Air Travel During Pregnancy – Risks, Safety Concerns, Best Time

Whether air travel is safe during pregnancy is a concern for many expectant mothers. It is natural for mother to consider whether air travel will have any adverse effect on the pregnancy, possibly contribute to a miscarriage, trigger preterm delivery or whether air travel could harm the baby in other ways. However, in most cases of an uncomplicated pregnancy, travel by air is considered to be safe although it should be minimized or avoided late in the third trimester.

Risk Factors for Air Travel During Pregnancy

Although air travel during pregnancy can be quite uneventful and not a threat to a healthy pregnancy, certain factors need to be kept in mind before making any travel plans. The most important pre-travel measure is to have a consultation with a doctor or preferably an obstetrician and gynecologist (OBGYN). The decision to travel by air should only be considered once the OBGYN approves it.

Some of the factors that could make air travel by pregnancy risky include:

  • Twin pregnancy or other multiple pregnancies.
  • Severe anemia.
  • Gestational diabetes.
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure).
  • Pre-eclampsia.
  • Heart problems.
  • Clotting disorders.
  • Vaginal bleeding or spotting.
  • Placental abnormalities.
  • Preterm birth in previous pregnancies.
  • Risk of preterm birth in this pregnancy.

Women with a history of multiple miscarriages prior and who are concerned about the pregnancy reaching full term should rather avoid air travel although it may not pose any serious risk.

Read more on miscarriage.

Best Time for Air Travel During Pregnancy

Most doctors agree that the best time for air travel for a pregnant woman is during the second trimester. This is the time when an expectant mother tends to be the most comfortable with the change sin her body. It also the time when there is a lower chance of a miscarriage or preterm delivery and the discomfort of morning sickness has usually subsided by the second trimester.
It is equally important to consider the rules of different airlines regarding the safety of allowing a pregnant woman on board after a certain month of pregnancy. Some airlines allow air travel till the eighth month and even later, if so recommended by a doctor. Others restrict travel from the seventh month onwards. However, as stated air travel should be kept to a minimum in the third trimester and only be considered if necessary.

Drive or Fly When Pregnant?

This is a common question that many pegnant women have in mind when it comes to local trips. There are pros and cons for both modes of transport. Once again, travel to distant destinations should be avoided as far as possible in late pregnancy unless it is necessary. While travel may not be dangerous, it is advisable for pregnant women to be close to familiar surroundings and known medical professionals during this time.

Here are some other factors to consider when deciding on air travel or road trips.

  • Air travel is quicker than driving. Long distances, especially across varying terrain, can be uncomfortable and even stressful for both mother and child.
  • Road travel allows for regular stops. Apart from frequent toilet breaks and the opportunity to walk around, road travel also allows for overnight stays in comfortable facilities along the course of the trip.
  • Space and privacy. A car or other automobile usually offers more space than the cramped quarters on a plane. In addition, a motor vehicle offers more privacy which can make a trip more comfortable.
  • Professional assistance on board. The presence of air stewards who have some emergency medical training and are willing to help make a trip comfortable is another advantage of air travel.

There are several other factors that should be considered by pregnant women who are deciding between road or air travel. Individual preference over one mode of transport over the other should also be a consideration. Road travel may make sense in some situations but air travel also has more advantages in other instances.

Read more on motion sickness in pregnancy.

Considerations for Air Travel During Pregnancy

Pregnant women should consider a few factors when traveling by air. These measures can make the trip more comfortable and possibly avoid complications that could arise.

  • Avoid long trips by air as the cramped quarters and prolonged sitting without the option to lie flat can increase discomfort.
  • Ensure that plenty of fluids are consumed during the flight to avoid dehydration that can arise with air travel. Do not consume any alcoholic beverages, even those with low alcohol concentrations.
  • Move the feet with stretches and circular motions while sitting to improve peripheral blood flow. Walking around every hour is also important to minimize the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
  • Choose meals that are familiar and not very spicy or greasy. This can help minimize digestive disturbances, such as acid reflux, nausea and bloating.
  • Carry snacks if allowed. This can provide nutrition between meals served onboard and keep the hunger pangs at bay until it is meal time.

Common Concerns of Air Travel During Pregnancy

There are many myths and misconceptions about air travel during pregnancy. Some of these concerns have no scientific basis while others may be rare occurrences that are at times distorted by communication channels like social media. It is therefore always important to speak to a medical professional about these concerns and ensure that information is acquired from reputable sources.

  • High altitude cosmic radiation should not be a cause for concern unless a person is a very frequent flier like a flight attendant or pilot.
  • Decreased air pressure is not a major concern as most commercial airliners have pressurized cabins. Therefore there is no real risk for a pregnant woman.
  • Airport metal detectors pose no real threat to the expectant mother or unborn baby since these devices use a low-frequency electromagnetic field. No x-rays are used.
  • Another form of screening (backscatter x-ray system) which is increasingly being used in some airports utilize a very low level of x-rays. It is said to be practically harmless to the unborn baby. However, if an expectant mother has any concerns about this device, then it is reasonable to request a physical “pat-down” search instead.

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