Flying while pregnant - what you need to know
Pregnant women travel by air every day, and there's no evidence that doing so is harmful to you or your baby – but before you fly, make sure you're aware of the rules, regulations and risks to make sure you don't meet any problems at the airport or during your flight. And if you're getting on a plane with a baby 'on board', read our tips on how to make flying during pregnancy a (reasonably) comfortable experience.
Can you fly when pregnant?
The short answer is yes – up to a point. Every airline has its own policy, but typical regulations are in-line with the RCOG guidelines as outlined below.
- For a straightforward pregnancy you can travel up to your 28th week as normal. You don't need to tell anyone, although it's a good idea to discuss your plans with either your midwife or doctor.
- After 28 weeks, you'll need your doctor to complete a pregnancy information form – which essentially confirms your due date and that you are in good health to fly.
- After 36 weeks, you'll struggle to find any airline willing to carry you, unless there are exceptional mitigating circumstances (typically, urgent medical or compassionate reasons). In these cases, airlines will insist on further medical consultation, and could request you travel with medically qualified attendants.
- For multiple pregnancies, the rules are tighter, with travel limited to 32 weeks.
- ALWAYS check your airline's policy on flying during pregnancy first.
It is essential you communicate with your airline, if possible prior to booking a flight, to confirm their exact requirements. See what these main airlines say about flying during pregnancy:
Finally, don't forget to read the small print on your travel insurance. Some insurers won't cover pregnant women over 30 weeks; others won't cover pregnant women at all. You must check you're adequately covered and depending on where you are travelling to, you might want to consider taking out additional cover.
Pregnancy information form: what is it and how do I get one?
A pregnancy information form in completed by your doctor and confirms you are fit to fly. Some airlines provide their own forms – if yours doesn't, download our template.
At the boarding gate, an officer questioned how far along I was and didn't believe I was only 24 weeks' pregnant. Luckily, I remembered I happened to have my 20-week scan photo in my purse.
Your airline will advise when they need to see this – it may just be at check-in, or you may be required to send a copy beforehand.
All GP surgeries have their own guidelines on charges, appointments and timings for filling in the form, so contact yours well in advance of your trip.
It's sensible to take your antenatal notes with you, too. Not only will you need them in case of an emergency, but also to 'prove' what stage of pregnancy you are at.
Is flying when pregnant safe?
If you have a straightforward pregnancy and are otherwise healthy, then it's normally safe to fly within the guidelines above. There is no evidence that the changes in air pressure or the decrease in humidity are harmful for you or your baby. There's also no evidence that flying will cause miscarriage, early labour or your waters to break. Anyone who flies is exposed to a slight increase in radiation, but occasional flights are not considered to be a risk to you or your baby.
The scanners at security are also safe to walk through during pregnancy – the radiation will not harm either of you.
However, while flying will not harm your baby, it's best not to travel on a small plane that doesn't have cabin pressure, as the air is thinner at higher altitudes. This can put your body under additional strain as it tries to supply you and the baby with enough oxygen.
If you have had certain medical problems during your pregnancy, you should check with your doctor. These include, but are not limited to:
- Bleeding, including spotting, during pregnancy
- Gestational diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Hyperemesis gravidarum
- A previous miscarriage
- Early labour in a previous pregnancy
What are the risks of flying when pregnant?
While flying in pregnancy generally isn't risky, there are a few possible issues of which it's wise to be aware. The more common of these include:
- Deep vein thrombosis (DVT): Long-distance travel (more than five hours) carries an increased risk of blood clots (thrombosis), and pregnant women have a higher risk of developing deep vein thrombosis. There are precautions you can take to minimise your risk, such as keeping yourself hydrated, moving as much as possible, doing specific exercises, and wearing DVT tights/socks – Mumsnetters also report that these are very good for varicose veins!
- Swelling ankles: This isn't just a risk when you're pregnant, it can affect anyone who's flying, but you're already more susceptible to getting swollen feet and ankles during pregnancy, so this is a bit of a double whammy – and it can be particularly uncomfortable when you're pregnant.
- Jetlag: Some women say jetlag can seem worse in pregnancy, so bear in mind you may need longer to recover.
- Pulled ligaments: Lifting heavy objects is a no-no during pregnancy, so now's the time to pack a capsule wardrobe. If nothing else, do ensure you won't be carrying on heavy hand luggage.
- Premature labour overseas: This is the greatest risk – hence the restriction on flying once your pregnancy is at term (37 weeks). While flying itself won't bring on labour, babies can and do arrive early – so ensure you're happy with your decision to travel.
There may be some circumstances when it is advised not to fly – for example, if your pregnancy has been deemed 'high-risk' or there is a risk of you going into labour before your due date. You should discuss any concerns or existing medical conditions directly with your midwife or GP if you're planning to travel.
How can I make travelling more comfortable when I'm pregnant?
As your pregnancy progresses, sitting comfortably for 10 minutes – never mind 10 hours – can feel like a challenge. However, there are some simple things you can do to make flying while pregnant more bearable. Mumsnetters recommend that you:
- Drink more water than usual – at least two to three litres in 24 hours – and move around the cabin during the flight. Helpfully, these two go hand in hand; increase your fluid intake and you'll need to get up to visit the loo more than usual.
- Ask for an aisle seat if you can, to make getting out of your seat easier.
- Wear loose clothing and comfortable shoes.
- Adjust your seatbelt so the strap lies below your bump.
- Take your own snacks to ensure you're prepared for pregnancy hunger pangs.
- Go to the loo as soon as you're on the plane in case take-off is delayed or you can't leave your seat for a while.
- Try to relax as much as you can – if this is your first pregnancy, then it might be one of the last times that you fly without a baby or toddler in tow (babies are far more portable in utero after all) so try to enjoy it.