As we begin to ease out of lockdown and into some semblance of a 'new normal,' you might be tentatively starting to think about summer holidays – and maybe even trips abroad. But, if you’re pregnant, you might be wondering if, even if it is allowed, if flying when pregnant is actually safe. And, if so, what precautions you should have in place before committing to that jaunt.
No two pregnancies are the same so, naturally, advice on flying when pregnant may differ from person to person. However, some general guidance for straightforward pregnancies can help you to make informed choices, if you are expecting.
Buckle up – here’s everything you need to know about flying when pregnant.
Is flying when pregnant safe?
On the whole, yes. Flying when pregnant is safe for the vast majority of people ‘unless you have an increased chance of complications such as bleeding, blood clots or preterm birth,’ says Marie Louise, Senior Midwife, also known as The Modern Midwife, and author of Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond. ‘There is no evidence that the changes in air pressure and/or the decrease in humidity have a harmful effect on you or your baby if you have a straightforward pregnancy and are healthy. There is also no evidence that flying causes miscarriage, early labour or your waters to break.’
A 'straightforward' pregnancy is essentially one that’s without complications and where the pregnant person requires no additional care.
Though, even if you have a straightforward pregnancy, it’s recommended that you take precautions before flying when pregnant.
When is flying when pregnant not safe?
According to a report published by The College of Family Physicians of Canada, there’s no existing data that confirms increased reproductive risks for healthy pregnant people travelling by air, but those with specific medical conditions, such as respiratory and cardiac diseases, and those at risk of early labour, should avoid flying.
Medical conditions can put the pregnant person and unborn baby at risk, and should therefore be discussed with a GP or midwife before flying when pregnant.
Then, there’s the matter of how far along in the pregnancy you are and whether or not you’re carrying multiples.
‘After 28 weeks of pregnancy most airlines will require you to have a letter from your midwife or doctor to confirm your gestation or due date and that you do not have any complications,’ says Marie. ‘If you have a singleton pregnancy, flying isn’t recommended after 37 weeks, and if you’re carrying twins, you’re discouraged from flying after 32 weeks.’ This is because your chances of going into labour increases at these key points.
It’s also worth noting that some airlines will refuse to let you fly when you reach the tail-end of your pregnancy, so check your airline’s policy before purchasing your ticket.
What precautions should you take before flying when pregnant?
For starters, always consult with your GP or midwife before flying when pregnant – even if your pregnancy is straightforward. ‘It’s always a good idea to let your care providers know your travel plans so they can ensure they give you the best advice for your personal situation,’ says Marie. The NHS also recommends carrying a copy of your medical records and sussing out healthcare facilities at your destination ahead of time in case you need urgent attention.
Side note: double-check that your travel insurance covers you for any pregnancy-related care, such as early labour, pregnancy complications or needing to change your flight home.
How can you make flying when pregnant more comfortable?
Let’s be real: pregnancy can cause significant discomfort. Sickness is common, particularly in the first trimester (up to 14 weeks), and sitting for long periods of time can cause all sorts of aches and niggles. So, if you plan on flying when pregnant, it’s prudent to prep for maximum possible comfort ahead of time.
'It’s probably is a good idea to wear graduated elastic compression stockings – your midwife or doctor will be able to provide the right size and type for you if required,’ says Marie. ‘It’s important to keep well-hydrated throughout pregnancy but particularly important if you’re travelling long-distance as that naturally comes with a reduction of usual mobilisation.
‘Asking for extra legroom may help with comfort but can also help you to keep moving and stretching, both of which are important to promote good blood flow. Try to do the in-seat exercises every 30 minutes or so, the airline should give you information on these too,’ she adds.
Marie also advises:
Wearing loose clothing and layering up to help you adapt to the environment. As your hormones fluctuate you can suddenly feel hot and cold, so having removable layers will help you to regulate your temperature.
Sitting in an aisle seat so there’s no stress when it comes to taking frequent loo trips
Sipping water throughout your flight to stay hydrated
Wearing an acupressure band if you suffer from sickness
Eating little and often to help keep blood sugar levels stable and therefore reduce nausea
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