Is it safe to fly during pregnancy?
Answer From Yvonne Butler Tobah, M.D.
Generally, commercial air travel before week 36 of pregnancy is considered safe for women who have healthy pregnancies. Still, if you're pregnant, check with your health care provider before you fly.
Your health care provider might caution against air travel if you're experiencing pregnancy complications that might be worsened by air travel or require emergency care. The duration of the flight also should be considered. Similarly, your health care provider and many airlines might restrict travel after 36 weeks of pregnancy.
If your health care provider approves air travel and your plans are flexible, the best time to fly might be during your second trimester. This is when the risks of common pregnancy emergencies are the lowest.
When you fly:
- Check the airline's policy about air travel during pregnancy. Guidelines for pregnant women might vary by carrier and destination.
- Buckle up. During the trip, fasten the lap belt under your abdomen.
- Promote circulation. Take occasional walks up and down the aisle. If you must remain seated, flex and extend your ankles often. Also, avoid wearing restrictive clothing. Use of compression stockings might help prevent blood clots.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Low humidity in the cabin can lead to dehydration.
- Avoid gassy foods and drinks pre-flight. Entrapped gases expand at altitude, which can cause discomfort. Examples include broccoli and carbonated drinks.
- Make a contingency plan. Consider how, if necessary, you'll obtain obstetric care during your trip.
Radiation exposure associated with air travel at high altitudes isn't thought to be problematic for most who fly during pregnancy. However, pilots, flight attendants and other frequent fliers might be exposed to a level of cosmic radiation that raises questions during pregnancy. If you must fly frequently during your pregnancy, discuss it with your health care provider. He or she might recommend limiting your total flight time during pregnancy.
Yvonne Butler Tobah, M.D.
Jan. 28, 2016
- Lockwood CJ, et al. Initial prenatal assessment and first trimester prenatal care. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Nov. 11, 2015.
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) Committee on Practice Bulletins — Obstetrics. ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 443: Air Travel During Pregnancy. Obstetrics & Gynecology. 2009;114:954.
- Magann EF, et al. Air travel and pregnancy outcomes: A review of pregnancy regulations and outcomes for passengers, flight attendants and aviators. Obstetrical and Gynecological Survey. 2010;65:396.
- AskMayoExpert. Health considerations for air travelers: Pregnancy considerations. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2014.