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Flying when pregnant: Is air travel safe for pregnant women?

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Pregnancy is a nine-month period in which every activity is seen as a little more delicate and dangerous than usual. The reason behind people (especially mothers-to-be themselves) getting more cautious about pretty much everything during pregnancy is because things are no longer a matter of one life only, but two. It is a huge responsibility to bear…

Just like driving, cycling, boating, and walking, flying is an activity that is not dangerous in itself (unless in exceptional cases…). And flying does not automatically cause miscarriage, just as it doesn’t cause you to to into labour instantly.

However, there are some risks, and you should not undermine them. Moreover, even though flying doesn’t increase your chances of going into labour prematurely, we should not forget that expected delivery dates are mere estimates with high error margins (about two weeks!).

When should you be more careful about flying?

The first twelve weeks of pregnancy, women generally tend to avoid traveling, because it causes nausea and serious exhaustion. Also, the risks of miscarriages are higher in the first weeks.
Flying from week 32 to week 40 is considered as critical, not in terms of danger, but just because you are approaching your expected delivery time and thus, go may go into labor any time, especially after week 36.

What should you do before you fly?

If you haven’t booked your flight yet, try to search for an airline that allows you to travel during the weeks of pregnancy that suit you. If you have already booked your flight, make sure you are authorised to fly on the dates of your scheduled flight.

Also, you should talk to your gynecologist and/or midwife. Discuss your travel with them so that, depending on how your pregnancy is going, they may tell you if it’s safe or not to travel and what you should take care of.

Most importantly, make sure your doctor gives you a letter (or a clearance form, filled and signed) that you will be able to give to the airline if needed. This letter should confirm that you’re in good health, that your pregnancy is going well, and your expected date of delivery.

What exactly are the risks of flying when pregnant?

Mainly, you risk two things when you fly during pregnancy. First, if you are in your last weeks of pregnancy, you are likely to go into labor at any time. This, as such, is not fatal. But the problem is that you may not have access to the best facilities or the best medical team in flight… your delivery will be like an emergency delivery, and let us be honest, delivery is already stressful enough in normal circumstances… right? However, there are circumstances in which you just need to travel, and in such cases, all you can do is take the best precautions possible.

The second risk is thrombosis (or blood clots). If you travel for longer than 4 hours, your risk of getting blood clots is increased. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is when a blood clot forms in the leg, in a deep vein. This can cause complications (inflammation, pain, swelling, etc.). The real danger with blood clots, actually, is that they can travel through your circulatory system and eventually block blood supply to your lungs (we call this pulmonary embolism). The risk of DVT is higher when you are pregnant and even higher if you are pregnant and travelling for long hours. All you can do is wear compression stocking (make sure you’re wearing them as required), walk (as much as possible), and stay well hydrated (don’t worry about the restroom walks, they are good for you!)

Actually, the reason why airlines are sometimes reluctant towards pregnant women is that the responsibility to take care of you falls on their shoulders. And if you go into labor while on the flight, it is obvious that taking care of your delivery will be the airline’s duty and responsibility… and every airline is not fully equipped to make deliveries happen and supervise them. This requires trained staff, etc. Not to mention the risk of an emergency landing or unassisted delivery if nobody can handle your case properly.

So, in short, here are our tips for every woman who wants or needs to fly when pregnant:
Talk to your doctor and if you have his/her approval for flying, get a letter that meets your airline’s requirements.
Take all your (pregnancy and identity)documents with you.
Stay well hydrated, walk, and wear compression stockings during your flight in order to reduce the risk of DVT.
Stay informed about your health insurance’s policy, just in case something happens when you are out of the country.
Be careful if it is a multiple pregnancy, as these are always a little more risky…

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