Air travel during pregnancy: Is it safe?

Is air travel during pregnancy safe, especially near the beginning or end of pregnancy?

Air travel during pregnancy: Is it safe?

Generally, commercial air travel during pregnancy is considered safe for women who have healthy pregnancies. Still, if you’re pregnant, it’s best to check with your health care provider before you fly.

Air travel during pregnancy may increase the risk of complications associated with certain conditions in pregnancy – such as sickle cell disease, clotting disorders and placental insufficiency. In addition, your health care provider may restrict travel of any type after 36 weeks of pregnancy or if you’re at risk of preterm delivery.

If your health care provider approves air travel and you have flexibility in your travel plans, the best time to fly may be in the middle of your pregnancy – about weeks 14 to 28. This is when you’re likely to feel your best, and the risks of miscarriage and premature labor are the lowest.

Air travel during pregnancy: Is it safe?

When you fly:

  • Check the airline’s policy about air travel during pregnancy. Guidelines for pregnant women may vary by carrier and destination.
  • Choose your seat carefully. For the most space and comfort, request an aisle seat.
  • Buckle up. During the trip, fasten the lap belt under your abdomen and across the tops of your thighs.
  • Promote circulation. If possible, take occasional walks up and down the aisle. If you must remain seated, flex and extend your ankles often.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Low humidity in the cabin can lead to dehydration.

Decreased air pressure during flight may slightly reduce the amount of oxygen in your blood, but this isn’t likely to cause problems if you’re otherwise healthy. Likewise, the radiation exposure associated with air travel at high altitudes isn’t thought to be problematic for most business or leisure travelers. There’s a caveat for frequent fliers, however. Pilots, flight attendants and others who fly often may be exposed to more radiation than is considered safe during pregnancy. If you must fly frequently during your pregnancy, discuss it with your health care provider. He or she may limit your total flight time during pregnancy.

Roger W. Harms, M.D.

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