With a lot of women now working in careers where they need to fly for work, and more and more people are flying abroad for holidays or short breaks, being pregnant and flying is more and more common. I’m often asked at different stages of pregnancy the rules and regulations of flying when pregnant, and what the health implications are for flying both short and long haul are when you’re expecting.
Flying restrictions by gestation
If your pregnancy is low risk, there’s no reason not to fly at any stage before 37 weeks. You need to check with the individual airline you’re travelling with for their policies, as these can vary, especially if you’re near the 37 week threshold, or will be when you fly. If you’re pregnant with twins, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) recommends a cut off of 32 weeks. If you have any medical conditions, recent vaginal bleeding, are pregnant with more than twins, or have pregnancy complications, you will need to speak to your Midwife or Obstetrician to see whether it is advisable to fly. There’s no evidence to suggest that flying causes miscarriage or any other problems when pregnant.
Precautions to take whilst flying when pregnant
As soon as you get pregnant you have an increase in blood volume and your blood gets thicker and clots easier. This puts you at a greater risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), especially if you’re flying longer than 4 hours. You should wear loose, comfortable clothes, and get up out of your seat at least once an hour. Every 30 minutes you should be doing leg exercises such as rotating the ankles, pointing and flexing the toes, and lifting your knees up and down in your seat. If your flight is long haul it is advised to wear compression stockings. Measure yourself carefully to get the right size and avoid restricting the blood flow. You need ones that come up to the knee and are suitable for maternity like these. Keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Consider where you’re flying to, is it a safe zone? Are there any risks of contracting infectious diseases? Is the healthcare adequate? Make sure you have the correct travel and health insurance you need. If you’re past 24 weeks, take your pregnancy notes with you and a letter from your Midwife or Obstetrician to confirm you are fit to fly. Take any medications and vitamins you need with you.
Side Effects of Flying when pregnant
As mentioned, it’s low risk if all is well with the pregnancy. The increased pressure and humidity should have no effect on waters breaking or risk of miscarriage. Apart from the risk of DVT, there is an increased risk of water retention, so you may experience swollen legs and ankles. Your nausea and sickness could increase due to motion sickness. The internal lining of the nose is often inflamed in pregnancy, so you’re more likely to suffer from blocked nose and ear problems during the flight. Also remember if you’re flying somewhere which is hotter and sunnier than you’re used to, you’ll need to take extra care in the sun, as your skin is more sensitive to the sun’s rays when you’re pregnant.
I’ve prepared an infographic with the key points to remember, which you can pin on Pinterest or save for later, or share on social media. It can also be printed out to have on a wall in your antenatal clinic.
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