Safe Flying While Pregnant

If you are enjoying a healthy pregnancy, plane travel is likely to be safe.

The second trimester is probably the best time to fly. You're likely to be over morning sickness. Later, your expanding belly could make airport maneuvers more challenging.

Before booking, however, visit your doctor and describe the trip details. If your doctor clears you for flying, take some precautions before and during your flight to stay safe and healthy.

Check Policies: Air Carriers, Insurance Carriers

Airlines discourage travel after 36 weeks. Contact your carrier and ask about their policy for pregnant travelers. Ask if you will need a note from your doctor verifying your due date.

Check your health insurance plan, too. What happens if you need medical help or you deliver at your destination? Are you covered?

If you are traveling out of the country, see if you need a supplemental policy for coverage overseas. Consider buying medical evacuation insurance so you can be flown home for medical care, if necessary.

Get Cleared for Takeoff

A few weeks before your trip (or a few months, if you are traveling internationally), see your doctor. It's especially important to get cleared for takeoff if you have a chronic medical problem such as problems with breathing.

Ask about:

  • Decompression stockings. Ask if you should wear them. No, they're not fashionable. But they may help blood flow.
  • Nausea remedies. If you're prone to motion sickness, ask about a nausea remedy or acupressure bands. Little scientific evidence supports these bands. But some people find them helpful.
  • Gas and diarrhea remedies. The increase in altitude on flights can cause intestinal gas to expand and cause discomfort. Avoid gassy foods before your flight. International travel may expose you to bacteria that can lead to diarrhea. Ask about a diarrhea remedy.
  • Prenatal care. Depending upon the length of the trip, decide if you need to get some prenatal care at your destination. If so, figure out who will supply it.
  • Destination medical care. Ask for suggestions about names of doctors and hospitals at your destination, just in case. Your doctor may know a colleague there or be able to make recommendations.
  • Flu vaccine. Ask if you need a flu shot before you leave.

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In Flight

Here are some things to consider before and during your flight:

  • Pre-flight diet. Avoid gassy foods (beans, cabbage, broccoli) and carbonated drinks. They can make you more uncomfortable in flight.
  • Buckle up. On the plane, keep your seatbelt fastened. Buckle it under your belly, low on the hipbones.
  • Keep drinking. Get plenty of fluids during the flight. If you become dehydrated, it can reduce blood flow to the uterus.
  • Exercise aloft. Your doctor may suggest you walk every half hour or so during a smooth flight. It will help keep blood flowing. In the seat, flex and extend your ankles to boost circulation.
  • Best airplane seat. An aisle seat will make it easier to get in and out for walks and trips to the bathroom. A bulkhead seat is the most spacious, but a seat over the wing will probably give you the smoothest ride.

Get Ready for International Travel

If your destination is international, take some extra precautions.

To avoid the risks of premature labor or health problems, take your trip before the third trimester.

Don't fly internationally 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.

Also do not fly internationally if you have a history of:

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

Keep Risks in Perspective

Though slightly increased, these risks should not be major concerns.

Blood clots. When you are pregnant, sitting in one spot for a long time can cause blood to pool in your legs. That can raise the risk of blood clots. The recirculated cabin air and low humidity add to the risk. However, the risk is still not huge. You can lower this risk by moving around as often as your doctor recommends.

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Blood pressure and heart rate. When you're pregnant and fly, your blood pressure and heart rate can go up. But experts say it's typically not enough to put you in any danger.

Body scans. The body scan technology used for security at airports is safe during pregnancy, according to the Transportation Security Administration. But you can request a hand or wand search instead.

Radiation. The occasional flight doesn't pose a problem for most pregnant women. But if you're a frequent flyer, such as business traveler, pilot, or flight attendant, you might exceed the radiation limit considered safe during pregnancy. Ask your doctor about this.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD, FACOG on August 04, 2014

Sources

SOURCES:

CDC: 2012 Yellow Book, "Advising Travelers with Specific Needs," CDC, 2012.

ACOG: Committee Opinion, "Air Travel During Pregnancy" and "Travel During Pregnancy."

Medscape: "Common Pregnancy Complaints and Questions."

Transportation Security Administration: "Advanced imaging technology is safe and meets national health and safety standards."

Aerospace Medical Association Medical Guidelines Task Force: "Medical Guidelines for Airline Travel."

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