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Can I Fly While Pregnant?
Updated on
July 11, 2024

Can I Fly While Pregnant?

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Can I Fly While Pregnant?.
Can I Fly While Pregnant?

If you’re debating about whether to book that plane ticket for your babymoon in Hawaii, you can most likely get ready to say “aloha”!

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ (ACOG) in-depth guidebook, “Your Pregnancy and Childbirth: Month to Month,” states: “In the absence of obstetric or medical complications, occasional air travel is safe for pregnant women. Pregnant women can fly safely, observing the same precautions for air travel as the general population.”

Of course, knowing that something is safe and feeling safe are two completely different things. If you’re planning to fly during your pregnancy, you probably have some questions about how to feel safe while in the air. So we asked a pregnancy health expert to weigh in and hopefully put your mind at ease.

When can you fly while pregnant?

According to ACOG, most airlines allow pregnant people to fly domestically up until about 36 weeks of pregnancy (or until 33 weeks if carrying multiples). But that’s not the whole story.

Dr. Kenneth T. Borkowski, lead physician at Women’s Health Group in Connecticut, clarified that these guidelines “are airline policies and they are not therefore medical in nature. The airline carriers do not wish to encounter medical issues mid-flight which would divert a plane to the closest terminal in the event of such issues. Occasional air travel, under most circumstances, is considered safe throughout pregnancy.”

Even so, pregnant people with medical or obstetric conditions (like preeclampsia, higher risk for preterm labor or vaginal bleeding) should consult their doctor before booking air travel.

“The most common obstetric emergencies happen in the first and third trimesters,” Dr. Borkowski says. “Other than taking that into consideration, the ‘best’ time to travel is when the airline rates are the lowest!”

What about flying internationally while pregnant?

Some international flights restrict pregnant people even earlier than 36 weeks, Dr. Borkowski says, and may require documentation of the baby’s gestational age before allowing them to board.

International flights (or even coast-to-coast domestic flights) tend to be longer, increasing the risk for turbulence, blood clots and dehydration. Changes in air pressure can decrease the amount of oxygen you breathe, and sitting still for a long period of time can prohibit healthy blood flow. This is true for anyone who flies, but the risk is higher for pregnant people. Dr. Borkowski recommends taking simple measures like drinking water, moving around the cabin and wearing below-the-knee graduated compression stockings to minimize these risks.

Is it safe to go through airport security while pregnant?

The Travel Security Administration (TSA) assures pregnant people that the airport screening machines are safe because they don’t actually use X-rays. Most airport screening machines use nonionizing radiation, which has much less potential for harm. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that “most common exposures to nonionizing radiation are not considered hazardous to you or your unborn baby.” Even older X-ray backscatter scanners do not expose you to enough radiation to threaten the health of you or your baby.

If you’re still nervous, you can request a pat-down instead. And if you have trouble lifting your bags or taking your shoes off at any point in the process, ask a security officer for assistance.

How can I stay safe and comfortable while flying?

ACOG recommends wearing your seatbelt at all times during the flight. It can be fastened lower on your hip bones, below your belly. The seatbelt will help stabilize you in the event of turbulence.

Move your feet, toes and legs often. You may want to book an aisle seat so you can walk the length of the plane to improve your circulation on a longer flight. (And an aisle seat will help you reach the bathroom more easily!)

Avoid carbonated drinks before the flight. High altitudes make gas expand, which won’t exactly help your comfort level. But don’t avoid all beverages—drink lots of water to stay hydrated.

What problems should I watch for while flying?

Again, the likelihood of experiencing any pregnancy-related medical issues during flight is very low. But there are a few symptoms that may warrant a call to your doctor.

An ACOG ob-gyn said that regardless of whether you’re in the air or on the ground, “any bleeding, leaking fluid, abdominal pain or change in fetal activity should trigger a call to the doctor.”

Adding airline travel to the mix puts you at a slightly higher risk of blood clots in the legs or lungs. Major symptoms of blood clots include pain and swelling in the legs, particularly on one side. Chest pain, shortness of breath and a fast heart rate can also be symptoms.

If you notice these symptoms or notice a decrease in the baby’s movement, give your doctor a call.

Should I be worried about additional radiation exposure while flying?

ACOG’s guidebook says that you shouldn’t worry: “Radiation exposure increases at higher altitudes, but the level of exposure generally isn’t a concern for pregnant women. If you are a frequent flier, talk with your ob-gyn about how much flying is safe for you.”

Though there may be a few additional things to look out for, flying while pregnant shouldn’t keep you up at night. Chances are high that your trip will be smooth sailing.

So book that babymoon, attend a work conference or travel to visit relatives before the baby comes. “Enjoy your flight and the destination to which it takes you,” Dr. Borkowski says. “There is a wonderful world out there that should be explored and cherished!”

Rosie Colosi

Rosie Colosi writes books for curious kids and articles for parents who are counting the minutes until bedtime. Once upon a lifetime ago, she played Mrs. Claus in The Christmas Spectacular Starring The Radio City Rockettes, but now she mostly focuses on singing songs from Annie to her two little girls.

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