Flying while pregnant - your questions answered
We've rounded up the rules, regulations and risks – plus tips on how to make flying during pregnancy a (reasonably) comfortable experience
Is flying when pregnant safe?
Pregnant women travel by air every day, and there's no evidence that doing so is harmful to you or your baby. It's normally safe to do so, but some airlines will not let you fly towards the end of your pregnancy, so you should check to see what your chosen airline's policy is.
If you have a straightforward pregnancy and are otherwise healthy, then there is no evidence that the changes in air pressure or the decrease in humidity are harmful for your 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
When is the safest time to fly if I'm pregnant?I flew long haul regularly up to 32 weeks with no problems. Wear compression socks, drink lots of water and move around the cabin – this is for you, not the baby. The risk that you get DVT is higher, as you have lots more blood than normal.
Every airline has its own particular policy, but typical regulations are in line with the RCOG guidelines and are outlined below. It is essential you communicate with your airline, if possible prior to booking, to confirm their exact requirements.
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.
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 uncomplicated pregnancies, the rules are tighter, with travel limited to 32 weeks. You should always be sure to check your airline's policy before you book your flights.
Pregnancy information form: what is it and how do I get one?I flew at 31 weeks with a GP letter, which confirmed my pregnancy was uncomplicated and stated I was fit to fly.
Some airlines provide template pregnancy information forms – if yours doesn't, download our template.
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 this, so contact yours well in advance of your trip. It's sensible to take your antenatal notes with you as well – and be sure to keep them in your hand luggage. Not only will you need them in case of an emergency, but as one Mumsnetter explains, you may need to 'prove' you're not as far gone as the airline thinks:
“At the boarding gate an officer questioned how far along I was and didn't believe I was only 24 weeks' pregnant. She demanded a note from my doctor, which of course I didn't have, then decided I wasn't allowed to board the plane without the captain's authority. So the poor captain had to pay me a visit. He had no idea what a 24- or 28-weeks' pregnant woman looked like! Luckily I remembered I happened to have my 20-week scan photo in my purse.”
Are there any potential health risks associated with flying while 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. They're also very good for varicose veins.
- Jetlag: Mumsnetters say this 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. You may have to rethink your decision on where to have your baby entirely.
- Swelling of the feet and ankles. This isn't just a risk when you're pregnant, it can happen to anyone, but during pregnancy it can be particularly uncomfortable.
How can I make the flight more comfortable?
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.
- Check in online as early as you can.
- 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, but remember that even though you're on holiday, the normal pregnancy dos and don'ts still apply.
- Pop 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.
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.