Richmond Practice - Flying while pregnant

Flying while pregnant

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Can I travel by air safely during my pregnancy?

In most cases, if you are carrying one baby, pregnant women can travel safely up to 36 weeks gestation providing the pregnancy has been straightforward. However, airlines are sometimes unwilling to carry women who are more than 28 weeks pregnant because of the risk of premature labour. Other factors airlines take into account are whether it is a multiple pregnancy or not, the length of the flight and how many weeks pregnant you will be on the return journey.

Make sure you check the airline’s policy and your travel insurance before you book your flight. Airlines usually refuse to fly pregnant women who have had blood clots in the legs or a previous pre-term delivery. It is a good idea to get written permission from your doctor or midwife, particularly if you are over 28 weeks pregnant. The letter should confirm your due date and state that they have examined you and you are unlikely to go into labour during the flights you are booked on.

Ideally, you should avoid having travel vaccinations if you are pregnant. There is not enough evidence that it is safe for your unborn baby (NHS 2010a). Live vaccines, such as yellow fever, could be particularly risky. That is because there is a chance you or your baby may develop the disease.

Some reports state that exposure to natural atmospheric radiation from flying while pregnant can increase the risk of miscarriage or abnormalities in unborn babies. However, the risk is negligible if you only fly a few times in a year.

Be realistic about the possibility of a medical emergency while you are away. Give consideration to the destination you are going to and whether there will be care available if an emergency arises. Take your pregnancy notes and contact details of medical professionals at home and at your destination.

On the plane, make sure you drink plenty water, avoid caffeine and wear TEDS (thrombo-embolus deterrent) or compression stockings. Women flying while pregnant should have an aisle seat for easy access to the bathroom and moving around as much as possible. When seated, wear the seat belt under your belly and as low as possible over your hips. You should not fly in small planes that do not have pressurised cabins.

Consult your doctor or midwife if you:
  • have any doubts and need advice before booking your flight
  • have any spotting, diabetes or high blood pressure
  • have had a previous premature birth
  • need advice on travel vaccinations
  • need advice on what to do during the flight.

At Elsbeth's Doctors our female consultant obstetrician and gynaecologists are also specialised in fetal and maternal medicine. They can give you advice throughout your pregnancy.