You’ve planned your trip in advance and have just found out that you’re pregnant. You have heard that you should not fly after a certain time. What is correct? What are the potential risks?
Is it Safe to Travel While Pregnant?
The average pregnancy lasts 40 weeks. According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the safest time for travel is in the second trimester, between 18 and 24 weeks. Before 18 weeks you run the risk of miscarriage or ectopic (tubal) pregnancy. This is not necessarily induced by travel, but you would require medical help if it happened. After 24 weeks there is increased risk of pre-term labor or high blood pressure.
How Late in a Pregnancy Can You Fly?
Many airlines have restrictions for traveling while pregnant. For instance, British Airways allows you to travel at up to 36 weeks of gestation with an uncomplicated single pregnancy. If you are carrying twins, triplets or more, you can only fly on their airline until 32 weeks.
After 28 weeks you are required to have a written letter from your doctor or midwife stating that your pregnancy is uncomplicated, and your estimated due date. Your doctor should affirm that you are in good health and that it is OK for you to fly. British Airways even has belt extensions, if needed.
United Airlines has no restrictions during the first eight months. At nine months, a written letter from your doctor is required.
Generally, airlines allow you to travel up to 36 weeks for domestic flights and up to 32 weeks for international flights.
Many women may worry about harm to the baby from the cabin pressure in the airplane. Since the air pressure is less than at lower altitudes, it will increase your heart rate and blood pressure, due to the body’s demand for more oxygen. For healthy women, this should not be a problem for you or your baby.
Preventing Pregnancy Complications
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pregnant women with complications such as high blood pressure, diabetes, toxemia or multiple gestations (twins) may be advised not to fly. Always check with your doctor. (Flying in an unpressurized small plane is not advised.)
As pregnant women are at an increased risk for blood clots in their legs, make sure to get up and walk and move your legs during the flight. Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
If you’d rather not fly, consider taking a road trip instead. You’ll still want to plan frequent breaks to stretch your legs. Look for relaxing destinations that will allow you to get some enjoyable exercise, such as walking along the beach.
If you’re traveling outside of the country, you’ll want to take some extra precautions. In late pregnancy some countries may not allow you to enter without written evidence from your doctor confirming your due date.
Health insurance is definitely something you need to think about. Check with your insurance regarding travel and pregnancy. Most will have restrictions as to your gestation and destination. For instance, some plans will not cover all expenses if you have an emergency or deliver out of their coverage area, and many plans will not cover you overseas.
You may want to think about buying additional travel insurance before you travel. Several companies providing medical travel insurance during pregnancy cover “complications of pregnancy” (such as the “TravelGap Vacationer” policy from HTH Travel Insurance), but they have restrictions.
You must declare your pregnancy to them when you buy the insurance, as the price may be increased to cover you, and not informing them about your condition may exclude you from this coverage. If you booked a trip a year in advance, purchased travel insurance, then later become pregnant, some insurance companies will cover cancellation.
If you have had any complications during your pregnancy such as high blood pressure or bleeding, it is advised that you not travel at all.
Vaccinations While Pregnant
As far as vaccinations go, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists list these vaccines as safe during pregnancy:
- Hepatitis A and B
- Influenza (in 2nd and 3rd trimesters)
Vaccines for the following are contraindicated during pregnancy:
The following vaccines are not routinely recommended, but are considered safe for women in areas of high risk or high exposure:
- Yellow fever
Before receiving any vaccines, always consult your doctor.
Traveling by Car While Pregnant
Even when you are pregnant, it is important to wear your lap and shoulder belt while driving in a car. Make sure that you wear your lap belt low and tight over your hips, not on your abdomen. Check that your shoulder belt is positioned between your breasts, and not over your abdomen.
Airbags must be used in conjunction with your lap and shoulder belt to provide any benefit. Airbags are generally considered safe but push your seat back as far as possible from the dash.
In late pregnancy, it is difficult to sit back far enough from the steering wheel. If you have a tilt steering wheel, tilt the wheel up toward your breastbone. Be sure to leave plenty of time for frequent toilet stops and walking around.
The best advice is to be informed and talk with your obstetrician before travel.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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