Many pregnant women wonder if it is safe to fly during pregnancy. While for most healthy pregnant women, flying is considered relatively safe, there are some risks to be aware of, which is why it is important to take your exact circumstances into consideration before you book a flight.
The main concern with flying while pregnant is the altitude. Commercial airplanes reach altitudes of up to 40,000 feet where the air pressure is much lower than at sea level. This lower air pressure means less oxygen is available for you and your baby. However, modern commercial airplanes are pressurized to simulate an altitude of around 6,000-8,000 feet, which is not high enough to significantly impact oxygen levels. Still, some precautions are recommended.
The Risk of Blood Clots
Most experts advise staying hydrated, avoiding tight fitting or restrictive clothing, getting up to stretch and walk around every hour or so, and using compression socks to minimize swelling or blood clots. Compression socks improve circulation on long flights. Pregnant women in their third trimester or those with pregnancy complications like preeclampsia or a history of preterm labor may want to carry a doctor’s note when flying.
Air travel does increase the risk of blood clots, which can be dangerous during pregnancy, due to lack of movement while sitting for prolonged periods. That’s why it’s important to stay hydrated, walk around, and do leg exercises like flexing ankles or knees while seated.
Exposure to Radiation
The other main concern is radiation exposure when flying. There is more radiation exposure at higher altitudes from cosmic radiation. However, occasional air travel during pregnancy is considered low risk. There is no evidence it significantly increases radiation exposure to a level that could harm a developing baby. Still, frequent flying could be a concern.
Some tips if you do need to fly while pregnant:
- Book an aisle seat so you can get up and move more easily
- Have snacks/water to keep blood sugar stable
- Get a note from your doctor if you have complications
- Consider flying before 24 weeks when possible as risks increase later in pregnancy
- Limit total flight times over 5-6 hours if possible
When NOT to Fly
- After 36 weeks due to risk of going into labor while away from home
- If you have pregnancy complications like preeclampsia or placental issues
- If you have a history of preterm birth or are at risk for preterm labor
- If carrying twins or multiples that increase your risks
Air travel is safe most of the time, even if you are flying after a concussion, but pregnant women must take extra care, as extended flights or frequent travel could be a concern.
Always check with your doctor and take precautions for maximum safety and comfort when flying while pregnant. And always follow your instincts – if you feel particularly unwell before a flight, postpone your trip until you feel better. A healthy mom and baby are most important.