Traveling by commercial air is generally considered safe for women experiencing a normal healthy pregnancy. If your pregnancy is considered high risk or you are at risk of preterm labor then it may not be safe for you and your baby to travel by airplane. Before you make any travel arrangements it is important to talk to your obstetrician.
If your obstetrician gives you the go ahead to travel by air, the best time to fly is between 14 to 28 weeks. Usually this is when women feel the best during their pregnancy; you are past the morning sickness of the first trimester and most pregnancy emergencies happen in the first and third trimester. Also, by the third trimester you may feel more fatigued, have trouble moving around and find it harder to sit for long periods of time.
Some airlines restrict travel when you are in the last month of your pregnancy and air travel is often discouraged after 36 weeks. If you are planning an international flight the cutoff for travel may be even earlier. Many obstetricians discourage air travel after 32 weeks because there is the possibility you may end up having your baby in an unfamiliar hospital with a doctor you don’t now.
Some important points to keep in mind when planning a trip by airplane:
- Check the airline’s policy about air travel while you are pregnant. Consider buying insurance when you purchase your ticket just in case you have to cancel your plans to travel.
- Women who have difficultly standing for long periods or walking considerable distances through the airport may also request wheelchair delivery and pick-up or escort on an airport indoor vehicle to drop them off and pick them up at the gate.
- Inform the airline staff of the pregnancy and request the desired seat if the option is available. For instance, If possible pick an aisle seat; an aisle seat near the restroom may provide convenience for frequent trips to the toilet, while a seat at the bulkhead of the plane would offer extra legroom and personal space.
- Do not hesitate to request assistance loading or unloading a bag into the overhead carriers.
- Buckle the seat belt below your belly, low on your hipbones and stay buckled when you are seated.
- Drink plenty of fluids and try to avoid caffeinated drinks on the day you are traveling. Water is the best choice and extra fluids can help to eliminate false labor pains. Be sure to pack healthy snacks as many airlines no longer provide meals.
- Get up and walk down the aisle. Pregnancy can cause circulation problems and flying can increase the chance of developing a blood clot. Because of potential turbulence that could shake the plane, make sure you are holding on to the seat backs while walking down the aisle.
- If you have circulation problems you may need to wear support stockings to improve circulation and decrease your risk for a blood clot. If you find it difficult to get up and walk, perform small exercises during the flight to keep blood flowing and reduce swelling or discomfort. Flex your knees and roll your ankles and wrists in small circles along with occasional leg lifts and back stretches will help you feel more comfortable too.
- During the flight, many flight attendants will gladly serve additional beverages (particularly water or tea) or snacks to customers who request it.
- Blankets and pillows are usually available upon request as well.
- On long flights, stewards and stewardesses may also provide certain luxuries to pregnant customers otherwise only reserved for first class patrons, such as hot towels, lotions, eye masks, and more.
Decreased air pressure during flight can slightly reduce the amount of oxygen in your blood, but this doesn’t pose risks if you’re otherwise healthy. Travel on major airlines with pressurized cabins and avoid smaller private planes. If you must ride in smaller planes, it is best to avoid altitudes above 7,000 feet.
If you are traveling by car, bus or train there are still some things you need to consider:
- It is essential to buckle-up every time you ride in a car. Make sure that you use both the lap and shoulder belts for the best protection of you and your baby.
- Keep the air bags turned on. The safety benefits of the air bag outweigh any potential risk to you and your baby.
- Buses tend to have narrow aisles and small restrooms. This mode of transportation can be more challenging. The safest thing is to remain seated while the bus is moving. If you must use the restroom, make sure to hold on to the rail or seats to keep your balance.
- Trains usually have more room to navigate and walk. The restrooms are usually small. It is essential to hold on to rails or seat backs while the train is moving.
- Try to limit the amount of time you are cooped up in the car, bus, or train. Keep travel time around five to six hours.
- Use rest stops to take short walks and stretches to keep the blood circulating; once again flex your knees and roll your ankles, wrists in small circles, shoulder shrugs along with occasional leg lifts and back stretches will help you feel more comfortable.
If you are planning to take a cruise it is generally safe for women while they are pregnant, however the motion of the boat may accentuate any morning sickness or make you feel nauseous all over again. Check with the cruise to make sure that there is a health care provider on board just in case.
- Review the route and port-of-calls to identify if there is access to any medical facilities if needed.
- Make sure any medications for seasickness are approved for women who are pregnant and that there is no risk to the developing baby.
- Seasickness bands use acupressure points to help prevent upset stomach and may be a good alternative to medication.
Traveling overseas has the same considerations that local or domestic travel has, but it also has additional concerns that you need to know about before making an international trip.
- It is important to talk with your obstetrician or health care provider before you take a trip internationally to discuss safety factors for you and your baby.
- Discuss immunizations and carry a copy of your health records with you.
- With international travel, you may be exposed to a disease that is rare here in the United States, but is common in the country you visit.
- Contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (800) 232- 4636 or visit their website at http://www.cdc.gov to receive safety information along with immunization facts related to your travels.
- Diarrhea is a common concern when traveling overseas because you may not be used to the germs and organisms found in the food and water of other countries. This can lead to a problem of dehydration. Here are some tips to avoid diarrhea and help keep you safe:
- Drink plenty of bottled water; do not drink beverages with ice.
- Used canned juices or soft drinks as alternatives
- Make sure the milk is pasteurized
- Avoid fresh fruits and vegetables unless they have been cooked or can be peeled (such as an orange or a banana)
- Make certain that all meat and fish has been cooked completely; if you are unsure, do not eat it
Finally, plan for comfort while you travel to your destination; bring your favorite pillow or neck pillow, dress comfortably in loose cotton clothing and wear comfortable shoes, plan for plenty of rest stops and restroom breaks (if you are driving); if you are traveling any distance, make sure to carry a copy of your prenatal records and keep your prenatal vitamins or other essential medications in your travel bag, keep well hydrated and most of all enjoy the trip.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2011, August). Frequently Asked Questions FAQ 055 Travel during pregnancy. Retrieved June 2014, from ACOG Resources and Publications: http://www.acog.org/Resources-And-Publications