will probably advise you to stay close to home throughout your pregnancy. (Well-controlled mild gestational diabetes shouldn't be a problem.)
Even if you're enjoying an uncomplicated pregnancy, your doctor or midwife may prefer that you not fly during your final month. Many airlines, in fact, bar expectant moms from flying during their last weeks of pregnancy (see below for more on restrictions).
You may find that your second trimester — weeks 14 to 27 — is a perfect time to fly. Once you're past the first trimester, in all likelihood your morning sickness will be behind you, your energy levels will be higher, and your chances of miscarriage will be low.
Before you leave, have your prenatal caregiver refer you to an obstetrician or midwife at your destination in case you need medical attention during your vacation. Carry a copy of your medical history, which should include risk factors, your due date, your blood type, any medications you're currently taking, and any that you're allergic to as well. See our Emergency contact sheet for pregnant travelers for a complete list of names, phone numbers, and information you should have with you when you travel.
What restrictions do airlines place on pregnant travelers?
Many airlines won't let pregnant women on board who are due to deliver within seven or sometimes 30 days of the flight (they don't want you to deliver while in the air!). Each airline, however, has different rules about when and if it will allow you to fly. Check our Airline policies for pregnant travelers chart for more information. And don't forget to take into account how far along you'll be on the return flight. Bring a letter from your healthcare provider that verifies your due date to avoid delays at the boarding gate.
Will airport screening machines harm my baby?
No. When you walk through the security gate at the airport, you pass through a metal detector, which uses a low-intensity electromagnetic field to look for weapons. Metal detectors are considered safe for everyone, including pregnant women. (So are the wands that are sometimes passed over individual passengers.)
Many people mistakenly think these metal detectors take X-rays — they don't. Airport X-ray machines, which emit the same kind of radiation you would get from a dental X-ray, are used only on luggage.
Will cabin pressure harm my baby?
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires all commercial airlines and many non-commercial planes to maintain a standard level of cabin pressure (kept at the equivalent of 5,000 to 8,000 feet, the altitude of Denver and other Rocky Mountain communities). If you're a healthy woman with no obstetric problems, you and your baby should have no trouble in a pressurized cabin.
However, because the air pressure in the cabin is less than at lower altitudes, your heart rate and blood pressure will increase to enable you to take in the oxygen you need. If you have cardiovascular problems, sickle cell disease, or severe anemia from other causes, you'll find it harder to adapt and you should avoid flying. But if you have one of those conditions and must fly, you can be prescribed supplemental oxygen for use in the air. (And in case of sudden loss of cabin pressure during a flight, all commercial airliners are equipped with oxygen masks that drop down automatically.)
Flying in unpressurized small planes is a different matter. If you're cruising at 10,000 feet, for example, that's just like standing atop a 10,000-foot mountain, almost two miles high. Your body will have to work that much harder to supply you and your baby with sufficient oxygen, so it's probably wise to avoid unpressurized planes while you're pregnant.
How can I stay comfortable while flying?
There are a number of things you can do to make your flight more comfortable. Request a seat in the middle of the plane over the wing for the smoothest ride, or a bulkhead seat for more legroom. In either case, reserve a seat on the aisle so you can get to the bathroom easily and get up to walk and stretch.
Sitting anywhere for long periods of time can make your feet and ankles swell and your legs cramp. Take off your shoes and elevate your legs by resting your feet on your carry-on luggage under the seat in front of you. If the seat next to you is empty, put your feet up on it. Since pregnancy makes you susceptible to thrombosis (the formation of blood clots) and varicose veins, keep your blood circulating by strolling the aisle every hour and doing some simple stretches every half hour. If you're sitting or standing, stretch your leg, heel first, and gently flex your foot to stretch your calf muscles. When you're sitting, rotate your ankles and wiggle your toes.
When seated, keep your seat belt fastened under your belly and low on your hips at all times. Also, drink plenty of fluids, especially water, to stave off the dehydrating effects of dry cabin air. Caffeine acts as a diuretic, so it's best to avoid coffee, tea, and many soft drinks before and during the flight. And beware of gas-producing meals or drinks before takeoff. The trapped gas from foods such as cabbage and beans expands at higher altitude, making for an uncomfortable trip.
Also, wear whatever makes you feel good and comfortable. Beyond that, it's best to wear a dress or separates such as a skirt or pants with a top (rather than a jumpsuit or overalls) to accommodate frequent trips to the bathroom. And the fewer fasteners, the better. Layer your clothing to cope with sudden temperature changes on board. Since your feet will probably swell, wear comfortable shoes with expandable elastic panels or adjustable straps. Bring a thick pair of socks to wear around the cabin if you take your shoes off. If you're prone to varicose veins or swelling, wear maternity support panty hose, which relieve swelling and aching in your legs by compressing the veins to keep your blood flowing.
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