Pregnancy is a time of wonder and anticipation but can also bring challenges. As your body undergoes many changes, you may find yourself adjusting your plans, including travel.
Whether it’s a family gathering, a work commitment or simply a craving for a change of scenery, many expectant parents wonder: Is it safe to fly during pregnancy?
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology says flying is generally safe until you reach 36 weeks of pregnancy, as long as both you and the baby are healthy. However, there are some important things to consider before booking that flight.
To help clear the air on flying during pregnancy, we got help from David Soll, MD, an OBGYN with Banner Health. We explore this topic and share some pregnancy travel tips.
Get cleared for takeoff
Speak with your health care provider early in your pregnancy and tell them about your travel plans. Let them know how far you are flying, as the flight length might matter.
“The best time to travel is usually between 14 and 28 weeks, but your provider might suggest not flying if you have certain pregnancy issues that could worsen with air travel,” Dr Soll said.
Here are some instances when you should reconsider flying:
- High-risk pregnancy: If your pregnancy has problems like preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, placenta previa or you have a history of early labor.
- Late pregnancy: Many airlines limit air travel during the third trimester, usually after 36 weeks. “Some international airlines may limit even sooner,” Dr. Soll said. Check your airline’s policies for pregnant passengers for more information.
- Medical conditions: Skip air travel if you have severe anemia, heart or lung problems or are at risk for blood clots or deep vein thrombosis (DVT). “Pregnant air travelers are more likely to experience DVT than non-pregnant people, especially if the flight lasts longer than four hours,” Dr. Soll said.
- Infectious disease outbreaks: Traveling to areas with active outbreaks of diseases like Zika virus, dengue, malaria or other contagious illnesses can harm you and your baby. Check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for more information.
Have a back-up plan
Even if you’re feeling great during pregnancy, be prepared. Before you travel, find the closest hospital or medical clinic near where you will be staying. You can also check with your health insurance to find an in-network provider in the area where you’ll be staying.
Have your medical information with you in case you need care while away.
If you are in a situation abroad where you need a provider in a hurry, contact the U.S. Embassy or the American Consulate in the country where you are staying.
Check your coverage
Look over your health insurance to understand what it covers during your trip. Some policies may not provide full coverage for medical expenses overseas, so knowing how much protection you have while away from home is important. If your health plan doesn’t cover these expenses, consider getting travel health insurance.
When reviewing medical travel insurance, look for details about coverage for pregnancy-related issues, trip cancellations due to pregnancy complications and medical emergencies. Some policies may consider pregnancy a pre-existing condition, affecting coverage.
Contact your insurance provider or a travel insurance expert if you have questions.
Eight tips to make flying a breeze
- Choose the right seat: Pick an aisle seat to make bathroom trips easier for you and your seatmates. As your belly grows, so does your need to use the bathroom more often. An aisle seat will make your life easier.
- Put on compression socks: Wearing compression socks can keep your blood flowing and make your legs less likely to swell.
- Bring healthy snacks: Having healthy snacks and meals on hand will keep energy levels up and help with heartburn and nausea. Eat small amounts frequently throughout the day. If you are queasy, ask the flight attendant for ginger ale or pack a few bags of ginger tea.
- Pack a travel health kit: Set aside space in your carry-on bag for your prenatal vitamins and healthy snacks, your medical records and doctor’s note (if necessary) and a change of underwear and clothes. You never know if you’ll have a flight delay or if your checked bags will get lost.
- Get vaccinated: Certain vaccinations are recommended during pregnancy, such as the flu (influenza) and whooping cough vaccines. The COVID-19 shot is also safe for pregnant people and is recommended during pregnancy. Ask your provider about specific travel vaccinations and which ones are safe during pregnancy.
- Stand up and stretch: “Move your feet, toes and legs often,” Dr. Soll said. Wear loose-fitted clothing and supportive shoes. If you cannot get up due to turbulence, flex your feet and point your toes.
- Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water during your flight to stay hydrated. This helps prevent swelling, promotes circulation and provides relief of jet lag. Dr. Soll advises against carbonated drinks before and during the flight. “Gas tends to expand at higher altitudes and can cause stomach discomfort.”
- Follow airline safety rules: Fasten your seatbelt below your abdomen and across your hips. Follow all airline instructions regarding seatbelt usage. If you’re concerned about radiation from airport security scanners, ask for different screening options.
While pregnancy may bring some changes to your plans, it doesn’t have to limit your adventures. With careful planning and precautions, you can enjoy the excitement of exploring new places.
Remember to talk to your health care provider or a Banner Health specialist. They can offer personalized guidance based on your unique circumstances, ensuring you and your growing baby stay safe and healthy while traveling.