Air Travel During Pregnancy

Overview

Air travel during pregnancy is generally considered safe, but you should speak with your health-care provider to discuss your particular pregnancy and confirm that it is safe to travel. This also gives you time to organize vital information, such as medical records and contact numbers should emergency care be needed at your destination.

Restrictions

The Federal Aviation Administration has no official policy regarding travel during pregnancy, but instead allows each airline to make its own policies. Most airlines allow for domestic travel until a woman is from 36- to 38-weeks pregnant and international travel until 32 weeks. Contact the airline’s medical officer for specifics.

When you arrive at your gate, it is a good idea to have all requested medical documentation available for your gate agent. It is also prudent to carry the name and number of the airline’s medical officer in case your gate agent wants to speak with him.

Best Time to Travel

According to Dr. Roger W. Harms at the Mayo Clinic, the best time for a pregnant women to travel is between weeks 14 and 28. This is the time when you feel your best, as morning sickness has usually abated. The risks for miscarriage as well as premature delivery are also at their lowest.

Cabin Pressure

The decrease in air pressure on flights only slightly decreases the amount of oxygen in your blood. The pressure in the cabin is roughly the equivalent of being at an elevation of 5,000 feet, the same as Denver, Colorado. A healthy woman with an uncomplicated pregnancy should have no problem compensating for this change in oxygenation.

Blood Clot Risk

Expectant moms are at an elevated risk for blood clots during travel or anytime when prolonged sitting is required. To reduce this risk, request an aisle seat for more leg room. You also should get out of your seat every half hour to walk down the aisle, if allowed by the flight crew. If you absolutely must remain seated, having an aisle seat will allow you to stretch your legs and rotate your ankles to promote circulation.

Cosmic Radiation

Studies conducted by the FAA show there is no significant risk to expectant mothers regarding cosmic radiation. Even on long, intercontinental flights, the risks of exposure has been recorded at no more than 15 percent of the maximum recommended levels. So unless you are a member of a flight crew or an extremely frequent flier, cosmic radiation should not be a concern.

Gas

We are not talking about jet fuel: Abdominal gas can expand at high altitudes, which will cause bloating in an already expanded abdomen. Eat lightly prior to travel, and avoid foods that you know cause gas and bloating. Wear your seat belt under your belly, as you would in your car, to safely keep you in your seat as comfortably as possible.

When You Should Not Fly

According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), women who have medical conditions that might be worsened by air travel should refrain from flying. These include anemia, sickle cell disease, clotting disorders and placental insufficiencies.

About this Author

Melanie Clatfelter is a licensed practical nurse in the state of North Carolina. She spent five years working in childcare and early childhood education before transitioning to the health care arena where she still enjoys working with expectant parents, new moms, and young families. Clatfelter is a contributor for LIVESTRONG Health, eHow, Trails Travel, and Answerbag.